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Introducing the lego learning system

Collective Punishment Might Feel Right at the Time, but it’s Always Wrong

This tempting ‘last resort’ technique has a counterproductive impact on those who do behave well, and there are also negative consequences to you as the teacher

  • Collective Punishment Might Feel Right at the Time, but it’s Always Wrong

“It is necessary to listen to and follow the teacher’s instructions so that the teacher can get on with teaching us.

On the other hand, I am a perfectly obedient student, I always do as I am told and rarely talk in class. And yet, I still get punished for other people’s bad behaviour every day. Therefore, I feel that there is no point in behaving well because I am going to be punished no matter what I do.

This attitude or mindset I have developed has been brought on by teachers like you, who insist on punishing the whole group/class for one or two people’s bad behaviour. This type of behaviour is unfair and unjust and I don’t think I can withstand it any longer.

If somebody is misbehaving, punish them individually (this is fair). I don’t mind being punished if I know I deserve the punishment, but, being punished through no fault of my own is just unfair.

Although it is important for the students to follow the rules, it is also important to treat us as students fairly and respectfully.”

Written by a Year 9 Student in response to whole-class detention

I’m not sure I need to add more than is already clearly and respectfully explained in this heartfelt letter.

Collective punishment is as much punishment for those who behave themselves, as it is for those who don’t. Only, it seems perverse to me that those that have done nothing to deserve it are punished twice.

They are taught that there is no reason to behave well, and that if a teacher doesn’t recognise (or even disrespects) their efforts to follow the rules, these students eventually may say, ‘Pfff! What’s the point?’

I have given group punishment. I have been that teacher.

It was many years ago, but when I think about it I can still see the ghost of sheer desperation and the feeling of vindictive hatred towards those who had wrecked my well-intended, well-planned lesson.

Sooner or later, I must have realised it was wrong. Or perhaps I just got better at managing behaviour in class and seeing who was misbehaving and needed sorting out.

All for one?

A couple of weeks ago, it happened in my Year 9 child’s school for the umpteenth time this term. She texted me to say she couldn’t face yet another group detention after school, having missed lunch just days before for one from a different teacher.

I called the school, livid, but also determined to come armed with the suggestion that they help the offending teachers to understand why it is an ineffective technique, and to find other ways to get the students to behave.

As it turned out, the way the school has responded is spot on.

They would work with the teachers in question, deploy more mentors for the class in question, reissue the school behaviour policy – which disallows group punishment – to all staff and meet with the well-behaved students in the class and discuss with them what they see going wrong, so they could learn from their perspective.

Why collective punishment doesn’t make any sense

If you are ever tempted to deploy this as a technique, here is a short film about how ridiculous it is.

And if that is not enough, here is a list of some of the reasons not to do it:

  • It makes you look weak and too lazy to get to the bottom of who is misbehaving
  • It probably isn’t allowed by the school behaviour policy, so you are not only breaking the rules yourself but also breaking the contract that each child and teacher have signed up to in the school
  • It demotivates well-behaved students and can discourage them from behaving well altogether
  • It makes you feel horrible about yourself as the teacher
  • It doesn’t make sense – we don’t close entire roads because some people drink and drive or shut down libraries because some people damage the books
  • There are better ways

What are the alternatives?

If you need other ways to punish those that misbehave, here are some people with a few ideas:

  • Learning Spy deploys an approach which involves gradually releasing students until the right person can be identified and dealt with.
  • Larry Ferlazzo, in The Happy School, advocates a gentle approach that happens more discreetly than the public display of anger and disappointment in front of the whole class that often takes place.
  • Playworks advocates 6 ways teachers can build a collaborative contract with their students so collective punishment, such as withholding break-time, doesn’t have to be an option.

When it comes to behaviour management, the one who needs to change is probably you

Behaviour management actually requires a change of behaviour from you, as the adult, first and foremost.

Pivotal Education is one organisation I know of that has built its entire, very successful, training business around this basic theory – and it works.

See this simple-but-effective explanation of how adult behaviour is the biggest influencer of student behaviour.

Source: Pivotal Education

Most impactful, especially in such financially straitened times, is just considering the real costs of not sorting your own behaviour first.

An example from one of the masters

There is a Spanish teacher at my kids’ school who commands respect from all students, and who we often hear about over the dinner table.

This teacher seems to know a key fact about each student and uses it to draw out of them a level of engagement and concentration that is stunning.

One boy can’t sit still and often loses concentration. He is a great artist. The teacher asks him to summarise the key points of the lesson in a series of drawings which can be distributed to the other students at the end of the lesson to complement their own notes.

He is riveted and gets stuck in. His own understanding has increased and he is proving to be a great student where, in other classes, he is disruptive and disengaged.

One student always shouts out inane things that cross his mind, and sometimes he shouts answers to questions without permission, and over the top of other students who have been given permission to speak.

His role is given to him at the start of the lesson. He is given a vocabulary list of phrases and words in Spanish like “how interesting” and “ridiculous” and he must make remarks appropriately using these words when classmates are speaking. It’s fun, it keeps others on their toes.

They want to get things right because it’s hilarious making him interact with them. He is bristling with concentration, not wanting to miss an opportunity to shout out.

Finally, when the teacher is telling them a story or explaining something and uses the word that means ‘but’, the class must catch him and call out “pero means but”!

It’s hardly surprising that most of the class wants to do GCSE Spanish, and he doesn’t ever encounter behaviour problems.

This might seem like an energy-intensive method to engage a class but it seems to work, and I bet he will never give collective punishment in his life.

Penny Rabiger was an English teacher for 10 years, has since been a director at The Key service for school leaders and governors, head of membership at Challenge Partners, and now works freelance supporting a range of education organisations. She is a keen blogger, Chair of Governors at a primary school, member of the Board of Trustees at a multi-academy trust and a steering group member of the BAMEed Network.

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