Punishing the Group: What Messages are We Sending?

North American

It is sometimes tempting as a teacher to punish an entire group for the misbehavior of one or more students. After all, we all know that peer pressure can be a powerful force. The thought behind this type of punishment is that peer pressure from the well-behaved students will influence the misbehaving students. While it is possible that this will happen to an extent, the messages sent by corporate punishment can cause problems.

Message 1: This Student is My Enemy
Corporate punishment can encourage other students to develop a negative attitude toward the student causing the punishment. While the fear of judgment by their peers may discourage some students from misbehaving, one of a teacher’s roles is to build positive relationships between students so that the classroom is a safe place for all. Corporate punishment works against that goal.

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Message 2: The Teacher is My Enemy
On the other hand, corporate punishment can also encourage students to band together against the teacher. Students who are behaving well may feel that they have been punished unfairly, and those who are friends with the misbehaving students may feel angry that their friend is being singled out for disapproval by other students. While it is unavoidable for our students to be upset with us at times, there is no need to create tension unnecessarily when there are more effective methods of discipline.

Message 3: It Does Not Pay to Behave
The ‘good’ students, usually the majority, learn very quickly that it does not pay to behave. They may usually choose not to engage in misbehavior, but if one or more of their peers chooses otherwise, they will often join in as well, because they know they will get punished anyway. Corporate punishment does not encourage students to behave well even when others are not.

Message 4: The Misbehaving Student is in Control
Students who choose to misbehave know that they have control over the consequences for the entire group. It pleases some students to be in control or to see the good students suffer, and corporate punishment may even motivate them to continue misbehavior.

The message a teacher should send to students is that it always pays to behave, and doesn’t pay to misbehave. The best rule of thumb is to deal with students who misbehave individually.

One of the best strategies to deal with repeated disruptive behavior is to speak with the individual one-on-one. In a one-on-one conversation, you have a much bigger impact than if you dealt with the situation in front of the group. The misbehaving student has no audience, no one to entertain, no one to join in the bad behavior; it’s just you and the student. More importantly, the unspoken message in this approach is that you retain respect for the other person, have no intent of humiliating them in front of their peers, and genuinely seek resolution. There is great power in a conversation between two people.


Sharon Aka is the Associate Director of the Adventist Learning Community & Associate Director for the North American Division Office of Education. In her role she supports content development and training for pastors, teachers, ministries, administrators, and believers and seekers. She has worked for the Seventh-day Adventist Church for 3 years, and continues to be excited about combining her faith and profession. Sharon is a Registered Nurse by trade, with 16 years experience as Surgical Nurse and Nurse Educator at The Scarborough Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. She also has 11 years experience as a Professor of Nursing and Professional Development Specialist for faculty at Humber Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning in Toronto, Ontario. Sharon is a PhD student at Andrews University, USA.

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