Should teachers use collective punishment?

“Alright, that’s it. You guys can’t handle this activity, we’re shutting it down right now. Everybody, clean up. It’s over.”

Chances are, you’ve spoken words like that to your students at some point. You’ve given way too many warnings for the kids to get on task, quiet down, and/or get to work, and the classroom is still too chaotic. There are lots of students who aren’t following the rules, and rather than try to single out which 10 or 15 it is, you issue a consequence to the whole class. Everyone loses the privilege, and everyone suffers the consequences of the bad decisions made by part of the group.

Whole class or collective punishment is despised by students, who inevitably whine, “It’s not faaaaair!” Why should the students who were doing the right thing be punished because other students were not?

I used a lot of whole class consequences as a new teacher because they were the easiest way for me to handle misbehavior. When I was crunched for time and totally overwhelmed, it was so much simpler to just issue a mass consequence for everyone than to try to sort out who was actually in the wrong and address the root of the problem.

collective punishment

Over the years, I started noticing just how devastating group punishments can be to the type of child who wants to please and is determined to follow the rules. I can think of at least one child in every class who cried when recess or a field trip or even just center time was taken away because his or her classmates were disruptive. At the time, I was so focused on stopping the misbehaviors that I just didn’t have the energy to give much thought to the kids who were doing the right thing. I felt bad for them, sure, but on a practical level, what exactly was I supposed to do when I had 10 minutes to ensure every student had mastered a skill and half the class seemed determined to thwart any type of learning?

It was the parent of a sweet little eight-year-old named Morgan who finally made me re-examine my practices. I adored both Morgan and her mother, and we had established a great rapport during the first few weeks of the school year. One morning in September, the mom called me and said Morgan couldn’t sleep the night before. I had taken away a privilege from the entire class (I wish I could remember now what it was) and Morgan was convinced I was mad at her. She was terrified to face me that day in school and couldn’t figure out what she had done wrong. Her mom told me, “I kept insisting to her that she must have broken a rule somehow, that she wouldn’t have lost the privilege if she’d done nothing wrong. I asked her over and over was she SURE she had done what you’d asked, and she was sobbing, saying she knew she had. She laid awake all night long trying to figure out what she’d done wrong.”

I was sitting at my desk during that phone call, totally stressed out and surrounded by stacks of papers that needed to be graded, lessons that needed to be written, and projects that needed to be organized. But everything fell away at that moment and my heart broke a little bit for Morgan. Clearly I hadn’t done a great job communicating to her and the rest of the class why the privilege was taken away. I hadn’t talked about how the whole class needs to work as a team, and when part of the group falters, sometimes they all have to suffer the consequences. Instead, I’d left Morgan–and undoubtedly a few others–wondering how they contributed to the problem and why they deserved to miss out on something fun.

I can’t say I completely stopped using whole class consequences after that day. But you better believe I thought twice before doing it again. I worked a lot harder at building a sense of classroom community and teaching students about the effects their choices had on their classmates. I also made sure I clearly spelled out consequences in advance (“If I have to stop the activity 3 times because it’s too noisy in here, we will all need to clean up early”) instead of blindsiding students by applying a consequence out of anger.

I never came up with an approach to collective punishment that I felt completely comfortable with. And so I thought I’d bring up the topic here. Do you use group punishments with your class? How do you apply consequences or take away privileges in a way that’s manageable for you but fair to all your students?

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

1 robinamadatzucker November 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Great post! As a parent, I hated collective punishments and so did my kids. Most of the time they were the quiet, shy kids who hadn’t done anything wrong, and yet they were losing recess, etc. because of the group’s actions. As a teacher, I cringe every time I use a collective punishment. I try so hard to NOT do this, and yet every now and then, as you said, I just get so tired of the chaos that it slips out. What I have to remember, is that whenever this happens, it almost always is actually MY fault for not setting up the situation so the kids can be successful. For example, telling the kids before we start, “Voice level is going to be X” or “During this activity everyone is going to stay at their desks so we can stay safe” or simply doing what you suggested and reminding them that if X happens, then we will need to stop the activity.

The truth is, usually it is just a few kids who are misbehaving but often those kids can get many more kids riled up. When I intervene quickly with those kids (for example, we have “observers” during science if certain kids can’t follow directions….they sit near their team and observe but don’t get to participate until they are confident they can do so appropriately) then the rest of the kids get to enjoy the activity, there is a lovely hum of on-task conversation, and we are all much calmer and happier.

Thanks for the reminder since just last week I had one of those whole-class moments!

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2 Angela Watson November 12, 2013 at 10:23 am

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It’s interesting to hear the perspective of a person who is a teacher AND a parent of one of those quiet, well-behaved kids that usually gets the short end of the stick with collective punishment.

I agree that almost always, when I used collective punishments, it was my own fault for not setting kids up for success. If I had been clearer in my expectations and more pro-active in managing the behavior of the kids who misbehaved, things probably wouldn’t have escalated that far.

I like the idea of “observers” during science (or any subject, really)–talking with a child about why s/he needs to observe for awhile and determining together when participation is possible again feels a lot better to me than saying “You can’t participate.”

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3 Karli Lomax November 11, 2013 at 8:46 pm

You’re back with a great post, Angela! :)
I, too, have reflected on collective punishment and it’s definitely something that I do NOT want to do in my class. I have done it in the past, years ago as a young teacher, but it really does not make sense to “punish” everyone when it’s usually only some students that may be having problems. It’s usually the result of being stressed out, or unprepared. I agree with the previous comment; if we specify our expectations beforehand it is much easier to manage the behavior of the whole class, simply by reminding them of what the expectations were in the first place!

