Changing the Culture of the Classroom
The Programme

The report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century identified four pillars of education:

The exceptional and traditional success of the Caribbean education system would seem to rest largely on the first two pillars, but in view of the increasing aggression and the promotion of anti-social role models in our society it is surely time for educators in the Caribbean to give equal emphasis to the other two pillars, namely: Learning to be and Learning to live together.

We have seen that the culture of the classroom in many Caribbean educational institutions is one in which many students feel invalidated but, with the pressure of examinations, large classes, less compliant children, less co-operative parents and less supportive Ministries, many teachers also feel harassed and unappreciated. The pressures of this environment may result, in turn, in a host of destructive, dysfunctional responses developed as coping mechanisms by both teacher and student.

One nineteenth century writer, Tryon Edwards, suggests that "the great end of education is to discipline rather than to furnish the mind; to train it to the use of its own powers, rather than fill it with the accumulation of others." Such a view would seem to support a broader idea of education as a means of empowering a child to develop, within himself, the personal, social and other skills needed to create a successful and rewarding life within his environment.

Teacher-training is at the centre of the necessary change. Traditionally, teacher-education programmes intended to counteract the negative behaviour of students in the classroom have mainly been directed towards changing student attitudes. The focus has been on control mechanisms - the system of rewards for the conformists and punishment for the dysfunctional. What has not been frequently addressed is the emotional/spiritual well-being of the teacher.

Most educators will agree that teaching can be frustrating and physically exhausting. The tension of the classroom can quickly make a bad day much worse but, equally, when things are going well, the harmony of the classroom can be an uplifting and positive reminder to the teacher of the value of his contribution to the development of the students in his care. In recognition of the teacher's pivotal role in influencing the atmosphere of the classroom, teachers need to be given a new way of coping, a new concept of their role and of their scope of influence.

In order to change the culture of the classroom teachers must first be given the opportunity to focus on their own personal well-being and to deal with any emotional scars and hurts that they may have experienced both inside and outside the classroom. Dr. Winthrop Wiltshire, former UNESCO representative (Southern Caribbean) and Caribbean Science and Technology Adviser, is the primary consultant for the UNESCO/CARNEID project Changing the Culture of the Classroom. He describes the impact of the teacher's emotional health on the quality of care in the classroom in these words :

"I have deduced that a teacher will function in the classroom in a predominately nurturing mode or conversely a predominately invalidating mode depending on the nature and extent of his/her emotional baggage, irrespective of the content of subject being taught.[...] the behaviour of the messenger with a significant amount of emotional baggage will distort the message."

In Dr. Wiltshire's view, the ability to recognise the fact that unresolved hurts and needs may exert a subconscious effect on the teacher's present behavioural responses is one important way of helping the teacher to understand his own responses better and to function more effectively in the classroom.

Thus, the teacher who is emotionally self-aware and confident of his own resources and abilities is likely to be a teacher who will be open to more positive ways of managing his pupils. While there is need, then, to invest in the emotional health and well-being of the teacher, there is equal need for the type of training that will help the teacher to promote the emotional well-being of the individual child.

Changing the Culture of the Classroom places emphasis on this kind of training. Its goal is to promote the kind of skills that can help to transform the classroom into a peaceful, nurturing and validating environment for all children. It is a telling measure of its importance to note that success in this goal carries the even wider potential to affect positively and permanently the violent character of so many of our communities.

The Workshops

In 1997 Dr. Winthrop Wiltshire developed and piloted in Trinidad and Tobago this innovative teacher-training concept which is designed to produce a personal transformation in the teacher who will, in turn, be empowered to be a positive influence in fostering a culture of peace and non-violence among students. In short teachers must feel good about themselves and what they do.

The pilot project of the programme was facilitated by Educational Consultant, Mrs. Marilyn Atherley. In this workshop fifty teachers from twelve schools in Trinidad underwent six sessions of training in which they were taught techniques of effective listening as well as the processes involved in releasing the pain of unresolved emotional distress. The teachers also spent time reviewing the ten lessons contained in the Educating for Peace : A Life Skills Curriculum- a teacher's manual also prepared by Mrs. Atherley. As a result the teachers reported a change in their thinking with regard to the importance of creating an environment in the classroom that is not punitive but supportive and cognizant of the child's emotional needs, and validating, rather than critical.

