At Operation Respect we believe that all young people deserve, and have the right, to learn in a safe, respectful, and caring community. For those of you who have already begun work to create such an environment, the Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum can add extra passion and new dimensions to that effort. For those of you unsure of where to start, but who know that such a community of learning is what you seek, Don’t Laugh at Me is the perfect way to begin. First published in 2000 and revised in 2016 by Laura Parker Roerden, Don’t Laugh at Me lessons are based on the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program developed by Educators for Social Responsibility, now known as Engaging Schools and teach life long social, ethical, and emotional skills.

With music and other integrated arts activities included in each lesson, links to Common Core Standards, and grade level specific modifications, Don’t Laugh at Me engages students in experiences and learning through four cornerstone themes:

Together the lessons of these themes build essential skills for reducing bullying and conflict, establishing a peaceful, supportive learning environment, and engaging young people in active participation in their community.

The curriculum includes nineteen (19) 45-minute classroom sessions focused on instruction in social-emotional learning skills that have been identified by research to be lynchpins of successful programs. Each lesson includes integrated arts, Common Core State Standards, and suggested curricular connections. Lessons are written for implementation in Grades 2-5 with modifications included for Grades K-1 and Grades 6-Adult.

When you use this curriculum you will be teaching core social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies to young people such as respect, communication and active listening, perspective taking, creative conflict resolution, appreciation of diversity, and the healthy expression of feelings. Respect can become a unifying principle in your school’s culture—while at the same time teaching life long skills that contribute to a young person’s future happiness and success.

A caring, respectful community functions with a sense of clearly shared purpose, ideals, and vision, as if each individual were a gear operating in a well orchestrated and integrated machine. Because we can see how our individual accomplishments contribute to the whole, a sense of pride and belonging is nurtured, self-efficacy is fostered, and we feel invested in the shared—as well as individual—outcomes of the community. Each person, and the whole community, feels empowered.

In order to experience a community as caring, all people within it need:

  • to experience a sense of belonging
  • to feel emotionally and physically safe
  • to experience both autonomy and influence
  • to have a sense of shared purpose and ideals
  • to have a feeling of accomplishment and pride
  • to feel valued and respected
  • to feel that each of them can make a difference
  • to feel empowered

These are values we all hold for the students we serve, for their families, and for ourselves within the school community, and can serve as a guide to decision making at the school and classroom level.

How the Curriculum is Organized

Don’t Laugh at Me is organized around four SEL cornerstone themes:

Each theme and lesson builds on those that happen earlier in the sequence creating a cohesive flow and logical path from introduction to conclusion. Rather than a sequence, think also of these themes as a continuum, a circle or a kaleidoscope of themes that interact with each other and find themselves woven into the fabric of the daily life in your classroom and school. Respect, diversity, caring and other core concepts, for instance, are reinforced throughout the lessons with particular emphasis in certain themes.

We strongly recommend following the lesson plans in the order they are presented as many of the skills are progressive and depend on both growing competency in student’s skill and awareness, the evolution of a sense of community and the increasing emotional safety of participants in your classroom.

Getting Started:

Think about the best way to implement Don’t Laugh at Me in your classroom and/or school. (Operation Respect provides professional development services including workshops and professional coaching – hyperlink to PD page). Collaborate with colleagues to build a plan for implementation that works for your setting, your strengths, and your challenges.

Some options for implementation that have worked for others include:

  • Begin the school year (or any time in which you first start using the curriculum) with one lesson of direct instruction per day for a month. This provides the best possible continuity and sequence for building a caring community and developing your students’ social – emotional skills. (If you cannot do one lesson per day, we recommend two lessons per week.)
  • Integrate Don’t Laugh at Me into your existing Morning Meeting or other class meeting schedule
  • Integrate Don’t Laugh at Me into your existing Advisory period or program schedule
  • Begin with a school wide assembly to introduce the Don’t Laugh at Me song and your goals for the school-learning environment. (This could also be done at Back to School night.) Talk about your commitment to a respectful, caring community and tell students that you will be learning together how to ensure your school is a ridicule free zone.
  • Implement Don’t Laugh at Me with your school counselor through classroom guidance activities.

As you think through these possible structures, it is important to consider your classroom/school rituals, routines, management strategies, and commitment to a respectful, bullying free community. Your students will look to you for cues, so don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry, or you hadn’t thought of something before, or you had an experience like this too.

