Her perspective: A Samoan mother on losing her son in utero

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A friend posted this heart wrenching poem on her Facebook page some months back when she found out that her baby had died in utero in the final trimester, mere weeks before he was due to be born. It was her second loss. No modern day poem has made me cry as much as this one. She wishes to remain anonymous, but approved the sharing of her sad sad words with the world. My heart is with you my dear. You are brave and you are strong.

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Loss

How do you love a person who never got to be, or try to envision a face you never got to see?

How do you mourn the death of one who never got to live? When there’s nothing to feel good about and nothing to forgive?

I love you, my baby boy my companion of the night.

Wandering through my lonely hours, beautiful and bright.

What does it mean to die before you ever were born, to live the lovely night of life and never see the dawn?

Ah! My son, you lived like anyone! Life’s a burst of joy and pain. And then like yours, it’s done.

I love you, Blake just as if you’d lived for years.

No more, no less, I think of you, the Angel of my tears.

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Today I wish I didn’t speak Samoan

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A man came over to me while my car was at the traffic lights opposite McDonalds Restaurant, across from Lotemau Centre, in the heart of Apia and said: “Sis, fia ai a i lau mea. O le a le kaimi e ke magava ai.” I do not know this man, I have never seen him before in my life, but at 3pm in the afternoon sun in the middle of the street he had the audacity to approach me in my vehicle and offer to eat my privates.

Today, I wish I did not speak Samoan, so I would not have understood what he was proposing, so that I could be comforted in my ignorance that I was not just verbally violated in the privacy of my vehicle, so I can just presume he is just another street random, so that I can give him the benefit of the doubt, so that I am not assaulted on my way to buy my daughter her school uniform.

I recently took part in Samoan language week celebrated in New Zealand, because I am a fiercely proud Samoan woman. I love my culture and my language, but today, I wanted nothing to do with it, because when a man comes over to you harasses you in such a way, it strips you bare of such of your mamalu and makes you question all the other values you expect from Samoan men.

I remember seeing a Youtube video some months back that featured a woman walking through New York City (Photo attached) and men calling out compliments to her, they called it “sexual harassment” but all I saw and could hear were considerate and wonderful comments from men she passed by.

Now if you taped a camera on any Samoan woman and left it there for a month, then you would truly know what “sexual harassment is.” It comes in the form of a brush of the arm on the breast, a truly lewd comment and an offer of a unwelcome sexual favour on a weekly basis, not to mention extremely rude and inappropriate remarks about her body.

Today, I wish I did not speak Samoan. Today I wish I had a tazer on me. Today I wish my daughter did not outgrow her small uniform so she would never get closer to experiencing what I experienced today and many times before, but today, it hurt more, because I thought we had gone beyond this.

Why, I might add is your sister the apple of your eye, yet the woman on the street is fair game? Why is it you are the protector of your sister but you can beat your wife senseless? Why, is your sister the feagaiga and all other women are sexual objects that you can treat like dirt?

I reiterate my point to you before I rolled up my window and almost crushed your filthy fingers you scum: “Alu e kui lou kefe.” Over and out 🙂 (Tulou le gagana)

This Kiwi young man is proof that chivalry is alive

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11390078_10153374196255987_95188515245772147_nThis blog was set up a few years ago to applaud the successes of young people and women and men of any age. It was set up to bring to light, the stories of big and little heroes, and to give praise where it is due, to the work of organizations, of Government departments and of worthy individuals and groups who advocate for the rights of women, for the advancement of human rights, and sometimes just to applaud cool people.

So this is an ‘applaud a cool person’ post.

His name is Cedric, I have never met him, but this young man Googles well. I tapped into my investigative reporter skills to dig out some information on Cedric a few weeks ago when his name was brought to my attention.

Before I launch into praise of this wonderful son of some amazing parents (whom also I don’t know and never met), let me give you the back story.

My niece was looking for a date to her school prom in New Zealand recently. She is 17 and one of the most amazing young women I know, because she has strength of character, confidence, empathy and is super intelligent.

As a young teen she has had some very lovely friends who are boys, but she has also had some who are not so nice. My niece has also been exposed to some not-so admirable male role models in her life, outside of her circle of friends. So a few weeks before her school ball, she was looking for a nice young man to accompany to her school ball.