Following this successful pilot exercise, UNESCO/CARNEID proposed the expansion of this innovative idea throughout the Caribbean. A formal proposal was approved and funded by UNESCO Headquarters in 1997 and the programme was started in February 1998.

Programme Objectives

Recognising that the sustainability of this project must depend largely on the goodwill, conviction and commitment of the leaders of the educational community, the concept "Changing the Culture of the Classroom" was first introduced in three sub-regional seminars to Principals of Teacher-Training Institutions in the region and to Principals of Secondary Schools.

Workshop for Principals of Teachers' Training Colleges

A two-day workshop for Principals of Teacher Training Colleges in the region was held at the Valley Vue Hotel, Trinidad from 5-6 February, 1998. The workshop was facilitated by Mrs. Marilyn Atherley and was attended by Principals, Ministry officials and University representatives, from nine Caribbean nations:

Bahamas College of the Bahamas
Barbados Erdiston Teachers' College
Belize Belize Teachers' College
Dominica Dominica Teachers' College
Guyana Guyana Cyril Potter College of Education
Jamaica Church Teachers' College
  Mico Teachers' College
  Shortwood Teachers' College
St. Kitts/Nevis Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College
St. Vincent/Grenadines St. Vincent Teachers' College
Trinidad/Tobago Corinth Teachers' College
  Caribbean Union College
  School of Education Lab Pre-School
  Valsayn Teachers' College
  Ministry officials
  Representatives of the University of
The West Indies, St. Augustine

Its aim was to familiarize the participants with the goals of the project and to enlist their support for the programme by sharing the information with their colleagues and by renovating the curricula of their colleges to include specific training in these skills.

This two-day workshop was divided into five sessions:

Session 1. Constructive Listening - Its Use in Educational Change

Session 2. The Learning Process

Session 3. Teacher Oppression

Session 4. Support Groups

Session 5. Educating for Peace Curriculum

Each session consisted of a short presentation of theoretical principles, some group activity and a question and answer segment. In the first session, participants introduced themselves and were also given the opportunity to ask the facilitator questions in order to open up communication within the group. The theoretical component of this session focussed on the principles of constructive listening and its ability to help an individual to work through his thoughts and feelings and to release some of the pain attached to a hurtful event. Equipped with guidelines on effective listening the participants were then put into groups of three in order to practise these skills.

The second session of this workshop involved a presentation of the ways in which the brain processes information including the fact that unreleased painful emotions interfere with the brain's normal functioning. It was shown that in order for learning to take place effectively painful, locked away emotions need to be recognised and dealt with. A demonstration was also given to show how facilitation could assist in the removal of stored feelings of anger. The last part of this session was then given over to practical work and participants were divided into groups of four in which they practised constructive listening by sharing with each other their thoughts and feelings about their early memories of their own school days.

Session three began on the second day of the workshop and involved a review and discussion of the theory and demonstration of the previous day. A focus of this third session was a discussion of the reality of teacher oppression within the society and the way in which this hampers the effective functioning of the teacher in the classroom.

In the fourth session participants met in their support groups again in order to explore the issue of teacher oppression. Key questions for discussion included:

In this session the participants also addressed the topic "Requirements for Teacher training programmes" and, after a period of "brainstorming", they created a list of thirty-six suggested requirements.

In the final session participants worked in pairs to complete an evaluation sheet on the draft manual of the Educating for Peace: A Life Skills Curriculum as well as a second evaluation sheet on the workshop itself.

The general response to the workshop was very positive . In answer to the question "What did you learn that was immediately useful to you?" the two main answers given centred around the value of good listening skills in helping others to release pain and so learn more effectively, and the effect of teacher oppression on good teaching.

Workshops for Principals of Secondary Schools and Classroom Teachers

UNESCO/CARNEID has continued to work in cooperation with the member states to host these workshops for teachers. To date over 500 educators from twelve countries of the Caribbean sub-region have been introduced to these concepts and have enthusiastically endorsed them.

Workshops have been held in Barbados and Guyana for Secondary School Principals and for classroom teachers in Antigua, The Bahamas, The British Virgin Islands (with teachers from Montserrat and St. Maarten), Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St.Kitts/Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines and there are still a number of countries within the CARNEID Network in which such workshops will be held in the year 2000.