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4 Angela Watson November 12, 2013 at 10:25 am

Thanks, Karli! You’re so right about issuing group punishments when feeling stressed out or unprepared. It can be tempting to blame the problem on students (“you chose to misbehave, you chose to have a consequence”) but a lot of classroom misbehavior can be prevented through carefully practiced routines and procedures. I feel that I have some ownership in the situation when it deteriorates to the point where I’m punishing the entire the class.

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5 Heidi Butkus November 11, 2013 at 11:28 pm

I totally agree that whole class punishments are the wrong way to go. But whole class rewards, with a few kids pulled out of the rewards for their own misbehavior works quite well for me! For example, if the entire class is working towards an extra ten minutes of recess, and two children just keep spoiling it for everyone, I switch things around a bit by telling them, “Today, everyone that has made it through the day without having to move their name down to yellow will get ten minutes extra recess!” That way, those who will not cooperate or buy into the reward can be pulled out of the reward, and all the rest of the students can get it. And the other students can join them after they did their “time.” So if a child owes you five minutes in exchange for disrupting five minutes of a lesson, they lose five minutes of that extra recess, but could join the class for the last five minutes of it.
Heidi Butkus

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6 Angela Watson November 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

This is a great angle to discuss, Heidi. I’m so glad you brought it up! I, too, am a lot more comfortable with whole class rewards. I think the situation you described keeps students on their toes at all times, because they never know when you might offer an extra privilege to them. That’s got to feel better to kids than not knowing when you might offer an extra punishment. 😉

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7 Rachel J. Pierson November 12, 2013 at 12:31 am

As a beginning teacher, I did my fair share of collective punishment. I was just trying to find my way in the world, and I looked for a way that could accomplish what I envisioned for my classroom. My naïve hope was that every student would be like I was–a student who was eager to please. I finally realized I had to look for positive behaviors and reinforce the students who were behaving. Most often, the unruly students would see that I was praising the good behavior, and they would want to be praised, too. That gave me the opportunity to identify the kids who were misbehaving more easily. Then, I could focus on going through disciplinary procedure with them alone. Experience is the best teacher!

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8 Angela Watson November 12, 2013 at 10:31 am

I think your last line is perfect, Rachel–experience IS the best teacher! I had such a vision of the type of teacher I would be when I was student teaching, and once I got my own classroom, I realized how naive I had been! The key for me was not to give up on my vision of a well-run classroom, but to change the vision I had for how I’d accomplish that. Over the years, I created higher standards for myself in terms of how I wanted the classroom to run and how I treated my students. I wouldn’t have been able to measure up to those expectations as a new teacher, and that’s okay. Over time, we learn what works and is sustainable, and we grow from there.

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9 Ashley November 12, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Thank you for this post, I really enjoyed reading it! I am a brand new teacher, actually I am just doing my student teaching now. I have found that I am very bad at using collective punishment and I can tell you that it is just a few students that seem to ruin it for the entire group. My question is that if you have 1 or 2 students acting out how do you go about punishing them without taking the activity away from the whole group? Do you have them do an activity by themselves at their desk, worksheet on the activity at their desk, turn a card or do you just take it away from everyone?? I appreciate the post as it got my attention as it was me on days when things become overwhelming!

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10 Angela Watson November 13, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Hi, Ashley! I know how hard it is to manage behavior when you’re new and feeling super overwhelmed. I definitely encourage you to continue addressing the misbehavior of the 1 or 2 kids who are acting out. You can have them sit alone while the rest of the group does the activity.

You may also want to let them rejoin the activity after a short time so they can still get the educational benefits. Tell them they’re going to miss the first 5-10 minutes, and if they can sit quietly and listen or complete a separate assignment appropriately during that time, they’ll be able to rejoin the class. Give them a pep talk before you release them to join and go over the expectations again.

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11 Ashley November 13, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Thank you so much! It is comforting to know that I am not the only one who feels overwhelmed at times. I watch my cooperating teacher and she makes it look so easy to nip little things in the butt, but I feel like when I try the students don’t always respond the same way. Everyone has said it will take time and experience but it is frustrating to have an idea of how an assignment or activity should go and then to have it not run smoothly.

Thank you again for the reply. As a new reader I look forward to more of your post!

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12 Ms. Mack November 12, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I am a first year teacher and I am struggling with this right now. On TODAY, I was absent from my morning classes to observe a teacher at a different school. School had not been in session for 30 minutes before my phone started buzzing with phone calls and text messages from various school faculty. I was unable to answer of course, but one text message that read “your students showed out this morning” let me know that the majority of the class had misbehaved while I was out. I have NO CLUE what I am going to do in the morning to “punish” students for this behavior. I wasn’t there, and I know that I am going to get a lot of “it wasn’t me” and “I was just trying to…” excuses. I do have a note from the sub about the most problematic students, but he even confessed that he was not sure of students names. All I know is that I am extremely disappointed. I want for them to understand WHY I’m disappointed, but also, discuss why it’s not the standard to misbehave in a way that the AP has to be called into the classroom while I am away. I’d hate to punish all of my students, but I honestly do not see another way =(

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13 Laura November 12, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Hey, I think this is NOT your problem at the moment. Admin should’ve intervened if it was that out of control. The sub should have basic class management skills (which we know that might not be the case). But I would talk with your administrator and let them know what happened. BTW, I would never dare call a colleague in the middle of a training etc to let them know their class was a mess. That’s very unprofessional. Wait…did these colleagues cover your class? If they did, even worse! They had NO class control then.

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14 Angela Watson November 13, 2013 at 7:31 pm

I agree you should not have been contacted about your students when you were out of the building completing other work. I’m working on a post about dealing with students who have misbehaved for subs, but I do have this one up on the site already: http://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/2013/01/when-your-students-misbehave-for-other-teachers.html. I would address the misbehavior with your class, but don’t get too worked up about it. You have no way of knowing what the sub was or wasn’t doing (or for that matter, what the students were actually doing or not doing), so I’d be hesitant to punish the whole class based on something you did not witness yourself.