She posted a message on her Facebook asking for a respectful young man to escort her to the ball, she wasn’t asking for a relationship, just someone who would treat her respectfully during the ball.

Over 200 people liked her status and over 20 young men were nominated by aunties, sisters, fathers and relatives for her to take to the ball. But only one such young man contacted her directly and asked her out to the Ball.

As part of the agreement for her to post a search on Facebook, her mother and her Aunties would have to vet the date who is proposed, for safety reasons. When Cedric offered to accompany my beautiful niece, she asked us for permission, and we did what any Samoan Aunties would do, researched, asked and drilled.

“What’s his name? Where is he from? Does he go to school? How has he done in school? Have you heard anything about him that we might need to know etc.” While some of these questions were being asked, I took the liberty of researching the young man to the depths of the internet, and found only the most awe inspiring references to his academic, leadership and athletic achievements.

I sent my approval, pending the usual parental consent by both sides.

Come the night of the ball, by all accounts the young man proved himself quite the gentleman, turning up in a suit, even bringing a corsage for my niece and being a wonderful date the whole night.

At the end of the night he thanked my sister for the opportunity to take her daughter to the ball and offered to cover the petrol for the car, which of course was declined, but nonetheless that he thought of that was pretty cool.

I want to say thank you Cedric for being a wonderful young man who treated my niece with respect. I want to thank you for exhibiting what any mother would want to see in a prom date for their daughter. As an Aunty I am so thankful you were lovely to my niece, because trust you me, if you weren’t I would have hunted you down, only in a way a Samoan Aunty would do 🙂 But joking aside, you charmed my sister, you were good to my niece and you personified a most admirable and not to mention handsome date for my beautiful Niece. I thank you for being proof that indeed chivalry is very much alive.

More importantly thank you to the parents of this young man, for bringing him up in such was way that he knows how to treat a young woman on one of the most exciting nights of her life.

To every mother or father reading this blog who was a son between the ages of 2-6 and who will be within a ten mile radius of my daughter in 15 years time, take heed, raise your sons like this one, so that Storm can go to a prom with a respectable young man like Cedric when the time comes. Actually scratch that, she’s not going to prom, she’s not leaving my house at puberty and she most certainly will not be talking to members of the opposite sex until she is about 25.

With thanks,

Over-protective Mother of the Year 😉

Back to my niece and Cedric. Here’s a pictorial update from the night. Don’t they look super cute!! They captured when he presented her with a corsage.

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Filifotus journey to the top

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Filifotu1Filifotu Vaai-Tinitali just gave birth to her second daughter a few months ago, a few months later, she was appointed Country Manager of Blue Sky American Samoa. Two milestones within a matter of months. She’s young, barely past 30 (I mean, are you even 30?). If you pass her on the street, you will notice her, not just for her long frizzy hair that is unique to the descendants of the rugged Savaii volcanoes, but rather for her presence, that of great certainty and purpose, for one so young.

I can’t pin point the exact time or year I met her, for when you are from Savaii, you could have crossed paths as babies or simply while hauling a freshly baked basket of Sunday to’onai onto the shelves of the lady Samoas loading section as you return home for the weekend during high school. Ok, so maybe we didn’t cross paths in high school because she went to the RLS where apparently they ate food during lunch every day and I went to Samoa College, and stayed in the hostel where I starved for four years straight. No Joke.

But back to Fotu, I do however remember the first time I sat down at the same table with her, and that’s a few years after a few of us revived the Rotaract Club of Apia from a long inactive slumber. We were planning the first televised student quiz for Samoa, called Battle of the Minds, and Fotu overnight wrote the rules of the show, drafted contract agreement with sponsors and had envisioned all types of scenarios that could put RCA in a difficult position, and found ways to deal with it. The document would go on to protect our asses as the show proceeded and became quite a publically followed event every week.

Throughout the years I would see Fotus name pop up in various national telecommunication initiatives and programmes, and always admired how she was quietly but surely rising in the ranks of the telecommunication industry in the region. So when I saw on the front page of the Samoa Observer that she was just appointed the Country Manager of Blue Sky in American Samoa, I smiled just a little bit inside, well firstly I was not surprised that she had risen to the role because she is not only committed, intelligent but also hard working, but more than anything, I was impressed by the foresight and astuteness of the company to appoint an extremely capable and deserving young woman into this leadership role.

