Not fair! It wasn't me!

How do we link punishment and rewards when it comes to behaviour? I’m not talking about outrageous behaviour which is often easier to judge. There is one victim, one perpetrator and possibly a group of watchers who may be implicated by association.
No, I’m talking about chatting after being asked to be quiet. It is described as low level, minor  disruption and can be the bane of any teacher’s life! Put yourself in that role. You have mentioned , cajoled, asked for no talking. When it continues you issue the threat that if it doesn’t stop ‘ALL OF YOU will lose some free time.’ What do you do when a couple continue to chat? In her very useful  ‘Ten Top Tips to Tackle Low Level Disruptive Behaviour’ Pookey Hesmondhalgh explains that you should act as you say you will. Everyone knows that you’ll lose face otherwise – yes?
A different viewpoint – that of one who was not talking but got punished is set out in One For All‘ at Motherhood Umbrella. As far as they are concerned it is not fair. They did as asked so why should they be punished? The article brings into question what learning is being expected with this approach. Is there any mileage in following instructions or is the old adage of  better to be hung for a sheep as a lamb the best way to approach this?
Peer pressure has been used by teachers for a long time and for all sorts of things especially behaviour. Staff are encouraged to praise the good behaviour of the majority in order for those not towing the line to want that positive attention. However, how long can a teacher carry on this approach with a continual under-current of chatter? The sense of group identity can often miss those ‘usual suspects’. Some time working on the greater good and a sense of belonging may help and can often to be part of PSHE / Citizenship.In the meantime, what should happen?
Should the threat have been aimed only at those talking with the possible consequence that the wrong culprits may be selected? Do you punish all but make sure that those behaving get a reward at a later time?
Perhaps the answer lies in a conversation with the class about the whole problem and the solutions they can come up with. Could this be called the Big Society or the law of the jungle?

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  • Nicki

    A thought provoking blog. A question I often ask myself and know I get it wrong a lot!

  • I do think that if you put it to the class themselves, at times they will be even harsher with their punishment than you would be.

    • Anonymous

      I know you are right with that Susie. Often the children need at least a hanging, if not drawing and quartering! Many thanks for your comment!

  • Ed

    I’d definitely never punish a whole class, when some might not have done anything wrong. I also don’t threaten anything that I might not want to carry through. Your last suggestion might work best. Brainstorm possible solutions with the class.

  • This is a really interesting point and acts to highlight how many ideas are excellent in theory but in practice they may be rather harder to implement. I’ll be really interested to read people’s experiences in response to this (excellent) post.

  • Its interesting from another perspective, I frequently have had to teach teachers, and hey they are worse than the kids for this. Give me kids any day!
    Seriously, its about patience, and persistence, and realising that the cause is either they don’t understand why there is a need to listen, or they are too fired up to listen, or they don’t think they need to listen – all eminently dealable with (is that a word?)
    OR – they are deliberately doing it as part of a guerrilla warfare campaign in which case it needs escalation.

  • I posted a link to your blog post on the Creative Education Daily Digest because I thought other teachers would find it of interest:

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