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15 Ms. Mack November 13, 2013 at 7:35 pm

It was the AP that called. I had asked a vet teacher to just check in on the students periodically. So that teacher was just informing me on the status of their behavior. I simply had everyone in the class write me a letter detailing what took place while I was away. The students who caused a problem were consistent across the broad. So now I think I’m able to deal with these students one-on-one.

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16 Angela Watson November 13, 2013 at 8:05 pm

That’s great! Thank you for updating. I’m glad it worked out.

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17 Laura November 12, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Funny you posted this and I am reading tonight as TODAY I had to do a collective punishment with one of my 7th grade groups. Constant interrupting, joking around, making comments on everything I was explaining at that point and it kept growing and growing. I got so furious with some of them but it sounded like a whole bunch of them. Maybe this might sound like I had no class management today but for some reason this particular group was just off. After applying collective punishment and coming back to my desk to cool down, I had to rethink the idea especially after I saw some of the girls’ faces. Then I stood up, called on every student I knew was NOT involved and told them to the front desks with their belongings, everyone else had to go to the back. I finished the activity I had planned with them, and the back groups now had to make up that activity at home while they completed an independent assignment. Funny, how it ended up being 10 boys out of my 22 students who were the ones causing the trouble. Some of them gave me the evil eye once they knew they now had double homework, but others really look repentant.
What I learned from this situation is that I was really able to identify the perpetrators, the peers were able to recognize the impact these had in class, and those who really cared, were able to move on and learn.

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18 Connie November 13, 2013 at 7:53 am

This also works sort of with first graders. I used to have them all put their heads on the desk. The call up the good kids to the front to work with me. They loved the extra attention. After awhile more kids were good. The secret with first graders is to teach loudly so everyone hears and hopefully learns the lesson.

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19 Angela Watson November 13, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I’ve done this, as well. I’m not entirely comfortable with it for several reasons (one of which is that some kids are embarrassed to be singled out for good behavior) but it does work better than just taking away a privilege or activity from the whole class. For me, it was effective when used sparingly. Come to think of it, that’s true of just about any punishment. :) Thank you both for sharing your experiences with your classes.

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20 Andre November 12, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Hi! I use whole class punishments in my class but as you stated, it is easy. I am a first year teacher teaching 2nd grade and there have been times that I have used this type of punishment. I dislike it very much but what else can I do? I KNOW it is not all of my kiddos causing the problem, but I am only one person and I can’t keep track of all 24 of my kids’ behaviors at the same time.

HELP!!!

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21 Linda Kardamis November 13, 2013 at 9:33 am

Hi Andre! I know it can be tough. We’ve all been there. What you want to do is create more individual accountability. Give small punishments (lost recess, detention, discipline essays, whatever is appropriate at your school/age level) to the students who deserve it – even if it’s half the class. Here’s a method that my mentor teacher shared with me my first year that made all the difference: http://teach4theheart.com/2013/08/26/how-to-control-a-disruptive-class-the-quick-easy-method-that-saved-my-sanity/

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22 Angela Watson November 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Thank you for sharing that, Linda!

Andre, I would focus on pro-active behavior management: setting kids up for success so you don’t have to keep track of behaviors so much. Go over routines and procedures and practice, practice, practice. There are tons of resources on my site to help you with that (go up to the to where it says “Free Resources”). With most kids, if they know what is expected and are capable of doing it, they will! Build rapport and a sense of classroom community so kids want to work together and get things accomplished. It takes awhile but you can do it!

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23 Mike April 29, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Rewarding good behavior is always more effective that punishing bad. Ask Pavlov. Negative discipline has little effect on those behaving badly and comes across as completely unjust to those trying to please. It takes a little more time and creativity on a teacher’s part, but is worth it.
Mike

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24 Kat Parker November 12, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I try not to use collective punishment because you’re all right, it’s not fair to the one kid (who was usually me) who wants to please the teacher and doesn’t deserve the punishment. Like many others, I try to reward the good behavior and show the others, wow, if I act a certain way I’ll be recognized for doing something good instead of something bad. I teach high school, and usually by that point the kids will call out the “bad kid” lol, so that helps sometimes. I did have to use collective punishment once this year because I have lunch duty and my kids get to leave early so I can make it to the cafeteria before the bell rings. I used to let my kids leave at 11:32 on the dot and I’d wait around for the stragglers, sometimes several minutes. One day I received a complaint from a teacher they were being loud and someone pounded on his door. Well now we all line up in the hallway and walk single file to the cafeteria together, slightly juvenile, but it works and we haven’t received any complaints since the change.

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25 Angela Watson November 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Kat, that doesn’t sound like a punishment to me–sounds like you are setting your students up for success and practicing good classroom management. When they all line up and walk there together, you prevent behavior problems. You figured out what your kids needed and provided it. I wouldn’t feel bad about that at all!

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26 Kat Parker November 14, 2013 at 7:32 am

Thank you, Angela, that makes me feel better about my choice!

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27 Karol November 12, 2013 at 11:04 pm

My child is a “rule-follower”. I remember the first time her teacher used this method of punishment. It was the first thing she told me that afternoon after school. It left her completely confused and sad. She definitely wants to please and thrives with positive reinforcement. She was disturbed by this and truthfully it made her skeptical of her teacher for the rest of the year. I understand teachers, no doubt, are under stress and time constraints, but the quiet, smart, rule- following students should be acknowledged and considered when really only a few students should be punished.

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28 Angela Watson November 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Thanks for sharing a parent’s point of view, Karol. Your daughter sounds like sweet little Morgan from my class. It’s so easy to overlook those kids and give all our attention to the kids who are acting out. I’m glad you spoke up on their behalf.

