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Can We Re-Purpose Punishment?

I began thinking about punishment when I was notified yesterday that one of my students would need some work to do as he served in school suspension for two days.  I quickly grabbed an article, wrote down some questions and prompts for him and walked down to the ISS room.

I’m assuming most ISS rooms are the same…students sitting separated from one another, silent, staring at a blank wall or whiteboard.  Not being counseled, not allowed to talk, and not allowed to do much of anything other than work with paper and pencil or sit in silence.  It really made sad, more than anything else.

I understand teachers are busy, and that it isn’t always easy to get work down to the students serving their punishment.  What made me more upset is when I took a minute to talk to my student.  He is a bright kid and pleasant to speak to.  He is responsive and aware of his actions.  I asked him, straight out, why he landed in ISS.  His shy answer told me that he understands what he did was wrong and that he needs to serve the consequences of his actions.  I encouraged him, explained his assignment, and then promised to swing by and check on him during my plan period.

Honestly, I didn’t expect him to actually complete the work that I had left.  When I went back later in the day, he excitedly hopped up and showed me what he was able to get done.  I should also mention that he didn’t just do it…he did it well.  He showed depth of thought and explained his opinions well.  He answered each item fully and accurately.  He also reminded me that I cannot pigeon-hole students serving punishments into a group that doesn’t care.  Yes, he made a mistake, but he is still a learner that needs to be nurtured and encouraged.

I took some time to chat with him again about some more questions his responses could bring up.  He was thinking hard about what I was asking and he did it well and willingly.  I’m so, so proud of his work today, even if it was an isolated incident.

I really got thinking about what punishments learners serve in the school…and what result of their consequences might come around.  Is total segregation during the school day the best way to help these kids progress through their mistakes?  Shouldn’t we be talking and dialoguing with them about the reasons of their actions and the results of that decision?

I would love to see mediated sessions between teachers and students that land themselves in hot water.  Discuss where the tension is and we might, if we embrace cooperation and learning opportunities, be able to build better student-teacher relationships that will reach far beyond the school walls.

What are your thoughts?

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