According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, 160,000 students skip school each day in fear of being bullied. Grand Valley State University alumnus David Theune has made it his priority to defeat bullying in the classroom through promoting empathy.
Theune graduated from GVSU in 2009 with a Master’s degree in education and is currently a high school teacher at Spring Lake Public Schools. For the past three years, he has been sharing student stories of bullying throughout Spring Lake and surrounding communities. With the help of the U.S. Department of State Fulbright Distinguished Award for Teaching, Theune is extending these efforts to a global scale. He and his family of five have temporarily moved to the Netherlands, and during their stay Theune will travel to many different schools and reach a wide variety of students.
While in the U.S., Theune had been combating bullying and sharing stories through a community book club and a published book titled Elevate Empathy: The Power of Kindness. His most recent project is a podcast titled “The Share Chair Podcast,” which aims to remind listeners that they are not alone. Through his research, Theune has found that the most effective way of fostering a sense of belonging in students is through connectedness. By relating stories of students in the Netherlands to stories from those in the U.S., Theune ultimately hopes to encourage international connectedness.
“I have been running ‘The Share Chair Podcast’ – a podcast focused on sharing student voices in the attempt to remind listeners that they can learn from listening,” Theune said. “They can learn about the interviewee, sure, but the listeners can also learn about themselves – learn they are not alone, that there is someone in similar circumstances. In a seemingly more challenging world, I want to prove to teens that there are others who are feeling the same emotions they are, whether that be solitude, elation or anything in between.”
As an educator, Theune is constantly exposed to bullying in the classroom setting. He has witnessed firsthand how damaging it can be to students’ mental health and their academic abilities.
“What brought me to this project was simply being fed up with students being unable to realize their maximum potential because they were made to feel so small in school,” Theune said. “As a teacher, I know more of what students are working through than their peers often do, and I find that adolescents usually focus in on assumptions, not truths. I was confident that if students really understood the perspective of the person they were bothering, they’d back off. We must allow each other the room and space to realize our best versions of ourselves.”
By the end of Theune’s five month stay in the Netherlands, he hopes to have published 10 to 15 podcast episodes featuring stories from Dutch students. He is also working on creating a Dutch sister location for the podcast to ensure that the work will continue.