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29 Rebecca January 16, 2015 at 11:14 am

This is pretty much exactly why I try to vary my rewards and consequences. Sometimes all it takes is calling out, “I love how Student A, B, and C are sitting in kindergarten learning position!” for a few stragglers to straighten up. Other times I’ll have a student leave the group (and sit about four feet away so they can still hear and see everything that happens) so my well-behaved students can enjoy the lesson. Every once in a great while, if MOST of my class is acting out, there will be a group punishment, but I try to make a point of at least verbally thanking those who made better choices. I know my students pretty well and I know who is devastated by even a hairy eyeball, so I respond accordingly, on an as-needed basis. Differentiation at it’s finest! 😉

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30 Connie November 13, 2013 at 7:47 am

Punish everyone. Then after everything is under control start letting the good kids out of the punishment. After doing this a few times, the good kids know they will be off punishment soon.
Kids will not line up quietly to go somewhere, let the good kids go ahead. They are the good kids. They will not misbehave without you. I taught 21 years. These things work.

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31 Angela Watson November 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm

I agree that if a collective punishment must be used, it’s a good idea to restore the privilege to the students who were following the rules as soon as possible.

But if they were following the rules, why punish them at all? If we as teachers can pick out the kids who were following the rules, then we didn’t need to punish them, and if we can’t pick those kids out, then when we release them from punishment early, we’re just picking our favorites or the kids who normally behave. Does that make sense? That’s how it seemed to work when I did it in my classroom, and I always felt uncomfortable with it.

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32 Linda Kardamis November 13, 2013 at 9:30 am

What a great question! I hated group punishments as a student so I really try to avoid them as a teacher. I also try whenever I have to give a group “lecture” to always say something like “Some of you have been…..” or “Thank you to all who are doing _____, but those who are not should…..” I never want the kids who are doing right to feel like they’re being lumped in with everyone else.
However, there are times when we have to suspend activities or privileges because the class as a whole cannot handle them. As you said, this is a good opportunity to teach that our actions affect those around us. I try to avoid this as much as possible, though, to not portray it as a punishment, and to acknowledge that there were some students who were not contributing to the problem.

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33 Angela Watson November 13, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Well said, Linda. Thanking the students who follow the rules is so important. They deserve attention, as well.

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34 Sarah November 14, 2013 at 10:13 pm

I teach preschool and every once in a while collective punishment seems to be the most necessary approach to call the attention to bad behavior that a majority of the students are part of. One of the things I work really hard on is teaching my students to make good choices and use their words to help their friends make good choices too. I have had times where one behavior was started by one student and rather than the other students stopping the wrong behavior they join in as well. I think, as with any behavior, that the consequence should match the wrong behavior whenever possible as well as help the student to make better choices- whether it be with an individual student or as a whole class if everyone can learn from it.

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35 Angela Watson September 5, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Sarah. The situation you describe in which students mimic each other’s bad behavior is definitely one where collective punishment might be useful. Specifically, I can envision shutting down the activity, having students stop to reflect on their choices, and then resume.

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36 Barb May 27, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Collective punishment is sometimes necessary to restore immediate order. But I like the idea of restoring privileges that have been removed, only to those who were not involved in the misdemeanor. I have to ask a few things, though. When you were a child in school and collective punishment was used, how did you feel? Or do you even remember it? It was used many times in my school and I don’t remember it bothering me much, nor did I hate the teacher. Children may feel sad, or upset, but they also need to learn to figure out and handle those feelings. Chances are they will move on. But remember that to some students, (and some parents) everything is unfair, especially if adults tell them that they are sad and should feel it is unfair, instead of asking why it happened. Teachers are under a great deal of stress. They have to teach, rule the class and try to be friends all at the same time.
Another question is this. Should we explain to our students why we are collectively punishing? Can we also explain why we must go through metal detectors to board planes, or why gas is so expensive because of too many gas and dashes going on, or why clothes in our favorite store are so expensive, all because we are all being punished for others’ crimes? It’s a fact of life.

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37 Angela Watson September 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Barb, you raise some great points. I definitely think it’s worth talking to students about this, and the real life examples you have can spark some great discussions.

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38 Linda November 12, 2016 at 2:31 am

I am here as a parent trying to understand teachers mindset about this as my son is having a lot of issues with the lack of empathy and classroom management skills of his teachers. I have red many comments, and this one intrigued me the most. It certainly put the wasps in the bottle, cap on so we can observe better. I have had many Barb’s in my school life. I hated them for teaching me my place in the world. I resented them for not helping me with skills that would help me survive. I had to take the abuse from mates, and from my teachers. My mates learnt nothing about empathy and consequences from her. I did not learn acceptance, or negotiation either. Instead, I learnt how to comply quietly. As a child, adolescent and adult, we learnt from our Barbs why not to trust adults to listen to our needs. They were/are too busy runing their own agenda and cruzade. Many teachers I know enjoy the power, and worse yet, thrive over the power struggle between them and their Students. Is there something about society to be learnt while being punished? Absolutely! But what is it, and at what cost? Have any of you practicing teachers asked why misbehavior occuered that day, that time, in that situation? Applying this type of punishment is demeaning of you too. Including your skill as a teachers, but most importantly, of teaching as a proffession. To teach is no to just apply methods, including these of compliance and conformity. It is to inspire to learn, to teach how to learn, and to every extended to put light in opportunities to develop skills of all sorts, including community living.

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39 Diane S. June 24, 2014 at 11:46 am

I don’t use group punishment, but I might stop an activity if too many are off-task. The break might be very brief. We might quickly (1-2 minutes) review the expectations or just do a 1-minute calm down (head down, light off, no talking) or take some deep breaths. I don’t present it as a punishment–just a moment to calm down and reflect individually on expectations. I don’t lecture. I just say, “I noticed that… and it seems like we need to…”
On the other hand, I might stop an activity and apologize by saying “I’m so sorry. This wasn’t a good time for us to do this,” and/or “I need to find a better way for us to do this. This isn’t working out like I had hoped.” I might even tell them what I’m having a problem with and get them to help improve the activity by brainstorming ideas for us to try again later. Sometimes I tell them I need to confer with my online teacher friends. 😀

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40 Angela Watson September 5, 2014 at 3:34 pm

I love this, Diane! What a lovely classroom community you have created. Thank you for sharing!