Whenever a young woman rises to leadership roles, I always want to pick their brain, because I know from experience that there are specific challenges that women go through as a result of raising a family while rising in their career of choice.

So I did what any curious person would do, asked and luckily Fotu answered. What really stood out about her reflections and answers was that woman or not, made no difference bad or good in her career. I like that, for we always say that women face challenges in the workplace, but in fact it’s not all workplaces, only some, as she duly notes. I did not want to mess with her answers so here’s the interview, verbatim!

Sefulu Ono Aso: What were your initial thoughts when you were offered the new role?

Filifotu Vaai-Tinitali: My first feeling was: Gratitude. I see it as a huge responsibility and I am humbled that I was chosen. A little nervous, but also extremely excited for the journey ahead.

Sefulu Ono Aso: What do you think the biggest challenges will be in running a company as a young woman?

Filifotu Vaai-Tinitali: The primary challenge for me as I see it is running the company well and delivering as a country manager to staff, customers, community, and various other stakeholders. Doing it as a young woman, I think the challenge is going to be dealing with people’s expectations. In the role, I will directly interact with many people and the public, some of whom find it surprising that I am a young woman. The challenge is going to be navigating people’s expectations and cutting through them to the heart of matters. The other challenge as a young woman, is maintaining work life balance having a young family, and ensuring I deliver on my (more important) role as a mother & wife.

Sefulu Ono Aso: What are you looking forward to the most?

Filifotu Vaai-Tinitali: I’m looking forward the most to working with my teams. One of my strengths is bringing teams together to achieve a common goal, and this role requires this of me on a whole new level.  I’m fortunate that I am supported by a great team and CEO and I’m excited at what we’re going to be able to achieve together.

Sefulu Ono Aso: In your own personal experience career wise, even before you went into Bluesky, did you ever encounter situations where you were judged based on your age and gender?

Filifotu Vaai-Tinitali: I remember not long after I started at my first job, fresh out of university I was in a meeting where I and few other young colleagues were offering suggestions only to be told quite directly, “Sit down. You young people with your degrees you think you know everything. You better know your place.” It was an eye opener to say the least.   I took it as a learning experience and chose to not let it discourage me, rather to learn more about the workplace culture so I could find other ways to achieve what I wanted, and to affect positive change within it.

Sefulu Ono Aso: There’s a general feeling that it’s hard for women to rise to leadership roles, but you are one of many who have proven, that even at a young age, you can rise to the top of your field, do you think there is merit to this notion?

Filifotu Vaai-Tinitali: This is an interesting question. I personally don’t believe that being a woman makes it more difficult for me or any other woman in Samoa or American Samoa to rise to Leadership.  I think in general, some people have ideas (spoken and implied) that leadership in the workplace (and other places) is more a man’s role, but I believe that is changing, and to me they are just people’s ideas.  Just because some people think it, it doesn’t make it true. The truth is, women can and do rise to leadership because they are leaders, not in spite of being women.

Sefulu Ono Aso: Can you list five key lessons you have learnt in your career, which has helped you advance?

Filifotu Vaai-Tinitali:

  1. Surround yourself with good mentors that you believe in, who also believe in you. I’ve been fortunate to work with great personal and professional mentors who I respect and aspire to be like. Listening and learning from their advice and example has kept me encouraged and pushed me further than I could have ever gotten by myself.
  2. Be solutions focused. I think attitude is so important. When things get difficult at work, it’s too convenient and common for us to make excuses or lay blame, rather than looking past the difficulty and focusing on what can be done to turn things around. This is a mindset or an attitude that you can choose to adopt. The way you see a problem makes it a problem or an opportunity.
  3. Don’t dwell on your mistakes too long. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and I’ve let some really get to me. I’ve learned that the funny thing about mistakes is that everybody makes them. Learn from them and then move on. Thinking too long about it allows fear and self doubt to fester and grow on your insides.
  4. Put good in, get good out. I’m a strong believer that you reap what you sow. What you put into anything is what you get out. Hard work will result in good rewards. This also goes for your relationships with coworkers, if you respect and trust others, it comes back around. Pray and practice gratitude.
  5. It’s okay to not know all the answers, nobody does. But always be willing to seek the answers (ask your coworkers or boss, research online or read books, reach out to someone you think might be able to help). We sometimes think if we don’t know something, that we aren’t as smart as other people who know the answers. But I think smart people are those that know their limitations and aren’t limited by them. They don’t know all the answers but they know how to seek them.

