More ways to discipline
Hillaby Turners’ Hall Primary School is a great example of how the Schools’ Positive Behaviour Management Programme has changed the thinking on corporal punishment in Barbados!
This was hinted at today by Deputy Chief Education Officer and former Principal of that school, Karen Best. She was addressing a sensitisation workshop on SPBMP in the auditorium of the Media Resource Department for 17 Principals whose schools have now joined the initiative, known as the Child Friendly Programme in the region.
Admitting that at one time she fully supported practising corporal punishment, Best told the educators that she had taken the “let me lash first and then listen” approach.
However, she recounted that this view changed following a UNICEF meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, which looked at the Child Friendly Programme. The senior education official said she had indicated to the UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean that Hillaby Turners Hall would sign on and test the alternatives “and if they worked, then I would be the champion for the abolition of corporal punishment in Barbados”.
Stressing that it was not “an easy sell”, Best told the 17 principals: “We have been socialised to the thinking that the only method of discipline that we should use is corporal punishment… At Hillaby, we had to go through an exercise with the staff where the support came for a lot of training – training in alternative methods; differentiated instruction and so on.
“Additionally, we were provided with support staff… We asked and we got a special needs teacher; a teacher in music because we knew that we had to cater to the differing intelligences of the children; so we had a music teacher on board; a clinical psychologist who worked with the school and we had a guidance counsellor; so we had the support and there the project started.”
Acknowledging that some teachers there had been “very apprehensive” because they were uncertain about what was going to happen, Best disclosed that after months of training the school saw a different child emerging amidst a new school climate – a child who challenged educators “to explain the why”.
“For me, as a principal it meant that I had what was known as a court. We had court sessions and these were designed so that the children could come and put their case to what they were witnessing and determine the punishment,” she said.
Principals at the workshop were also told: “If you really want this to be how your school is to be managed and to be translated into the school community, then you have got to be prepared to work at it and to relinquish some of the powers that you might have.”
They heard too, that parents had bought into the programme with teachers understanding what they were supposed to do, and punishment was now minimised at Hillaby Turners’ Hall Primary School. Best confessed: “I can say for me, when I left being a principal [in] my last three years, I can say to you that I administered corporal punishment on three or four occasions and no more; there was no need [for it] and, therefore, my office was not flooded with teachers [or] with students…
“That did not happen. But, it did not happen because it was not that an edict was handed down. It was that all of us worked on it [including] the ancillary staff. The word I used for it was ‘a whole school approach’ — it is not about putting up signs and saying ‘Don’t walk or Run’. It is not about that, it is about how we operate…”
Maintaining that corporal punishment was a painful reminder of when our fore parents were slaves and how they were treated, she said: “It is coming home to me sometimes … slavery has been abolished, but all that went with it is still with us. So, therefore, it is for us to make a difference and you [Principals] are not going to make a difference overnight; it is going to be a work in progress and I would want you to embrace this whole notion of the alternative use.”