Anatomy of a Lesson

To help you quickly get the information you need for planning, each lesson includes:

Lesson Title and Description

What to Know – a brief summary of background information and/or teaching tips for a successful lesson

Objectives – a list of student outcomes for the lesson

Common Core Standard Alignment – including anchor and grade level specific standards

Preparation and Materials

Gather Together/Warm-Up/Bell Ringer Activity – typically 5-10 minutes in length

Main Activity – typically 20 minutes in length and including integrated arts components

Additional Integrated Arts Components – per lesson

Closing Activity – typically 5 minutes

Grade Level Modifications – suggested modifications for use with Grades K-1, Grades 6-12, and adult populations

Curricular Connections – optional extensions to connect the lesson to your core curriculum


Integration of the Arts

Central to the effectiveness of this curriculum is the Don’t Laugh at Me song and video, along with many other songs such as “This Little Light of Mine,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Down by the Riverside” and other classics as offered by Operation Respect founder Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary. Also included are other ways to explore the curricular themes using drama, movement, poetry, literature, and the visual arts. By giving students multiple entry points into these topics, you’ll help them develop and practice core social and emotional competencies and express themselves in a variety of ways. The arts have long been a tool to connect the heart and mind and we integrate them here for just such a purpose.

Facilitation Tips and Guidelines:

Your students will learn as much – if not more – about expressing feelings, building community, resolving conflict, and celebrating diversity from how you manage your classroom, engage them in learning, and treat them, their families, and your colleagues, as they will from the experiences within these lessons. Take time to reflect on your own feelings, beliefs, and behaviors as you prepare for each lesson. It is important to model the skills you hope for children to learn in everything you do – from how you facilitate your daily lesson plans to how you respond to your student’s feelings during an intervention to how you manage and express your own feelings in their presence.

  • Build a feelings vocabulary within the classroom that you use to solve problems, analyze characters in literature and history, and express emotions powerfully.
  • Promote reflection through journal writing, classroom discussions, and the integrated arts activities.
  • Provide outlets and strategies for students when they are frustrated, angry, overexcited, or sad. Work with your school counselor and other colleagues to develop plans for restorative justice strategies (hyperlink or footnote) when students fall short of the caring community expectations.
  • Match pairs and groups thoughtfully. Switch between random, student selected, and teacher assigned pairs and groupings regularly so that students are comfortable working with all of their classmates and “used to” the routine of working together effectively.
    • Keep groups small at first (begin with pairs) until students develop skills to work in groups of three or four.
    • When random groups are appropriate use counting off strategies or line up strategies (and then counting off) by birthdate, height, bedtime, number of siblings, etc.,
    • When students get to choose their own groupings ask them to find someone with whom they haven’t worked recently, someone they think might have a skill they don’t, someone whose name is at the opposite end of the alphabet from theirs, etc. Remind the students of expectations for accepting an invitation to partner with someone else and expectations for inclusion.
    • When you assign groups yourself, consider learning styles, strengths, and challenges. To the extent possible given your classroom demographics, ensure diversity across racial, ethnic, and gender lines or any other cultural variable particularly important in your community.
    • Discuss behaviors which make working together effective and ineffective – shared responsibility v. one person doing more than others, arguing v. expressing opinions with respect, interrupting v. allowing time for all in the group to speak and participate.
  • Provide a conducive space for the activity. Many of our lessons work well in circles or in small groups. Others require movement and will need open space in which to do so.
  • Foster inclusion and diversity through your classroom materials, examples, wall art, multi-media, language, etc. Seek out learning to help develop your cultural competence and practice your skills. Replace activities that exclude such as “Doughnuts with Dad” in favor of “Special Person day” or even “Dudes Do Doughnuts” which allows a student to invite any significant male figure in his life.
  • Take a stand against bias and bullying immediately. Model being an upstander by intervening to prevent exclusion, helping children to take another’s perspective, empowering children with language to stand up for themselves when hurt by another’s words or actions, and by looking out for patterns of behavior which might require more intensive intervention.
  • Engage families in every way possible. Share the Don’t Laugh at Me resources and lessons through your regular communication and consider homework that reflects the lessons. Invite families to learn and sing the songs together and to practice each of the skills at home.

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