Gossip is an age-old way of sharing news about the happenings of a community and those within it. Evolutionary psychology suggests that gossip promotes bonding and affiliation within a group. Generally, though, gossip belongs to the dark side of communication, used to enhance the gossiper’s status at the cost of another’s reputation.
By the time they reach the fourth or fifth grade, girls in particular tend to become expert at this form of discourse. Gossip corrodes a school community as powerfully as acid, creating cliques, isolated students and fractured classrooms as people take different sides. Many schools are telling No Bully that they have a handle on physical bullying, but have found nothing to stem the barrage of rumor and gossip that shreds the self-esteem of its targets. As one No Bully principal said “It’s hardly against the school rules if a girl puts down another student behind her back”. Gossip has become so problematic that it is now seen as a form of bullying and has a name of its own: relational aggression.
Here are four steps you can take to make your school gossip free:-
1. Only speak well of others. Make it your personal practice to forswear all gossip. If you have a problem with someone, find an outside party to vent to and ask for their help in finding a solution. Then work out the problem directly with the person – or let it go.
2. Set up a mother-daughter group for your fourth grade girls. Plan on meeting three or four times through the year. Ask the girls to tell you the size of the problem. Have mothers to talk to their daughters about the negative effects of cliques and gossip. For a curriculum to use with the girls, check out It has a name: Relational Aggression put out by the Ophelia project.
3. Establish the staff room as a gossip free zone. In faculty rooms up and down the land you hear gossip about students and the teachers that are not present. If you want to stop your students from the gossip habit, change starts with your school faculty. Visionary schools have established a rule that staff never talk about students in the teacher lounge. Extend the no gossip rule to include adults and make it the rule that you only speak well about a person behind their back.
4. Announce a school “No Gossip Day”. Facilitate conversations in each part of your school community – teachers, parents, students, staff – what they mean by gossip, what a No Gossip Day would entail and what people can do if they need to vent. How would it be to take a day when you do not talk about anyone who is not there. Period. Ask your student leaders to visit each of the lower grades and talk to the junior students about what gossip means and the harm caused by gossip. (The learning here goes both ways.) Hold debriefing sessions afterwards in which you explore with teachers and students how difficult it was to abstain from the gossip cocktail, what the school felt like on that day and what it would be like to extend No Gossip Day to the whole school year.
Is venting the new gossip? Teachers will tell you that they are not gossiping, only venting, and that they need a place to let off steam. We get riled up and feelings need to be heard and validated. However, even in venting there is often a subtle intention to create sides and turn the listener against the person that you are venting about. Venting serves a legitimate purpose if the intention is to process one’s feelings and to find a solution. Venting done in public, however, especially if it is the major form of discourse, creates a culture of negativity. If a teacher needs to vent, encourage them to do it in private, with the intention of finding a way to resolve things directly with the person that has stirred their emotions.