Three boys are in a middle-school restroom. One stands in a corner egging on his friend to hit the third boy. The friend does it. He hits the boy over and over and over, because he can. Afterward, they all go back to class and never speak of it again.
Licensed professional counselor Frank DiLallo has made it his life’s work to prevent and repair the effects of bullying in schools and workplaces across the country.
One of the reasons he is so passionate about the issue is because he regrets his own bullying behavior in school. The boy doing the hitting in the restroom was DiLallo.
“One of the reasons I do this is not only professional but also personal, because of my own history with this,” DiLallo said. “I want to make a positive ripple because, as I look back, there are some things I did that had some serious negative implications and was a negative ripple in the world and that’s not the kind of world I want to create.”
DiLallo grew up in a blue-collar Youngstown, Ohio, neighborhood. A gifted athlete, he was a basketball star as well as member of the baseball and track teams. By high school, most of his aggression was channeled into sports, but it took years before he connected his behavior in grade and middle school with bullying.
The realization came at a professional training seminar when he heard the song “Howard Gray,” the true story of singer-songwriter Lee Domann’s remorse over laughing at a junior high classmate.
“It actually touched me to the core. I cried, it hit me that deeply,” DiLallo said. “I realized I had treated some people in a really hard, demeaning and calloused way without giving it a second thought how they may have felt and what the implications are five, 10, 15, 20, 40 years down the road. There are huge implications.”
DiLallo was later inspired to pen “Code of Silence,” a poem about the restroom bullying incident.
DiLallo, who now lives in Sylvania, earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Adrian College. He went on to earn a master’s degree in education in guidance and counseling from the University of Toledo.
For more than a decade, DiLallo has served as the prevention/intervention schools consultant for the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, covering the 19 Northwest Ohio counties the diocese serves. He also regularly speaks at conferences and schools across the country.
World opened up
Before the diocese, DiLallo worked as a counselor at Toledo’s Central Catholic High School, which changed the course of his professional work.
“My whole world opened up,” DiLallo said. “Not only did I feel like I had something to offer, but it had a huge healing peace to offer me. I was working with teens and in my working with them they were simultaneously healing me because I was just seeing how incredible they are. All they want is to be noticed and appreciated, like we all do.”
Working in schools was the last thing DiLallo expected. For years, he avoided the school environment, working in agencies and private practices.
“Isn’t it funny how that works? I never ever saw myself in schools. I hated school growing up. I hated being there. I know that word is strong, but I just I didn’t like it,” DiLallo said. “The only thing that really kept me going was basketball; I knew I needed to get the grades in order to play.”
DiLallo, who will write a regular column about bullying for Toledo Free Press, was inspired to develop his own bullying prevention curriculum after researching existing models and not finding one that matched his vision and experience.
“I wasn’t too impressed with the how-to,” DiLallo said. “It was good information about what bullying is, but what do you do with it once you identify it?”
He co-authored “Peace Be With You: Christ-Centered Bullying Solution,” the only Scripture-based bullying prevention curriculum he knows of. A secular version called “Peace2U: Three-Phase Bullying Solution” followed. DiLallo, who has four children, is now writing a book for parents.
“Students aren’t going to come up to us and say ‘I’ve really got a problem and I need some help with it,’” DiLallo said. “It doesn’t happen that way. It happens in code and that code is their behaviors. Their behaviors are red flags that alert us to things going on they are having trouble coping with and we need to see those red flags as such.”
One important part of any bullying prevention model is increasing people’s sensitivity to the problem, DiLallo said.
“It increases their empathy in helping them understand everything they say and everything they do has impact, not only on others, but on themselves, short-term and long-term,” DiLallo said. “That’s not something I realized until many, many, many years down the road.”
Increased empathy is especially important as technology and social media offer new opportunities for bullying, DiLallo said.
“We like to think we are communicating more and connecting more with people, but it’s in a depersonalized way,” DiLallo said. “I can click and not think about it, because I’m not looking in your eyes, not seeing your expression, not seeing the pain or sadness on your face. We’re living in this high-tech, low-empathy world where we are less compassionate with others because we’re not making human connection.”
DiLallo’s curriculum, which targets grades four through eight, has been used in more than 60 schools in Ohio and Michigan, mostly Catholic schools.
The first phase focuses on leadership and helping students understand social responsibility.
In the second phase, which focuses on interpersonal skills, students are invited to share how they’ve been wronged or wronged others and to reconcile by working through an innovative conflict resolution process DiLallo calls Clear Talk.
“This is what sets my model apart from anything I’ve studied and seen out there,” DiLallo said.
The third phase, focusing on intrapersonal skills, works to further build personal abilities to combat bullying behavior.
“Bullying is happening in so many different ways,” DiLallo said. “It’s a huge social contagion and what I’m attempting to do in the three-phase model is to shift that contagion to a more positive contagion, empowering students to see there’s a grander scheme of things and that you are really selling yourself short and you’re cheating others by treating them this way.”
DiLallo intends his Toledo Free Press column to provide the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns and stories about bullying.
“Our stories, past and present, make us who we are,” DiLallo said. “Sharing our stories is what makes us a community. This anonymous format will respectfully help us all to learn from each other and be comforted in the knowledge that we share similar concerns surrounding bullying — making this truly a shared community experience.”
Although DiLallo frequently works with students, his methods are also effective in workplace situations.
“Bullying is bullying,” DiLallo said. “It’s something that flies under the radar in a lot of ways and when it comes out it can be very startling for an employer just like it can be for a principal who may not be aware of it until long after the fact. So it’s really important that employers, just like principals, really have a pulse on their personnel and on what’s going on.”
Bullying can also come from authority figures.
“There’s a lot more talk about bully teachers, bully parents, bully bosses,” DiLallo said. “They have an approach that is disempowering and disenfranchising, not a way that helps motivate people. It’s a shaming approach, which reduces productivity. All three of those create an unsafe environment that is not conducive to our personal best.
“That’s not fair to those students just like it’s not fair to the workers who have a lot of gifts to offer the workplace,” DiLallo said. “If the social environment is so negative and so threatening, intimidating, demeaning, demoralizing, it’s hard to access my gifts and be all I’m intended to be. That environment has to shift that social contagion to a positive one, a culture of kindness if you will. A culture of honoring each other’s gifts and talents and respecting each other, seeing the dignity, worth and value in every student, in every employee. If we don’t, our culture will continue to decline.”
For more information, visit www.peace2usolutions.com.