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41 Susan September 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Thank you all for your insight. As a parent, I am glad to see your perspective, and I am also glad to hear that most do not agree with it. It kind of seems to me an easy way out instead of addressing the issue at hand because of many different reasons, and understandably so. I was surprised to hear this on Friday afternoon, my son’s class has been punished (writing a 250 words essay of why you need to listen to your teacher) because one child was not quiet in the last few minutes of the last day of the first week, which were all 1/2 days by the way, while playing hangman, with her permission, but they had to be quiet and he wouldn’t stop talking. I am not a happy parent right now, but before I attempt to address this issue I wanted some feedback and I thank you all for sharing. Isn’t 6th grade a bit too old for this type of treatment?

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42 Angela Watson September 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Susan, I commend you for taking the time to research this issue and see both sides before contacting the teacher in anger. Personally, I don’t think collective punishment is the most effective way to address misbehavior, and from the version of the story you have shared here, I think the teacher could have chosen a better way to handle the situation. Writing essays as punishment is an entirely different issue, and I don’t promote that, either (writing is supposed to be fun and/or useful in communicating, not a punishment!)

I think it’s worth addressing this issue with your child’s teacher–ask her to share her version of what happened and why she chose that punishment. Explain how it affected your child and ask how your child can avoid the situation in the future. If you are respectful, this conversation should cause the teacher to examine her practices and think about they affect the students who are not misbehaving.

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43 Connie September 17, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Angela, your response comes close to the info I am looking for. My daughter’s teacher is new and she is making a habit of collective punishment with a double whammy of taking away recess. This is happening several times a week. I have been talking to my daughter about how we can address this. A pediatrician on another site recommends having the child speak privately to the teacher. I want to point out her bad teaching without saying your starting off all wrong. I want to be encouraging but just not sure how to go about it. Any more suggestions?

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44 Susan September 18, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Hi Angela,
Here’s a follow up. After reading your reply and thinking about it, I decided to wait a week for meet the teacher night. I am glad I did also, however there were many parents that didn’t, and also administration did get involved. The teacher addressed it and said it would not happen again. I did have my son do the assignment, because it was still an assignment, but I received emails from other parents that said do not do the assignment. I think that was a bid odd and they overstepped boundaries. I see how teachers get their hands tied. This was a lesson for all of us, parents, teachers and students. Thanks for your feedback. You are now on my favorites.

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45 Angela Watson October 3, 2014 at 12:38 am

I’m so glad this worked out! Thanks for updating me.

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46 Robert May 8, 2015 at 8:52 pm

I try to avoid W.G. punishments if I can. HOWEVER, there’s just too many times when it’s hard to single out the offenders vs. the innocent folks. I even tell my kids if someone is talking to you should you talk back to them? No! Because then I’ll look at you and see YOU TALKING! I tell them that if someone is talking to you/ being loud during instruction, ignore them and then if they are the only one talking it’s pretty easy to pinpoint the offender. Similarly I’ve never had ONE KID, even my “innocent” kids who haven’t broken the rules at some point so when they cry it’s “not fair,” I say to them, “So you’ve never been caught talking and goofing off when you’re not supposed to be?” They know it’s not true.

And in a “real life” context, our bosses issue W.G. punishments ALL THE TIME! I’m a teacher who shows up on time (early in fact); stick to a schedule; do my duties, etc., however there are teachers who DON’T, of course. And instead of dealing with those teachers individually, we get annoying passive aggressive emails, newsletters -and worst of all — they take our time with pointless meetings where they need to remind us about the rules and expectations. I sit there, in my kids’ shoes, “It’s not fair. I do my job.” But that’s life! Sadly, one does ruin it for the group!

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47 Angel September 18, 2015 at 3:33 pm

I wanted to let you know thank you for sharing this post online line because I did share it with a teacher here in Florida and I hope it will make an impact on the way she treats the students in her class. In order to be a great teacher you have to love what you do (your job) working with children. This post did help me to be able to voice my concern with the teacher at sun-n-lake school in Sebring Florida and I just want to say thanks for this post!!!

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48 Angela Watson September 19, 2015 at 9:53 am

Thanks for letting me know it was helpful!

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49 Faramarz Rabii September 25, 2015 at 4:30 pm

Collective punishment is considered a war crime by UN. When teachers use that they are teaching the next generation that this is OK. In effect they are raising the next generation of war criminals. If it is so good how about we punish all teachers for the misconduct of one. Say if one teacher does a bad job then all teachers get a 20% pay cut? How do they like it?

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50 Angela Watson September 25, 2015 at 4:41 pm

I didn’t realize that about war crimes. I have to say, your points are pretty compelling.

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51 Shellie October 4, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Great article!!!! Any suggestion on addressing collective punishment with my sons teacher? She just last week took away Funday Friday, Pride Break & 5 minutes of recess. The only reason my son knew as to why is bc of talking in the hall. I asked why they lost recess & he doesn’t know. I don’t understand how the punishment works if the students aren’t aware of the offense. I also think it could possibly set up bullying or peer pressure in time. I’d get tired of a few misbehaving students ruining it for the rest of us. My son is a great student who works very hard to maintain good grades & is a pleaser. He doesn’t act up in class & prior to this year has enjoyed school. He had the highest AR score for 4th grade last year. He has started telling us he hates school which is way out of character for him. He’s added school & his teacher to his prayer list bc it’s stressing him so much. I certainly don’t want to make matters worse or cause conflict between the teacher & my son or myself. I know it has to be so hard to maintain control & to teach. I’m just disheartened thinking my son is starting to dred going to school each day. Thank you???? for any helpful hints/advice in discussing this with his teacher in a Christ like manner.