Sefulu Ono Aso: Lastly, amid your career successes you have had two children, what are some key reflections you have regarding being a young mother and still striving to succeed in the corporate world?

Filifotu Vaai-Tinitali: The most important job I have is being a mother. What greater responsibility is there? I do my best to keep the family first, to make time and just be present when I’m with them, but generally my life is pretty chaotic. Maintaining work life balance has been a tricky balancing act and I’ve definitely had to make some sacrifices (primarily being away from the kids) however, it’s only been with the love and support of my husband and family that I am able to pursue my career with the passion I have for it. I’m extremely lucky I have a great support system. My mother is also my greatest inspiration so I have a great example and advisor in her.

I think the reflection I always come back to is that as working mothers, it’s impossible to be all things, to all people, all the time. Today, I actually anticipate that I will be overwhelmed often, that not everything will go smoothly, and I won’t get it right all the time. And that’s okay. We’ll figure it out.

Congratulations once again Filifotu and here’s to wishing you all the best in your new role. Malo lava le tauivi. May Savaii chicks continue to rock the world in more ways than one.

I gave birth at Moto’otua Hospital, and it was a good experience

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My daughter on her last day at Motootua Hospital, four days after she was born. She is in her car seat in the Maternity Ward, ready to go home.

This is my birth story, if you don’t like it, frankly my dear, I do not give a damn!

I was at a dinner party last week and I found myself yet again, the only Samoan at the table among expats, the conversation is interesting, for different perspectives lend itself to sometimes explosive but intelligent arguments. This is the reality of being married to an expat, the other half of my social life tends to be with expats. I enjoy these gatherings, for after living my whole entire life in Samoa, sometimes it’s nice to pretend for a few hours that the dinner party being hosted by Italian, Australian or Kiwi friends are indeed taking place in either Milan, Melbourne or Wellington. Of course after the dinner is over and I drive back, dodging the 12 half-naked toddlers who live in our neighborhood, I am once again brought back to the beautiful reality of living in what was recently a Least Developed Country.

My being here, 32 years after my birth at Motootua Hospital is by choice, I love my culture, am patriotic to the point of no return and will defend it to the very very last possible logical argument that I have. Yes, I admit it when there are faults in the Fa’aSamoa, especially one that is detrimental to anyone especially women and children, but I will defend every bit of it that I believe in. So that’s what happened Friday night, when the conversation turned to birth stories and one expat lady turned to me and said: “I had my third baby here, and I am never doing that again, it was hell.” This is the curse of hanging with expats, the conversation is usually lovely until they bitch and moan about Samoa, which is their right, they are humans and they have relocated from their homes to be here, but I don’t want to be at the table when it becomes a Samoan-bashing session, because news-flash, when you say things about the Fa’aSamoa, in Samoa while a Samoan is sitting there next to you, we become defensive, in the same exact way you would defend your family if someone was to say something bad about them in front of you.

So here, dear lady, is my defense of the Motootua Hospital and the maternity unit, surgery and pediatric care. I was born at Motootua Hospital, my mother did not die and I did not die or suffer any complications health or otherwise as a result. My six other siblings were born there too, they seem fine, well except for my brothers, who are a bit nutty at times, but that’s not the Hospitals fault.

My mother has 27 grandchildren, one was born in Oman, two in the US, three were born in New Zealand, two were born in Savaii and 19 were born at Motootua Hospital. My daughter is one of the 19, she was born at Motootua Hospital two years ago, without any problems.

By telling this story, I am not discrediting all the sad stories and experiences that other women have faced at Motootua, but we hear about the negative experiences at the Hospital all the time, so here is a positive story, based on my own personal experience.