The workshops for classroom teachers are structured a little differently. They are of four days duration and although the essential information is the same, greater emphasis is placed on:

educating teachers in the concept of healthy classroom culture

assisting them in dealing with their own frustrations and emotional hurts

teaching them effective counselling and listening techniques

In each training workshop the participants are invited to consider the importance of their role in helping to foster in the young person the kind of qualities which identify a whole and healthy individual. Focus is placed on their potential to help mould their students into young people who:

love themselves completely;

are emotionally secure and self-confident;

respect their own thinking and opinions as well as the thinking and opinions of those with whom they may disagree;

respect cultures which differ from their own;

respect people with physical or other disabilities;

have good verbal and written skills;

are skilled in seeking information;

demonstrate excellent skills in critical thinking and problem solving.

The emphasis in the workshops is on giving participants an opportunity to discover techniques for discharging and releasing the emotional pain of past unresolved hurts which retain the power to affect present functioning. This practical element is an important part of the workshop as it enables the participants to experience the process of emotional healing for themselves. They, in turn, are then able to recognize the potential power of such techniques to furnish students with new tools for peaceful conflict resolution.

The workshops are generally divided into several sessions. Sessions focus on theory presentations and demonstrations of the counselling process but time is also spent in small groups in which the counselling techniques are practised and participants have the freedom to explore their feelings related to their experiences of teaching. Participants also work in groups to examine the Manual described earlier.

While it is not the plan here to comment, in detail, on all of the workshops which have been carried out so far, it might be instructive to review some of the issues covered in three of these workshops held in Antigua, Dominica and the Bahamas.


The workshop in Antigua was facilitated by Dr Winthrop Wiltshire. The twenty-eight participants included ten school principals, eleven teachers and seven Ministry of Education officials.

Practical exercises, including the power of effective listening techniques, constituted the primary activity of the workshop. Participants were also involved in the exploration of many themes promoting the emotional health and well-being of the child, such as, the mentally debilitating effects of early emotional hurts which remain unresolved; the importance of validation and praise in helping pupils to develop self confidence and emotional security; the negative impact of corporal punishment; and the role of love in seeking to train children in ways of non-violence.

The workshop also covered issues concerning ways of learning, including for example, the concept of flexible and multiple intelligences.

At the end of the workshop participants were asked to respond to a number of questions evaluating the activity. For example:


This workshop was held from 23-25 September, 1998 with 28 participants. These included 16 principals, three of whom were from primary schools, and twelve classroom teachers.

The issue of corporal punishment was one of the dominant themes of the Dominica workshop. Participants were shown the possible undesirable effects of such a negative recourse and its potential to simply contribute to a cycle of violence. One of the principals at this workshop had also participated in a previous workshop in Guyana and she was able to share the fact that, as a result of what she had already learnt through the Guyana workshop, corporal punishment was no longer used at her school.

As in other workshops practical demonstrations were given to show how past emotional hurt still played a part in affecting present behaviour. Participants were also invited to take part in exercises of mutual validation and effective listening techniques. It is interesting to note that some of the participants even expressed awareness of positive changes in themselves before the workshop had finished. Emphasis was placed on relating to young people in ways that would help to build their sense of emotional security and self-esteem.

At the end of the workshop in Dominica participants were asked to say what they felt they had gained. Here again is a sample of some of the insights they took away with them:


The Bahamas workshop took place in Nassau from 16-19 August, 1999. A total of 32 teachers took part: 23 from primary schools, 4 from senior high schools, 4 from junior high schools and 1 from an alternative educational establishment.

As in other workshops techniques of effective listening were explored with emphasis being placed on the underlying effects of unresolved pain in the individual's life, as well as on the power of the teacher to help to promote the emotional well-being of the child.

In addition to practical exercises and discussion of some of the core themes of the programme, participants were divided into groups in which they were asked to discuss various practical strategies for changing the culture of their own classrooms. Suggestions included:

The Teacher's Manual

Educating for Peace: A Life Skills Curriculum is the teachers' manual prepared by Educational Consultant, Marilyn Atherley. The programme complements the academic curriculum and presents students with Life skills information on violence prevention, cultural diversity, emotional self control, self esteem issues and relationship building. The programme consciously centres itself around one key issue: the need to equip young people with skills in peaceful conflict resolution with the aim of creating a more peaceful world.

