An Administrator’s Perspective on Bullying Prevention and Response – An Interview with Detroit Prep Head of School, Jen McMillan

By: Nicolette G. Granata

Vanderbilt University, Class of 2019

Detroit Prep, a K-3 school in the city of Detroit, “exists to provide a world-class, equitable education” to its diverse group of students.” We interviewed Jennifer McMillan, Head of School, to better understand bullying response and prevention from an administrator’s perspective.

Prior to this position, Jen feels “lucky to have had the opportunity to work with fantastic students in grades K-12, and really committed and skillful teachers and leaders from the Bay Area to Detroit.” When she reflects on how her past experiences in education have most impactfully informed her current work, she says: “Working with high school students who were receiving special education services, and seeing how far behind they were … I try to create a learning environment at Detroit Prep that my high school students deserved to have, that all children deserve to have, regardless of socioeconomic status or racial identity or other lines of difference.” 

Detroit Prep is founded on “Expeditionary Learning” principles, which Jen says, “are the backbone of everything we do at Detroit Prep…” Speaking to the execution of Principle #4: “Empathy and Caring” on a day to day basis, Jen shared: “We start each morning in what we call “Morning Crew” by greeting one another, sharing our thoughts about a silly or serious question, and playing a game together. Students show care for one another by using kind words, sharing with one another, giving a hug to a friend who is sad, and apologizing when they’ve caused harm to someone.”

 Using evidence-based practice as our framework (Graham, 2016; Jones & Augustine, 2015; Yoon & Bauman, 2014), we dove further into the specifics of professional development in regard to bullying at Detroit Prep. Jen highlighted that, “Because of the age of our students, we try to distinguish teasing, “mean moments,” conflict, and bullying, both to help teachers and students respond most effectively to the situation, and also to prevent from labeling students and having them internalize their role as the bully or the victim and have that stick with them.”

 When we asked what Jen perceives to be her biggest barrier as an administrator tackling bullying, she assuredly said: “I think it’s a funding and resource issue. It’s so much to put all the work on teachers to build and maintain classroom culture, facilitate student learning, and then also address off-culture and bullying behaviors. Teachers and students deserve support and resources to prevent and respond to bullying, and to foster the positive social-emotional skills needed to live productive and fulfilling lives in the future.”

 Her advice for other administrators? “Academics is only part of the picture, children need to learn how to treat one another, and with more explicit teaching and modeling of compassion and kindness, so many bullying behaviors can be prevented. A friend shared this quote, an African proverb, and it has really stuck with me, “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” We need to be constantly thinking of ways to help every child feel connected, seen, and loved.”

 Want to learn more about the incredible, impactful work Jen and her team are doing at Detroit Prep? Head on over to their website at https://www.detroitprep.org/.

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