All my pre-natal care was done in Samoa which included ultrasounds, tests and main prenatal checkups. I was a week late with my contractions, and they started at about 5:30am, on the same day that Cyclone Garry was predicted to hit Samoa in the evening. We went to the hospital, my sister, a nurse from New Zealand and my husband were with me. When we arrived at the hospital I handed over my file, and the Nurses attended to me, and advised that I still had a bit of time to go. I walked around, by this point, the contractions were averaging at three minutes apart. By six pm that evening, there was no progress, so a call was made by the doctor to induce labour, this intensified the pain but did not add to the progress of labour. All the while a Doctor was always present to monitor the heart rate of the baby and my progress. Yes, by this time several things had happened, like I pretty much banned my mother from the birthing room, after she reverted to her very very Samoan mothers role and started scolding me for ‘doing it wrong’. Luckily my sister was there to ease the situation. By this time, my husband who was pretty much strong throughout the whole process, almost fainted after the induction, so he too had to be excused from the room, leaving me and my sister in peace, just going through the motions. At 10pm the head of maternity came in and checked an after noting fluctuations in the babies heart rate made the immediate call for an emergency caesarian. I was saddened, as I had already gone through so many hours of contractions not to be given the opportunity to deliver her naturally, but I was also very relieved for the pain to go away but most importantly for my daughter to be safely delivered.

The appropriate papers were signed and within 30 minutes of the Doctor making the call, I was on the table and the operation was completed by 10:30 with the arrival of my fat baby girl. The surgery was flawless, the procedures seemed very professional and the room was spotless. There was never a point where I feared for my or my childs safety, I had full faith in the care of the local Doctors who were in the room carrying out the operation. What was more amazing was that a Cyclone was due and yet the Doctors and staff were ready and everything ran smoothly. Luckily the cyclone never hit.

After the operation I was taken to a recovery room, my daughter by this point was handed over to my family, and my husband took her and refused to give her over to the nurses to attend to her. This would become a family joke later on, how the Nurses begged with him to let the child go so they can weigh and check her, and to the point where my mother almost slapped the poor man for holding on to his daughter. His biggest and most unreasonable fear was that the child would be swapped, this notion was most amusing, as due mostly to his genetics our daughter was as white as snow and probably the whitest baby within a ten mile radius of the maternity ward, if she were to be taken, she would be easily tracked down. Needless to say, he only let go of the child for five minutes to let the Nurses do their work, but he stood very close by.

I was transferred to the maternity ward after several hours in observation and although the unit I was taken too was hot, it was otherwise fine. A lactating nurse who was a fa’afafine checked on me immediately to make sure everything was working fine. In the morning, I was taken to an air conditioned room for closer observation and I stayed there for four days so the Doctors could monitor my progress. All was fine, baby attended to and declared fit and healthy the next day. Nurses checked in on my three times a day, a Doctor came in twice a day. A regular supply of breakfast, lunch and dinner meal service including a snack round was served. When I needed pain killers they were supplied, when we had concerns, we were attended to.

Yes there were blood splatters on the ground, that were not mine, and I entertained myself by watching cockroaches criss-cross the ceiling, the toilet seat was broken and my sister had to bring water proof bandaging for the scar from NZ, but for a free surgery, round the clock health care by qualified professionals, a comfortable bed, full meal service at USD$2.00 a day in a LDCF, this here was top of the line service.

While in the delivery room there were seven babies born while I was going through labour, that’s seven additional mothers and babies in the maternity room every day. The maternity ward was full, not a single bed spared, and yet the rounds were prompt, the service was professional and medication was dispensed when needed.

Overall the birth cost SAT$21.00, about USD$10.00, if we had not ordered Panadol before the birth, it would have only cost us SAT$16.00. There is probably nowhere else in the world you can have this birth experience for this amount of money.

My labour was not easy and I had an emergency caesarian which went perfectly well, I have had no complications since, and my daughter has had her vaccinations on time, and two years later we are in perfectly good health.

There were elements to my experience that perhaps made it what it was, I won’t deny that. I had three advocates who knew their stuff.

My mother, who knew when to step in (although I did tell her to step out), my husband who was methodical and would not let anyone get away with a decision without analyzing every aspect of it, and most importantly my sister, a nurse for over 15 years, a mother of four, and a former Motootua Hospital nurse, who had my best interests in mind, but also understood and respected the role of the maternity staff and nurses. Perhaps my best decision which implicated my birth in a very positive light was my pre-natal doctors, Dr. Malama Tafunai up until 7 months and Dr. Francis Maru from 8 months onwards and he did the surgery himself.