The programme is structured in a way which encourages discussion and the free expression of ideas and feelings within the classroom. It is recognized that young people often use games and other forms of play to express feelings that they would normally withhold or repress. The programme is helpful in that it creates a "safe place" in which young people can engage in discussion and role play, thereby giving them greater freedom to release feelings which may have been suppressed.

Part of the teacher's role in this process is to counter tactfully any expressions of feelings which are displayed in a way which invalidates the self or others. In such cases the teacher's aim should be to acknowledge the expressed feelings while still seeking to direct the children away from the usual put downs, insults and prejudicial statements and into alternative and more appropriate forms of expression. It is expected that the teacher will model the kind of behaviour and attitudes which the class is working to achieve and, in this way, the manual encourages the teacher to share his/her own experiences of learning and growing with the class as well.

The lesson on Effective Listening takes the pupils through the practical skills involved including: looking directly at the speaker; paying full attention to words, facial expression and body language; listening for the feelings behind the words; responding in ways that show you are listening; and validating the speaker.

In the lessons entitled Handling Emotions pupils learn the four basic feelings- anger, sadness, fear and happiness and the many shades of these feelings. Focus is placed on helping students to express their feelings in appropriate ways which do not invalidate themselves or others. Role play is also used here.

In the lessons on Violence Prevention pupils define violence and to learn about its causes and consequences. They are given practical suggestions of ways to channel anger without resorting to violence and they are also taught alternatives to violence in dealing with conflict.

The lessons on Cultural Diversity help pupils to become aware of the many false assumptions behind prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination and it leads them in exercises structured to promote appreciation and respect for the ways in which we are different.

The lesson on Conflict Resolution helps pupils to learn to communicate their thoughts and feelings in a constructive way when faced with a conflict situation and it also seeks to teach them effective skills in problem solving .

The Way Forward


A thorough review of the programme to date will be undertaken through questionnaires /interviews with all the stakeholders - teachers, students, parents, principals - to identify:

It is already recognised that the workshops are, of necessity, very brief, and participation in these sessions must be limited to a fraction of the teachers in any given school or country. It is also recognised that any attempts to change traditional practices by the few who have been trained may be regarded with some suspicion by their colleagues. It is therefore essential to engage the full support of the administrators and to continue the training in each country before the impetus dies and the socialisation process of "business as usual" overrides the entrepreneurial spirit of those who were inspired to institute changes in their classrooms and schools.

It is also noted that a training programme of this kind cannot be expected to yield immediate, measurable results because lasting behavioural changes are developed over time and by a process of refinement. It is expected, however, that the evaluation after two years should reveal some reorientation to change and innovation in the classroom.

Development and Sustainability

Commitment to this programme and adequate funding from national governments for its continuation is the only guarantee of sustainability. There are thousands of teachers in the region. It is obviously impossible for UNESCO/CARNEID to assume total responsibility for their training. To provide an on-going training capability in each country the development of a cadre of trainers is essential and for this UNESCO/CARNEID will provide the necessary technical assistance. Future workshops must, however, be funded by national governments as part of their own development and reform plans for the education sector; in addition, application for this programme may be made to UNESCO/CARNEID by individual schools through Ministries of Education.

Ensuring that the classroom is a nurturing and validating environment is an imperative that cannot be overstated. This is not, however, the only way in which the Culture of the Classroom needs to be modified. Increased sensitivity to the student's emotional needs should be reflected in an improved quality of care which, in turn , can be expected to generate greater concern for learning achievements and outcomes.

The new millennium should provide the opportunity and the impetus for education planners and providers to formulate programmes that will teach our young people to think critically and inventively; to put their minds to creative, original thought rather than mere regurgitation, to learn to know for themselves and to do for themselves.

Formal systems confined by standard curricula , shaped by standardised exams and certification, authoritarian structures and age restrictions, may themselves be barriers to learning. Across the region there seems to an increasing recognition of the need for a delivery of education which enhances student learning by catering to Multiple Intelligences in the classroom; a system which reflects the truth of George Bernard Shaw ‘s observation that the pool of education is "the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child."

Caribbean people are proud, and rightly so, of the educational systems in the region, but it must be conceded that they tend to reward primarily linguistic and mathematical skills with the recognition and certification required by employers and institutions of higher learning and to give less credit to other manifestations of intelligence which are not measured by mastery of the traditional curricula.

