As soon as my two children come home from school, I hear about who got the class in trouble during the day. The school they go to has a school wide policy of community punishment. If a child doesn’t adhere to the silence expected from them in the hallway or steps out of the line while changing from specials, the entire class has to stand during recess. Sometimes they even have to stand the entire recess.
At the beginning of the year after I learned about this policy, I quested all three of the teachers they have. Their response was unanimous. “We are trying to teach about community here. We are teaching the students that their actions affect others.” After I left the school, I went home and thought about their answer.
I can see the schools point of view, kind of. In society, the actions of people who do not follow the laws do affect those that do. Law abiding citizens supply the tax base for the police forces, courts and prisons. The flaw in the schools reasoning is that honest people are not chosen to spend the prison sentence along with the offender to show them that they affect society.
The second issue I have with this policy deals with incentive. I thought back to when I was in sixth grade, a year that I am not so proud of behavior wise. I was part of a group of kids that tried to get Mr. Gordon to explode. His face would always turn bright red right before he did and we watched for that sign and then pushed just a little bit further. Each time he exploded in front of the class, I had a feeling that I had won, even if we lost gum balls from the jar that would help us get a pizza party. My parents rarely lost their temper so to see an adult do it, and knowing that I had control over him doing it, was amusing to me. My point is that there will always be students in a class that enjoy punishment and being able to control the whole classes punishment might even be more satisfying for them. I also have to ask, why would any student do what’s right if they’re going to be punished anyway? Whats their incentive?
The third issue I have with this policy is that standing around teaches the students nothing. Wouldn’t it be better if the teachers retaught the desired behavior? For instance, if a student can’t stay in the line, they should practice staying in line, even if it’s just by following the teacher through the halls. This reteaching, only takes about 30 seconds and from my own experience, it is effective. I learned this strategy in a staff development class called Effective Teaching. They called it going to “camp”. I used it while I taught middle school and would give out “camp” slips if a student was not following the rules. After the school day was done, the students had to meet me back at my class for “camp” where they would practice the correct behavior. For example, if they forgot to take their hats off in class, I had them walk in and out of the door a few times practicing taking off their hat. Besides correcting the behavior, it also reduced the amount of referrals that I sent to the principal. In an elementary school setting, recess would be a perfect opportunity to have “camp”. If students take instructional time from teachers then teachers takes their free time to reteach the correct behavior. (If you are interested in the Effective Teaching staff development that the “camp” idea came from, you can find them by following this link: http://www.aplassociates.com/. I do not gain anything from recommending it. It was one of the best staff development courses I’ve had, and I’ve taken A LOT!)
I would love to hear what you think about the policy of community discipline in school. If you have something to add, please comment and share with us.
Excellent article! Discipline in elementary grades, particularly IS part social studies, teaching the culture of the school.
I agree, Kasha. We used to call this “group punishment” when I was in the Air Force (1962-1965). There was controversy about it then. There can be benefits to group punishment in that if it is announced before an event occurs, the group creates peer pressure against any member’s violation of the rule. However, the disincentives are too great for it to be too useful too often. “Let the punishment fit the crime” one person at a time…..
Knowing how discipline can be, I always try to give other teachers/schools the benefit of the doubt. Still, I agree with you that this is not a good policy and that there are better ways to teach community other than “We all suffer together.” Actually, I am trying to go in the opposite direction as a teacher. I feel like it is so easy to do aspects of that (“No one can go to lunch yet because ____ and ____ are talking”) or, more often, lectures to the whole class about behavior that is not the whole class’s behavior. I remember teachers doing this and feeling this vague sense of guilt even when I hadn’t done anything. And if I had been doing something? Like you, it felt kind of powerful to have the class being about ME for that moment.