I have heard many nightmarish stories from the maternity ward and women who delivered there, and this is not to discredit their stories, I’m sure they are true, and it is unfortunate and something needs to be done that such experiences no longer happen, but everyone has their own story, and mine is what it is, and I am proud to share it, for with every negative story there is a positive. I have no relations in the maternity ward, nor friends. This is just shedding the light on the fact that one could have a positive birth experience at Motootua and indeed one did.

So thank you to the nurses and doctors who do listen, who do respond and who are professional, it is them we never hear of, for it’s the work of the unprofessional and inconsiderate that tend to dominate mainstream media. So here’s to you, the good ones, for aiding in the arrival of my daughter, one of many many many many babies you welcome to the world on a daily if not hourly basis.

Malo le onosai, malo le tautua atunu’u. I hope you received the chocolates and the treats we dropped off a month after the birth of Storm.

Will St Josephs College EVER stop the bullying?

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stjoeThis is no longer a question directed at students of St Josephs College in Samoa, but now one strictly pointed at the teachers, principal and administration. WHY IS BULLYING STILL SO PREVALENT IN ST JOSEPHS?

The topic of bullying in school has been well researched and published, and the common underlying belief is that the best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts. There are a number of things school staff can do to make schools safer and prevent bullying.

But why after so many years of bullying at St Josephs have none of the established strategies on anti-bullying being implemented in the school? When I was in high school in the 1990s, St Josephs were the most feared and the ones who usually started the fights on the sea wall and at the athletics. When I was reporting for the national papers, St Josephs students were part of one of the biggest student riots in town, which saw the use of molotov bombs and defacing of public property.

Don’t take me wrong, other schools were involved, but St Josephs has a particular reputation, backed up by anecdotal and physical evidence, of the violence they impose not just in school but in the high school community.

According to one of the students at the school, after viewing the video he said the incident was known to some teachers but that it was normal and so they did not act on it.

According to the same source, it is obvious in the video that the student being bullied is new, as evident in the neat nature of his uniform, and that he was a target as a result of his new status.

There are so many questions that need to be answered relating to this case, but the most important one is, how could something like this happen in their school, and the public finds out before the Principal does? And why would would the Principal comment: “This must be stopped.” When it should be: “All students involved will be expelled, we do not tolerate bullying?”

I’m so sick and tired of hearing these stories, not just from St Josephs but from all high schools. Why, in a day and age when we should know better, do teachers and Principals still tolerate such behavior?

When I was in Samoa College, there was so much bullying in the Samoa College Hostel, that now when I look back, some of the things I witnessed could be classified as ‘torture’ in international human rights terminology. Things like, juniors having to swallow erasers while standing on a bucket, or having to hold razor blades by their tongues while a senior boy dictates the next move. Or when they are banned from eating because they woke up a few minutes late. Or when as a junior girl you are punched by the junior leader for not washing the tea towel correctly.

These practices are often known to the teachers and Principals but no one acts on it. Luckily for Samoa College the Principal that came in, in my last year made some changes and things are much better now.

Schools like St Josephs need to make the necessary changes to ensure that no more young men or women are bullied, they need to give these people  a way to complain and to make their voices heard if incidences like this occur.

I want to thank the young man who posted the video online, but I fear for his safety considering his friends would know who took the video. I also continue to fear for the safety of the victim in the video, as he will still be exposed to friends of the bullies.

What measures are in place to protect the whistle blowers? Here are some anti-bullying tips from Edutopia, for principals, teachers and parents.

Five Tips to Help Principals Prevent Bullying

According to Dillon, effectively addressing a bullying problem requires a culture change. A true culture change takes time, but a few key steps to help principals get started:

  • Practice What You Preach Don’t use your status as the school leader as the lever for change; instead, “listen before talking and reflect before acting” to ensure your staff feel valued (this is backed up by the NEA survey, which found an important predictor of adult willingness to intervene in bullying was their “connectedness” to the school, defined as their belief they are valued as individuals and professionals in the learning process).
  • Assess the Extent of the Problem Survey students, staff and parents to find out how much and what type of bullying is going, as well as where and when, to target prevention efforts.
  • Develop a School-wide Code of Conduct that reinforces school values and clearly defines unacceptable behavior and consequences. Empower bystanders — teachers and especially students — to help enforce it by training them to identify and respond to inappropriate behavior.
  • Increase Adult Supervision Most bullying happens when adults are not present, so make sure they are “visible and vigilant” in hallways, stairwells, cafeterias and locker rooms, as well as on buses and the way to and from school for students who walk.
  • Conduct Bullying Prevention Activities such as all-school assemblies, communications campaigns or creative arts contests highlighting school values to bring the community together and reinforce the message that bullying is wrong.

