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Collective Punishment In The Classroom


A few days ago I wrote a post titled Emphasizing Pride, Not Shame, In Classroom Management. In it, among other things, I shared some of the things I say to students if I know they are going to have a sub the following day.

A friend saw the post on Facebook, and we were discussing how wrong — on so many levels — the idea of collective punishment is (though I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes every bone in my body wants to collectively punish), and how it’s not unusual for teachers to use that on their classes after there’s misbehavior with a substitute. I explained that in addition to talking with students, students also have to complete a Behavior With A Sub grading rubric, which I discuss and share in When You Have A Sub…. If there had been problems, the rubric identifies who caused the difficulties, and I just express to those students privately and and individually my disappointment and move on.

I also mentioned to her that when I hear angry teachers talking about inflicting collective punishment, I sometimes jokingly remind them that practicing it is against international law.

I was also prompted to write this after seeing a short video that Guy Kawasaki shared today on Google+ called “Don’t Punish Everyone For One Person’s Mistake.” It’s a bit simplistic, but it does make a similar point:

What do you think? Do you ever practice collective punishment? Why or why not? And, if you don’t, but see other teachers doing it, what do you do?

(You might also be interested in an earlier post I wrote called “Alternatives To Collective Punishment”)

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Great video to prove your point.

    I believe in logical consequences. Collective punishment is not fair to students who did nothing wrong. It’s also not logical. As a new teacher, I become very uncomfortable when more veteran teachers do it or talk about doing it. Classroom management is a touch subject, but as a teacher, I must do what is right for students. If given an opportunity, I would ask why they thought that was the logical thing to do. I would let them know, in as unconfrontational way as possible, how I thought about it. I also hope I never inflict it upon my students.

  2. Teaching high school-collective punishment is unheard of. Perhaps this is because the students are wise enough to know that his should not be tolerated?

    • Donna,

      Actually, based on my personal experience and what I hear from other teachers, it wouldn’t surprise me if high school is where it’s used the most. If you haven’t experienced it in your situation, though, it sounds like you’re teaching in a great place.


  3. As a school principal, I despise collective punishment. It is wrong on so many levels. My staff would not put up with it if I collectively punished them all for one teacher showing up late to school one day or forgetting his or her gradebook at home. This is an antiquated practice that should be abandoned.

  4. I’m curious what you would think about collective reward?

    I had a 7th grade class that was difficult to manage. I tried working with students as individuals, but that didn’t address the core issue. The students in this class saw each other as opponents. The girls could beat the boys in any sport you chose, leaving the boys left with words (cut downs) in an attempt to strike the balance.

    Instead of seeing each other as opponents, I wanted them to learn to work together. They were rewarded when they helped each other and reminded each other of the classroom rules. The class didn’t receive the reward when one person did something wrong…and no one attempted to help.

    After just a week of this very different approach, I started seeing some results. Students really started paying attention to each other and became part of the class, part of a united team.

    • Shari,

      Great move trying to think of a different strategy than punishment! I’m not a huge fan of rewards, though, and have written a fair amount why in previous posts and in my book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves. However, I do believe that there are times when that’s the only thing that will work. When those times arise, I believe it’s critical to have “exit strategy” so that students are guided to see that intrinsic motivation is the key to long term success.


  5. Collective punishment is a common mistake made by frustrated and untrained educators.

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