In July 2016, Mandi Defries, Principal of Minnie Bersohn Pre-Primary, witnessed first hand the effectiveness of the then unpuplished Powerful system. What happened next is the stuff of legends. In other words, it was her enthusiasm for the system that launched Powerful as a published project into public spaces. Below, Mandi interviews with Deena Hesp about what initiallydrew her to the system and what about it stands out to her as an educator and a leader.
DH: When did you become involved with Powerful?
MD: I have been involved with Powerful since its inception. I worked with Alicia when it was a newly formed idea. I saw the first wording, the first graphics. As a specialist with over 20 years’ experience in children’s education, I immediately saw that the concept was extremely significant and filled a gap for something that was sorely missing—teaching our young children about bullying and empowering them to create an anti-bullying school environment.
DH: How does Powerful differ from other anti-bullying books you have seen?
MD: Firstly, Powerful is an internal tool, rather than an external intervention. We are all going to encounter many bullies in our lives. We will never change them. We need to change ourselves and the only way to do this is to empower ourselves to stand up to them. Powerful gives the tools to do this. Interestingly enough, the book also helps a bully to feel more confident, so that rather than using bullying to overcompensate for feelings of inadequacy, the confidence building techniques of Powerful help to build the bully too, so that the person no longer needs to behave aggressively.
Secondly, Powerful is appropriate for its primary audience, a young child. The setting is in the pre-primary school. Young kids would have the paint, puzzles and dough illustrated in the book. There is no other literature for children this age which can talk to them and literally empower them with knowledge on the subject of bullying, how to handle it and how to successfully build their own confidence.
Thirdly, in its use of language. Alicia is trained in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and it shows, because there is a lot of psychological insight behind the book. Bullying is such a loaded word. But Powerful explores bullying in a child-friendly, accessible and non-threatening way. In fact, the word 'bully' is never used in the book. It is not about standing up and telling the bully not to hurt others. The book is more about showing than telling how to deal with bullying. There are no set of directions. It is rather a potent subconscious message, communicated across in the way that is most informative and entertaining for kids, teachers and parents.
The book also emphasises words describing how a child (or adult) feels when bullied—'mad, sad, scared, bad'— this helps a child articulate the difficult emotions experienced in most situations like these. The book uses these words as a flowing rhyming rhythm. The phrase is catchy and yet, it provides insight into the bullying situation, helping a child to understand and express the feelings appropriate to them.
Something that stands out the most to me is the attention to detail in order to facilitate accessibility. For example, the book’s font is also suitable for a reader with common dyslexic issues. This is phenomenal to me as an educator. While this is not obvious to the lay person, it certainly expands the accessibility of the book.
I also find that while you can sit down with your kids and read the book, it is most effective when you actually experience it with the song, the song process movements and power poses—this is extremely empowering. I love the fact that it teaches kids power poses which they don’t only use in the context of the book, it carries through to their everyday lives.
DH: Let's talk about the song.
MD: The song has a great catchy tune. The words are simple. The fact that there is an accompany CD allows immediate access to the song, to which they then apply the specific actions, reinforcing the empowerment and confidence-building abilities. It's also great for playing in the background.
DH: The book uses animal characters instead of humans. What do you think about that?
MD: I like the way animals are used as the characters of the book, rather than people. The neutrality it brings allows the book appeal to people across gender, race, religion and culture. The animals are neutral, yet sensitively portrayed to get a poignant point across. There is no discrimination in the use of animals; unfortunately bullying doesn’t discriminate, so this on the part of Alicia and the illustrator contributes to the overall egalitarian message of the book: the book appeals to everyone and is accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic status. This is further underpinned by small details in the drawings such as the CD/radio rather than the latest tablet or cell phone, making it to appeal to kids across socio-economic areas. There are subtleties like having the butterfly in nearly every picture that just carries a message from one page to the next.
DH: What has been the impact of Powerful on Minnie Bersohn Pre-Primary staff and children?
MD: We had buy-in from the teachers straight away as an amazing tool to use in the classroom. It is incredible to see that even the little ones, although they don’t have a deep understanding of the concept of bullying, they have learned the empowering language in Powerful which is repeated over and over again in the song. This will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.
DH: What has it been like experiencing the impact of Powerful as a principal?
MD: It has been wonderful to see our teachers and kids embrace the book. When Alicia launched the book, we had workshops with parents who bought into the theory and principles of the book, reinforcing the anti-bullying ethos at home, over and over again. Also, being a pilot school made it great for Alicia to learn from our strengths and refine her training. Now it has gone so big, impacting on so many lives. We’re proud to have been the ones to pilot the book and we are proudly a Powerful school. We have incorporated Powerful into every facet of the classroom, and have also paired it with the Bucket Project, another splendid tool. We have a game of 'Have you filled a bucket today?' where our kids have a bucket and they fill it by doing nice things for others. This emphasises the message of Powerful—that a powerful person is kind, gentle and shares—in acknowledged actions, and so further entrenches a culture of kindness.
DH: Before we end off, is there something you would like to say to others thinking about implementing Powerful themselves?
MD: Yes. As a school we’ve had experts in the field of conflict management and resolution but having Powerful is a significant instrument to communicate a delicate and important subject to our children and our fellow teachers.
OTHER QUOTES FROM MINNIE BERSOHN TEACHERS
"A few days after Alicia introduced her Powerful book and song into our class, I saw a boy on the playground place his feelings into his hand, roll them into a ball and throw them away. It's the ultimate prize for a teacher to see the children using the lessons they have learned." Carla Lynn MacDonald | Parent | Occupational Therapist | Pre-Primary Teacher
"Your programme is outstanding and everyday we remind the kids to empower themselves from your book and song. It definitely has made a great impact. THANK YOU." Morah Joan Lurie | Pre-Primary Teacher | Senior Group
“This mindset empowers children to deal with negative emotions in a positive way.”
Shira Balderson | Parent | Pre-Primary Teacher