(These tips were adapted from articles by James Dillon from Principal magazine, Sept/Oct 2010 and Ted Feinberg from Principal Leadership, Sept. 2003.)

Five Tips to Help Teachers Prevent Bullying

Even when a school leader doesn’t have a formal bullying prevention agenda, teachers can create safe, bully-free zones in their classrooms:

  • Know Your School and District Policies on Bullying Do your part to implement them effectively.
  • Treat Students and Others with Warmth and Respect Let students know that you are available to listen and help them.
  • Conduct Classroom Activities around Bullying Help your class identify bullying in books, TV shows and movies, and discuss the impact of that bullying and how it was/could be resolved. Hold class meetings in which students can talk about bullying and peer relations.
  • Discuss Bullying with Colleagues As a group, you will be better able to monitor the school environment. Discuss both bullying in general and concerns regarding specific students.
  • Take Immediate Action Failure to act provides tacit approval of the behavior and can cause it to spread.

(These tips were adapted from NEA’s Bully Free: It Starts With Me andAFT’s See A Bully, Stop A Bully campaign resources.)

Five Tips to Help Parents Prevent Bullying

Parents and guardians are among a school’s best allies in bullying prevention:

  • Talk with and Listen to Your Children Everyday Ask questions about their school day, including experiences on the way to and from school, lunch, and recess. Ask about their peers. Children who feel comfortable talking to their parents about these matters before they are involved in bullying are more likely to get them involved after.
  • Spend time at School and Recess Schools can lack the resources to provide all students individualized attention during “free” time like recess. Volunteer to coordinate games and activities that encourage children to interact with peers aside from their best friends.
  • Be a Good Example When you get angry at waiters, other drivers or others, model effective communication techniques. As Education.com puts it, “Any time you speak to another person in a mean or abusive way, you’re teaching your child that bullying is ok.”
  • Create Healthy Anti-Bullying Habits Starting as young as possible, coach your children on both what not to do (push, tease, and be mean to others) as well as what to do (be kind, empathize, and take turns). Also coach your child on what to do if someone is mean to him or to another (get an adult, tell the bully to stop, walk away and ignore the bully).
  • Make Sure Your Child Understands Bullying Explicitly explain what it is and that it’s not normal or tolerable for them to bully, be bullied, or stand by and watch other kids be bullied.

(These tips were adapted from materials by the National PTA andEducation.com.)

The Bottom Line

Bullying is an enormous problem, and we must all do our part to impact it. If nothing else, remember one of Dillon’s suggestions (intended for school leaders but I think applicable to all):

“Little things can make a big difference. Simple and genuine gestures, such as regularly greeting students, talking to students, and addressing students by name, help to make students feel connected.”

Anyone can start doing those types of things today. If you are interested in further resources on bullying and its prevention, check out Learning First Alliance member resources and the StopBullying website.

Here’s to Commonwealth Youth Award Winner Brianna Fruean

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Brianna with her Award (Picture: Pauline Fruean)

A 16 year old Samoan made history this week, by being the youngest recipient of the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Awards. Brianna Fruean was awarded the Climate Change, Environment Protection Award, and the only recipient from the Pacific.

Where do I even begin with this super-person. Whenever she speaks I always think of the other elements to this young woman, her supportive parents, her sister and the community that raised her, but most importantly, her own drive and passion to succeed.

I remember, shortly after her father passed away some years ago, she spoke at a conference, so eloquently and so passionate, and it was all the more moving, knowing that she had just gone through an extremely difficult time in her life, but still she remained steadfast in her campaign for environmental protection.

So here’s to you Ms. Brianna Fruean, for being an amazing young person and for being an agent of change.

Note to other youngsters who are busy drinking and wasting your youth away – find a cause, spend your time fighting for a cause instead of devoting it entirely to pleasure – give back to the world that nurtured your ancestors – make a difference. When in doubt ask Brianna 🙂 She did it!