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52 Angela Watson October 24, 2015 at 4:39 pm

It’s wonderful that you want to approach this conversation with sensitivity and humility. I think that attitude will shine through and help you make your point more clearly. I would share with the teacher exactly what you shared here–that you don’t want to be critical or undermining of her, but your son has said X and done Y. Just state the facts about what effects collective punishment has had on your son, and let that open up the dialogue. I wouldn’t expect the teacher to stop using this approach immediately, as I’m sure it’s ingrained in her, but I am confident that your words will have an effect and cause her to think twice every time she uses collective punishment, and I think she’ll see things your way in time. :)

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53 A Mom October 24, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Hi,

I would love to get some feedback on a recent situation in my daughter’s school. It goes further than your garden variety “collective punishment” and, while I think it is completely ludicrous, I’m not sure if this is a common belief and value held within the educational system.

My daughter’s grade 5 class had a supply teacher last week. My daughter has high functioning autism, but is also on the gifted side intellectually. She functions well within a regular classroom without any special supports, however she does struggle with social situations, specifically understanding what is expected of her. She also has a lot of anxiety. She does not, however, have any behaviour problems at school and is very obedient – She gets anxious about following the rules. When she came home from school on the day of the supply teacher I could tell that something was very, very wrong. It took hours of me trying to work with her, but finally she talked about what happened in school that day. She said the supply teacher was yelling at the class regularly, took away recess and Ipads (which the school provides the students), and threatened to arrange for a “mean” supply teacher the following day. My daughter said there was a lot of talking during class and it sounds like the kids were revved up, but my daughter didn’t think anything extraordinary had happened. She also told me that she had listened and done everything she was supposed to do. So, at this point, my take on it was that the teacher had lost control of the class and had lost her cool and had punished the whole class for the behaviour of a few. And while I’m not a fan of collective punishments, I admit that I’ve used them with my kids when we’re all having an off day (and always regret them afterwards). I could have taken that in stride.

But then my daughter informed me that everyone in the class had to write an apology letter to the supply teacher. Those who had misbehaved had to write an apology letter for acting that way. Those who hadn’t (including my daughter) had to write an apology letter for not intervening when their class mates had misbehaved. I was completely incredulous. I told my daughter that she was not going to write a letter accepting ownership of others’ behaviour and explained that we have no control over what other people do, we only have control over ourselves.

I phoned the principal the next day to get some clarity on this issue. I thought that my daughter must have misunderstood. In fact, the principal confirmed this was the request and that it had been her direction after the supply teacher had told her the class was misbehaving.
I pointed out that:
1) My daughter has no control over what anyone else does
2) That I was very uncomfortable with the narrative of the helpless teacher who needs to be protected from her class by the other students, and assumes no responsibility for what happens in the classroom but is going to download that responsibility to my 10-year-old, and
3) That there doesn’t appear to be any self-reflection on the part of the teacher about how things could have gone differently, when it sounds like her behaviour was less than ideal.

The principal (who is very new) just didn’t seem to get any of this. The principal kept saying this was about citizenship (I countered by saying I am a “good citizen” but when I’m driving, obeying the speed limit, I don’t assume responsibility for other drivers who are speeding). Frankly, I am extremely troubled by this incident.

Thoughts? Has this principal gone rogue or is this actually a “thing”?

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54 Angela Watson October 24, 2015 at 4:19 pm

I don’t think this is a “thing”, no. I (and many other teachers) try to convey to students that we are part of a community and need to help one another make good choices and speak up when we see others making bad choices. That’s become increasingly true as so many students are bullied and their classmates witness it but say/do nothing–we want kids to understand that standing idly by while someone is being harmed is not okay.

However, I think what you’re describing is taking a good moral lesson way too far. I agree that students are not responsible for protecting a teacher from other students, particularly when we’re talking about general childish misbehavior and not physical endangerment. The teacher is responsible for maintaining order in the classroom.

I’ve experienced (and expressed) my frustration with students who laugh at and encourage poor behavior in their peers. However, I can’t hold those students responsible for not peer pressuring their classmates into doing the right thing, particularly at the elementary level. Forcing students who did not misbehave to write an apology letter is taking things a bit far, especially considering that your daughter has autism and presumably struggles with social interactions to some degree. She should not have been expected to intervene on the supply teacher’s behalf, in my opinion, nor should she have to write an apology letter.

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55 Linda November 12, 2016 at 3:18 am

This is a picture of what i have been going through with my 5 year old. I am angry, frustrated with my misjudment about the school. I have noticed that this is the school approach, not the teachers. I have a feeling that in England many archaich and questionable educational flaws are the rule, not the exception. I have neither patience or language skills to tiptoe around this. How can 5 year olds be taken away from playing because they dont know how to play? I was told i must Teach my son to be stronger. How do I do that? How i help him to not be broken by this, or to restore a good relationship with his teatcher? He is upset, anxious and confused about the lesson his is being thought. If he is happy and sing while washing his hands he is told off, he plays with his water bottle during a boring pointless lesson he is told off, his friend falls on the playground due to a colision he is punished collectivally and individually, as he lost his chance to be the one playing a game he never gets to play because the other Kids always get their way. I need to cool off. Please, help me be smart about this. I always put my foot on the mouth.

