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?

7 thoughts on “Can We Re-Purpose Punishment?

  1. Stuart Ayres says:

    I think that’s brilliant. Helping the perpetrator to think through the reasons for their actions would seem to be epecially beneficial, and perhaps to face up to what they’ve done & why. If they have affected another some mediation may be along the lines of the victim support set-up that seems to be being trialled in our justice system. Time would seem to be the main inhibitor but it strikes me that after the riots etc. we would be wise to think through our punishment systems and to ask whether they really work as they are.

  2. Paul Dix says:

    We have worked with schools to remove isolation rooms, detentions and exclusions. We introduce 15 minute mini reparation meetings between students and staff, heap responsibility on those who try to exclude themselves and run away.

    I requires a huge commitment from staff and a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve from parents. But it works, and is still working 2 years on

    Paul @PivotalPaul

  3. Paul Dix says:

    Really liked your post by the way

  4. Enjoyed the post, Brian. Your description of the ISS room is bang on. My biggest concern is that when we separate kids from the class and send them “alternative work” we assume that 1) the work students are supposed to be doing in class can be reduced to a set of instructions that students can meaningfully complete in isolation, and 2) that a day’s worth of learning can be taken away as a punishment.

    Far better to find constructive social learning opportunities to help enhance citizenship and keep the kids in class.

  5. After I read this post, I ran across this video. It occurs to me that what this post is really about is the result of your willingness to show that your student matters.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      Tim, I’m so glad you posted this video. I watched it last week during my lunch break and it really hit home. I’ve been looking more intentionally for opportunities to tell and show kids that I do care, and that’s when the ISS situation came around. He’s been very cooperative in class and more willing to step out for me since then. Angela’s point seems intuitive, but I’m afraid I forget it far too often.

      Thanks again on the comments.

  6. emily elkins says:

    I personally have never landed in ISS or detention for that matter but I do know how we learn easiest. Most students do not learn solely by what is written we learn by working with each other to comprehend what we are doing. Isolation hurts the learning process and I understand that they did something wrong and should be punished but should we really harm the learning process. Make them serve their time outside of school so that they still at least learn and develop as people instead of just getting worse off because they are behind in their classes when they get back and not knowing what they are doing and failing the test.
    Make them do community service or after school detention for a week but don’t make them fall behind.

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