The system must deal with those students who may find subjects like theoretical Physics difficult but who are entirely at ease with the mechanics of an engine and can take apart and reassemble any electrical or electronic equipment. How should that expression of intelligence be measured? It is true that not all knowledge is useful or uplifting but even that knowledge which may be useful, if it is does not derive from the classical disciplines, may not be respected.

Independent thinking and respect for all manifestations of intelligence will not be possible until the curricula of our schools are crafted to meet the students' needs rather than designed to force them into a common mould and brand them as failures if they do not show an aptitude for subjects outside the range of their interests and talents. Our classrooms need to become more interactive; students need more hands-on experience, more opportunities for individual discovery and less reliance on regurgitation of pre-packaged knowledge.

This was the experience of Tod Maffin, a high school dropout. In 1998 the Vancouver Sun reported that this 28 year old "net guru" in an address to 1000 educators from around North America described himself as "a member of the "Net" generation and thus, a failure of the educational system.... I've known since as early as I can remember that I wanted to be in communications," he explained. "By the age of eight I had begged, borrowed and stolen enough spare parts to build a pirate radio station in our family basement... And then came high school, where the teachers kept trying to change my mind about my chosen career path. I was forced into geography, science and math, and told I'd better learn the capital of Bolivia because one day I'd need that knowledge and that I'd better learn how to calculate a square root, because otherwise they would have to flunk me.

I was not following procedure but messing with something they kept calling ‘the system'. It didn't take long before flunking started to sound appealing...."

He urged his audience to accept that "today's ‘Net' generation needs schools that recognize the student's role as co-discoverer of knowledge, with the teacher responsible for seeing that the discovery takes place; that children are beginning to see themselves as intellectual agents - members of real and virtual communities, expressing themselves across boundaries of geography, culture, language and age. With the right support, classroom learning can become student-driven, interactive, experiential and collaborative. Students will no longer passively ingest information but will manage and integrate it and even contribute to it."

It was a powerful statement from someone who had lived with the frustrations of the system and it is a statement to which all educators will give intellectual assent. It is also the kind of notion which, in most classrooms, would be revolutionary. Tod Maffin's prescription for change highlights the need for a critical review not only of what is taught but how it is taught if students are to be adequately prepared for the diverse, multi-media technological world of the 21st century.

In the course of the last two decades the Caribbean Examinations Council has been very influential in changing both the content and the methods of teaching. Their emphasis on indigenous material and on School-Based Assessment as an integral part of the certification process is welcome but the same emphasis needs to be at the core of the classroom experience in order to encourage more inter-active learning experiences, and a greater commitment from students to be responsible for their own education.

When students are encouraged to be collaborators in the business of education, when they are expected to use their preferred intelligences in learning, both pupil and teacher will be the beneficiaries. The former achieves a deeper level of understanding and the latter hones and perfects the skill of transferring information in a variety of ways. Such an approach also allows for different rates of development among the pupils and a broader range of learning assessment methods such as projects, journals, profiles, creative problem-solving, art and musical expression.

For the student there are multiple benefits:


Atherley, M. (1997) Educating for Peace: A Life Skills Curriculum (Teacher's Manual). UNESCO Port of Spain.

Atherley, M. (1998) Report on the "Changing the Culture of the Classroom Project". Workshop for Principals of Teacher- Training Colleges. UNESCO/CARNEID

Kutnick, P., Jules, V. & Layne, A. (1997) Gender and School Achievement in the Caribbean, Education Research Paper Serial No.21. Department For International Development (DFID) London.

Wiltshire, W.W. (1998) Report on the "Changing the Culture of the Clasroom" workshop held in Antigua. UNESCO/CARNEID

Wiltshire, W.W. (1998) Report on the "Changing the Culture of the Classroom" Workshop with school principals and teachers in Dominica. UNESCO/CARNEID

Wiltshire, W.W. (1999) "Changing the Culture of the Classroom to promote societal harmony and non-violence": Report of Workshop in Nassau, Bahamas. UNESCO/CARNEID

Wiltshire, W.W. (1999) Interim Sub-regional Report on "Changing the Culture of the Classroom in the Caribbean". UNESCO/CARNEID

Wiltshire,W.W. (1997) "The Critical Role of Love in Educating for Non-Violence - The Messenger is the Message". Keynote Address at the Conference on Education for Non-Violence, Willemstad, Netherland Antilles. 1997

Women' Media Watch (Jamaica) . "Media Images and its Influence on Violence (Information Sheet, 1997)

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