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56 Robin October 24, 2015 at 5:40 pm

In response to the apology letter to the supply teacher (I’m guessing that’s a substitute/ guest teacher?). I have to say, while I oppose collective punishment, I had an experience the other day that was actually similar to this and here’s my explanation for why I handled it the way I did-

My kids were at their regular music class (not a guest teacher- just the regular music teacher). When I picked up, I could tell things were out of control (she was giving them a talking to). She told me that most of the class had been pretty out of control and when we got back to class and discussed it further, it appeared from what the kids told me that yes, MOST of the class had been participating in the behavior. Examples were: kicking other students, throwing crayons around the room and at each other, jumping up and down on the risers, running around the room, banging on the drums, etc.

Fifth graders, mind you. Old enough to know better. Going into middle school next year. Old enough to take some ownership of class behavior and to know how their actions impact the whole.

Now, I would say that the fault for the situation escalating resides with that teacher. However, we had been having many conversations in class about bullying and bystanders and how we can make situations better or worse by what we choose to do. So in that context, I asked my kids to think about how they could have handled things differently (if at all). Then we wrote letters to the music teacher….BUT I asked the kids to write the letter based on their own behavior. Kids who acknowledged participating in inappropriate behavior were to write an actual apology, taking responsibility for the behavior and indicating what they would do to make sure it didn’t happen again (this turned out to be 13 out of 23 kids).

Those who felt they were in a position to help another child adjust his or her behavior (example- they laughed at another child’s misbehavior and encouraged it) could write about what they might do differently that might help change the other person’s behavior (there were 4 students who were quite clear that they could have helped in this way and that their behavior did indeed make it worse).

Those who felt that they did exactly the right thing could just confirm that for me- no apology necessary but if they wanted to share any thoughts with the music teacher they could (Four just affirmed their choices but 2 of them said they were sorry that other kids had caused trouble…not really an apology, more like, “I feel bad that some kids made it hard for us to get our projects done today”). Six kids total.

Now, if only a few kids had been off-task I would not have done this. But given the actual situation, and given the multiple conversations we’d had about this topic, it did feel like something that might help connect our conversations with an actual event.

I will say that, though, that if this happens again, I’m staying out of it. This teacher needs to figure out classroom management and if she can’t handle a group of kids, then she needs to get some support from admin and learn quickly. It’s not my job to make my kids behave when they’re not with me and it’s not their job to make each other behave. It’s her job to figure out how to create a positive learning environment with enough procedures and structure in place that the kids WANT to behave because it helps them learn and have fun.

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57 Angela Watson October 24, 2015 at 6:49 pm

Thanks for chiming in. I think this situation is different because YOU, the classroom teacher, gave the assignment, and you were not the one whom students were writing to. You know your kids and what they’re capable of. To me, that’s very different from a supply/substitute teacher creating an assignment like this. You were also not asking for an apology letter to yourself, but to a colleague. And most importantly, you allowed the students who believed they were innocent to simply state that with no apology necessary. Everything you said (especially your conclusion in the last paragraph) makes sense to me.

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58 A mom October 25, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Robin,
Thank you for sharing that.
I see your exercise more as self-reflection for the kids.
I actually think teaching kids how to reflect on their performance/behaviour and use that reflection to set personal goals is a really valuable skill and I can get behind that.
And thank you Angela for your thoughtful commentary.

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59 HS Senior December 1, 2015 at 6:43 pm

It’s interesting to me to read this article and all of the comments and see how this issue persists, despite better reasoning, in classrooms of all grades. I am a student – a senior in high school, in fact, and I’m very similar to Morgan and others mentioned above – and it surprises me that my classmates have caused whole group punishment to be incurred not once, but twice this term (the second being today) due to their inability to, as my teacher yells, “shut up!” It may be the so-called “senioritis,” a lack of caring about grades, or just a general lack of caring, for that matter, but these seniors, who are expected to and really should know better, continue to seem unfazed by this. However, while the majority of my classmates are to blame, I take issue to how my teacher is doing the punishment. On the last occasion, we had just begun a chapter, when, annoyed by people talking over him, he suddenly suspended teaching altogether and announced we would have a test on the entire chapter the next day. Needless to say, most people failed; it doesn’t seem like many cared, for whatever reason. I personally care about my grades and went out of my way to check out a textbook (which are not issued for this course) and studied extensively, resulting in a 100, but unfortunately a lot of undue stress, along the way. Today, luckily, the lesson was the last of the chapter (meaning we were already scheduled to have a test tomorrow) and was on handouts, and we simply had to read them ourselves after his outburst. Of course, most students didn’t, and even resumed talking after the short period of shocked silence that followed. I understand my teacher is stressed and may be having a bad day or dealing with whatever other issues which lead to such punishment in the classroom. It’s clear that he doesn’t mind giving the punishment, however, going so far as to say we can report him, and he won’t care – he’s been in the business long enough already, and prior to teaching was in the military (which could be a contributor to the “military-style” punishment). I don’t aim to get the teacher in trouble; I actually feel sort of bad for him, on behalf of my classmates. (We’re graduating in May, and they frankly do not demonstrate the qualities seniors should!) In fact, I don’t aim to take action at all… the semester is almost over, and hopefully this won’t occur again; in any case, I don’t want to bring it up, for multiple reasons. To be completely honest, I’m using this as a forum to vent… but any feedback is welcome. Thank you for reading my story. I hope your day has been better than mine! ☺

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60 Angela Watson December 2, 2015 at 8:31 am

Thank you so much for sharing what collective punishment is like from a student’s perspective. Reading your words, it becomes very clear why punishing the whole group doesn’t work: it turns the kids who made good choices against their teacher, and makes them feel like it’s impossible to succeed. Why bother trying if another kid has the power to mess up your grades? Might as well just ignore and interrupt the teacher the next the day, because now your grade is lower and if feels impossible to get back on track, and you know your classmates will probably just make the teacher mad again and another group punishment will occur.

Meanwhile the teacher sees that the punishment was ineffective and actually caused MORE attitude problems, which angers and frustrates him (“Why don’t these kids care? Why are they so disrespectful?”) and so repeats the punishment, making it even more extreme in hopes of getting the reaction he wants this time…

What a vicious cycle. No one wins.

