This academic year, Carl Morris, a fine-arts teacher at Tivoli Gardens Comprehensive High School, was appointed form teacher of a grade-nine class. He says each student is a triple handful, making for a high-pressure situation. "I have been tried, tested and proven," Morris told THE STAR emphatically.
This year, too, Peace and Love in Society (PALS) was introduced at Tivoli, one of 15 high schools across Jamaica in which the programme has been implemented in the first phase of a five-year memorandum of understanding between PALS and the Ministry of Education. Ninety primary and junior high schools are also involved in the project.
PALS trainer, Rosemarie Thomas, has been coaching the Tivoli teachers, Morris telling THE STAR he was part of a session with her on Tuesday. His form-teacher role is the primary reason for attending the sessions and, in the process, he has changed his approach and classroom strategies.
"It has helped. In terms of strategising, I am going out there in another way than I was before," he said. Referring to a PALS chart on anger styles, he said that before, he was a 'hip-shooter', coming out blazing. Now he is a 'firefighter', performing cooling-down operations.
Hip-shooters readily express their anger, are very direct, truthful, impulsive and volatile. Firefighters' on the other hand, know how to put out the fire of anger, to take time to cool off, ventilate and understand the source of their anger, see a problem from another person's perspective. and attack the problem and not the person.
"When I cool down, I work towards solving the situation," he said. "It does not work with everybody, but it helps."
Again referring to the PALS chart, Morris says at one point he was an 'atom bomb', which is the anger type in which the smallest offence sets off incredible explosions. However, he points out that this was due in some part to the sheer number of students that he had to deal with. Now, following the PALS strategy, he tries to take the child out of the situation and deal with the issue away from the critical mass of students.
Key to it all is the PALS approach of allowing expression and simply listening. "These kids need people to listen to them and the parents are not around," Morris told THE STAR. "You have to give them a sounding board." After listening, he then tries to explain to the student that the situation is not healthy for the class.
PALS trainer, Rosemarie Thomas, relates an incident at Tivoli Comprehensive which illustrates the effectiveness of the strategy of listening and engagement. A teacher was doing a PALS activity with students in which they would catch a ball thrown to them, give the appropriate response, return it to the teacher, who would then throw it to another student. One student made no attempt to catch it and, on the brink of getting angry, the teacher reconsidered and asked the student what was wrong. She had been beaten so hard by her parent that her arm was swollen and she was simply unable to catch the ball.
At Mountainside Primary in St Elizabeth, guidance counsellor Claudette Smith says PALS trainer Maxine Wright rewarded the first teacher to arrive at a training session. The lesson was "if we want the children to arrive early, we are going to have to model the behaviour".
Another PALS strategy towards changing school culture is making the environment friendly and appealing, very much like a home away from home. So, at Mountainside Primary there is a beautification programme in place, with the lawn being maintained and general furniture repair being carried out. Painting is now in the action plan for the next calendar year.
This aspect of the training teachers comes under 'psychological safety'. It is one of the five 'Ps' which are pillars of the PALS-MoE 'Creating and Maintaining Safe Schools' programme. The other Ps are physical safety, policies, programmes and partnerships.