Respect and Being an UpstanderAs you may know, I’ve been with Operation Respect for 15 years and I must say I don’t remember when I first heard and then used the word “upstander,” but I do know that we were using the word “ally” to mean standing up for someone who was being picked on or bullied, and suddenly the revelation that “upstander” was the antidote to “bystander” became so strong that a lot us started to use it either along with or as a replacement for “ally.” So I just googled upstander (by the way, neither the verb “google” nor the word upstander are in the standard dictionary). In the standard dictionary upstander is defined as, “one of the handlebars of an Eskimo sledge,” but it’s in the Urban Dictionary as “a person who stands up for his or her beliefs; a person who does what they think is right even if they are alone; and a person who is not a bystander.”

In the Respect for All workshops for the NYC Department of Education, we found that describing the roles people play in a bullying situation, and doing it “by the numbers,” helps all of us understand the potential power of bystanders. We use the word “aggressor” for someone who bullies (see our post about person first language to understand more about how and why we use specific words) and we suggest that there are typically one or two aggressors; we use the word target (as in, someone who is the target of bullying) instead of victim and, again suggest that there is usually just one target of bullying in a given situation. We then suggest that there may be many bystanders, perhaps 20 or more, and sometimes more than that when it’s a cyberbullying incident. So, if one or more or many bystanders become allies or upstanders, a lot of bullying can be prevented. From the latest Bullying Statistics compilation from PACER, “bullied youth were most likely to report that actions that accessed support from others made a positive difference, and “students who experience bullying are more likely to find peer actions helpful than educator or self-actions.” (

Our lesson on being an upstander, the sixth and final exercise in the resolving conflict creatively theme, engages students in practicing how and when to be an upstander and gives them a chance to create a personal pledge. I especially like how this lesson integrates movement through the upstander machine and word sculptures. Circling the “right” behavior on some sort of worksheet just wouldn’t work for us as a way of learning this skill! It has to be acted out and practiced for our minds, bodies, and hearts to really understand and be prepared to stand up for ourselves and others.

In case you were wondering how a word gets into the dictionary, here’s the response from When lexicographers decide what words to add to dictionaries, they try to imagine what words people actually want to look up. There are two important factors to keep in mind here: 1) Is the word in widespread? 2) Does the word have staying power?

So, here’s a nice secondary goal: let’s get the word upstander into the dictionary. Primary goal: let’s reduce bullying by being upstanders.

And, let us know how our lesson made a difference with your students.

As always, you help us make these lessons better by sharing your experiences with us. Please write to us at to tell you how this lesson works (or doesn’t!) in your classroom or post your stories to our Facebook page.

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