I’m glad that you feel some empathy for your teacher. I do, too. If he knew of a better way to handle this problem, he’d act on it! I wonder if it would be helpful if you let him know–in a kind, respectful way–how the group punishment affected you. Let him know that you do care about about your work, and you do respect him as your teacher, and you don’t want your grades to suffer because of other students’ choices.

Keep me updated. :)

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61 HS Senior December 3, 2015 at 6:33 pm

Well, as with the last time this happened, he’s luckily changed his mind and gone back to teaching (though not after keeping up the act and threatening to continue the tests-every-other-day demeanor). Although I’m inclined to believe that his initial action is spurred by factors outside of class, I’m never quite sure if he’s angry at us the day after where we take the test, or is just carrying out his threat so that we don’t believe he’s one who gives empty threats. In any case, I was able to make a 100 again, and when today he resumed teaching, one of my classmates – who also must be concerned about their grades! – actually addressed the class and said that we’re going to all keep quiet and listen for once. More or less, that worked! Overall, I agree that this style of punishment causes more harm than it does benefits, but the results ultimately reflect what is expected – the lower grades due to lack of instruction inspire increased attention and thus things resume as they should be – just at more cost to students and perhaps the teacher as well.

Thank you for your response and helping me through this for the second time. Hopefully, it will not occur a third. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season! ☺

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62 Angela Watson December 4, 2015 at 11:06 am

Glad things worked out. Thanks again for sharing your thoughtful reflections with teachers.

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63 Suzanne January 27, 2016 at 7:48 pm

Hi Angela-
Great article thank you! The comments have been filled with insightful perspectives and ideas for a more positive approach to managing the classroom dynamic.
I am a mother of two (11 and 13), a board member of my daughter’s school as well as my job is to manage Human Resources for a global company. I also run our Corporate Training function. My academic background is in Organizational Dynamics, Communications and Intercultural Relations.
I am now working with my daughter’s teacher to address the issue of group punishment. She is the “Morgan” in the story- with the difference of having been taught from an early age to advocate and communicate with adults from a place of empowerment. Her teacher sent me a text today stating he had received a letter from her stating her concerns about the group punishment given to them the previous day for a few who were acting out.
This is now my 5th teacher in four years that I have seen this as a default approach to addressing the issues created by a few children. Both my son and my daughter have lived through intense trauma (they lost their father to cancer 3 years ago) have traveled around the world and recognize that they are quite privileged- and both work very diligently to do well in all areas of their lives. They know better than most that life is not automatically “fair”. They also recognize that we all need to do our best, and do what we can to make it a better place for everyone.
I realize that each time we have had to deal with this, it is either a teacher early in their career (with severely inadequate training in this area) -or- a burned out teacher. I have a tremendous amount of empathy for them as I deal with adults who act like children day in and day out.
I would highly encourage parents, teachers and students, when “group punishments” are being employed to take some time to re-examine the situation (as many have stated above in their journey that they have done)- and specifically look at intention, purpose and accountability. The price of a disengaged learner, I would propose, is far greater than the price we pay for a less-adequately “punished” disruptive person. We have a much better understanding in the 21st century as to what is motivating disruptive behavior. The rub is in the details and the context- not all situations are equal (although teachers are often trained to judge all disruptions equally). My favorite way of looking at disruptions is to ask myself- what is this child acting on? (versus how is this child acting out?)
Most of what I have found helpful for teachers comes from leadership wisdom. I teach leadership (going on 25 years)- and what we know to be true, regardless of the age of the followers, is that compelling leadership is a function of who we are and not any technique. So the real question is: who are you being in the classroom? What are you holding yourself accountable to and for? How often do we even consider, as a teacher, parent or a boss, of setting the same processes of accountability in the reverse? Can your students call you out on your misdeeds?
Some lessons from the world of leadership:
Accountability breeds accountability. Intentional leadership breeds intentional “followership”. Being fully present and connected to the human beings in front of you will allow you to generate that in return.

I have been working with these teachers (our school is in the inner city and has a 28% special ed. population) very successfully over the last 4 years. I have gone in and taught the kids in my son’s class my self. His teacher, who came to us with only 1 year of experience, ran one of the most engaging learning environments I’ve ever seen (60 % of which are on some sort of behavioral IEPs or come from extremely impoverished home environments.) The children respected her deeply and when she left, they were devastated. She had a rough start for sure- but she recovered quickly, by employing two way accountability and listening. She made sure every child knew that she cared for them first and foremost- that they were there together for their success. She was real with them- owned her mistakes, showed her true emotions (with out yelling; using I statements), spoke to them with respect. She refused to model being a victim- but instead chose to model responsibility for her life. It works. Every time.
Thank you again for this discussion- very insightful!

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64 Angela Watson January 30, 2016 at 6:48 pm

Thanks for taking the time to share from a parent’s perspective and help refocus on the big picture. So much to consider here.

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65 Kelly September 15, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Hi,
I am on the opposite end if this topic. I am a parent of a child with a perfectionist/pleaser personality. He is 7 and has encountered many collective punnishments while in elementry school. Its the policy. I don’t like it at all, however there’s no sign if it changing so I am asking for advice from you. I don’t see the need to take my child to the psychologist or couselor which was suggested once when I questioned the method (with ither parents of behaving children).
I would love to know if there is something you, as a teacher, have noticed to work for a child that gets upset and maybe cries sometimes with collective punnishments. I always stand by what the teacher tells me, however again and again I am told my son is an example student. His young mind (that loves to follow rules to a T) cannot grasp how it is ok for the children behaving to receive punnishment because of others misbehavior. Any idea what I can say to him to bring it to his level of understanding? Are there any books you would suggest? I’d appreciate it so much

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