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An interview with Larah Buffington
Mrs. Buffington teaches Middle School in Savannah, Georgia. After having been a nurse for many years, she decided her true passion is education and began this second adventure. She is an old-school gamer and loves using technology in the classroom. Since discovering Classcraft, she has become even more of a tech addict, taking the platform to edcamps in her district to promote its use.
I am a educator at a STEM school. I teach research for science purposes for 8th graders. It’s actually an 8th grade class, but we teach it at a 9th grade level, so we’re an accelerated curriculum at our school.
Before introducing Classcraft, we had issues with harassment and mostly verbal bullying going on at our school. Some people call it teasing, but we don’t like to call it that because verbal harassment is verbal harassment, one way or another. And it can be considered bullying when people start getting emotionally injured by it. So we had a lot of that going on at our school.
In my classroom, that looked like stronger kids teasing kids about their style of dress, or what their hair looks like, or the girl who has the best, finest, coolest jewelry teasing the girls who can’t afford it. And it became harassment to the point where we had people whose feelings were getting hurt. And threats of fights. There were threats between kids of “I’m gonna knock you out if you don’t stop harassing me.” So we needed to get that under control in my class.
The introduction of Classcraft made a big difference in my classroom. It allowed students to use their position within their team as leverage against the people who were harassing them. I purposefully put people who weren’t getting along on the same team, because I knew that they would have to work together to have all the members of their team benefit. And in doing so, we had situations where someone was being harassed, and they would come to me and say, “So-and-so harassed me,” and I would say, “Oh man, you’re gonna have to lose points now.”
The apologies immediately started following. And after that initial introduction to it, I noticed that the harassment and the bullying decreased weekly because they knew that if they harassed somebody or bullied someone in my class, and I got told about it, they would lose points. And I made the point [loss] for bullying and harassment so high that it has decreased to almost nothing in my classroom. There is no bullying or harassment in my classroom because nobody wants to lose points.
Oh, they call each other out. I call it “policing” each other. And I will say, “Way to police your people.” Because if somebody across the room hears someone else across the room even start that nonsense, they’ll go, “Ooohh, Ms. B, you need to take points away from so-and-so because I just heard them say …” and they’ll tell me whatever they heard that person say. And if they have backup, if other people heard it too, I immediately go in. And I’ll stop mid-class if I need to and take points away.
It has helped them not only to police each other, but it really has helped some of my students learn how to self-police, how to keep themselves under control. Because they start to say something and they’ll think to themselves, “I don’t want to lose points.”
They need to know that whether they feel like anyone’s getting hurt or not, bullying hurts. Not only does it hurt the person that they’re bullying or harassing, it hurts the entire classroom environment. The vibe of the whole class goes down when a single person in the classroom starts that nonsense. You either have a reaction where the whole class starts the shark-tank mentality, where they all start harassing and snarking at each other, or a reaction where everybody starts to feel bad about themselves because they never know when somebody is going to start harassing them about something that they don’t like about them.
So it affects everybody around you. You’re not just harassing or bullying one person. It creates an environment where nobody can feel safe.
It does. And that’s what we’ve noticed. Other teachers that are not using Classcraft yet — and I say “yet” because we have a whole bunch of teachers who are interested in using it next year — they have also noticed that if they tell the kids, “I’m gonna tell Ms. Buffington that you’re doing that in my class and then you’re going to lose points,” it stops in their classrooms, too.
Absolutely. I had the greatest experience with a student who really had not found her social niche yet. And she was a wall flower and felt like she didn’t have any friends yet. When a particular random event came up, she was terrified because her name was chosen at random. The random event was to sing a song in front of the class. She started to fall apart. She was gonna cry because she didn’t want to sing in front of the class.
And her teammates, who really did not know her that well at that point, because she was new to the school, rallied around her. They all went over and started saying, “We’ll help you sing. We’ll help you. You don’t have to feel sad and upset because you don’t know anybody or feel nervous that you’re going to have to do his. We’ll help you.” And they helped her start singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” and by the end of that, the entire class was singing, and then everybody knew who she was and started to befriend her. They knew that she was vulnerable and that she was human just like them. And now it seems like everybody in that class is friends with her.
Up until that point, she told me that she really felt disconnected. So just having that one random event pop up — which is really interesting that it happened for her — made a great difference in her life and in the classroom because those students may never have sought her out and become friends with her. But just that one random event made a difference in that one student’s life and then of course made a difference in everybody else’s life because they now get the chance to know her.
It’s one of the reasons why my principal is promoting Classcraft now, because he just thinks it’s wonderful that it can have that type of impact on students.
Bullying and harassment almost seems to come naturally with being a preteen — where they’re trying to have a power struggle to figure out who’s on top, who’s the king of the hill, and who’s on top of the food chain. And I tell the teachers: Every tool that we have in our arsenal that lets them know that there is no food chain here, that everybody’s on equal footing, we need to use. And it’s going to be the best thing we can do for these kids right now at this point in their social development.
And I’ve really found that Classcraft, even though it’s competitive — and even though some of them are like, “I’m a Level 12 and you’re only a Level 11,” or whatever — they know in a single day or a few days that could change, depending on what’s going on in the classroom and who hands in what and who’s on time and who’s not, et cetera. Any of that could change. So Classcraft puts everybody on equal footing. You all start at the same level. You all have the same opportunities to earn and gain, or to lose. So it literally gives them a place in the school where they are all on equal footing regardless of their race, creed, color, national origin, religion, sexual preference, social class, any of that. In Classcraft, none of that matters.