On Public Shaming and Our Classrooms

image from icanread

image from icanread

I used to yell students’ names across the classroom, making sure that everyone knew who was now in trouble.  I had the teacher voice down coupled with the stern glance.

I used to have students write their names on the board when they messed up.  That name served as a public reminder of their poor decisions all day and showed them that I meant business.  It was a wonderful display of who could not figure out how to behave well.

I used to have students call their parents in the middle of class to tell them when they were having a bad day.  Three strikes you are out was the way we worked.  I figured it didn’t matter that the rest of the class could hear their call, after all, that would probably just act as a deterrent for the rest of them.

I did not think I was shaming children, after all, children thrive on rules and routines.  Therefore, these rules were definitely helping them become better citizens of our school.

After a year, the names on the board did not seem to work so well, so I switched to sticks in a cup.  Everyone started in the green cup, your poor decisions moved you to yellow or red.  The sticks never moved backwards and we reset at the end of the day.  The names were no longer on the board, but the stick moving, that happened in front of the class.  That walk of shame where all eyes were on a child as they were told to “Move their stick” was a daily occurrence.  In our classroom everyone knew who the “bad kids” were, and so did their parents, after all, students love to share stories about how so and so got in trouble that day.

Then my firstborn got a little older.  She got a little more energy.  She wasn’t that good at sitting still or even paying attention at times.  She had so much to do and so many things to see.  And in her, I quickly saw the future.  If she got a teacher that used these systems of public shaming, she would be the kid that would move her stick.  She would be the kid whose name would be on the board.  And I would be that parent, wondering why my child was being publicly shamed for behaviors she was trying so hard to control.  For things that she did not do to intentionally harm the instruction, but simply needed support to work through.

So I stopped.  I threw it all out.  It turns out that you can have classrooms that thrive without the shaming from public punishment.  That you can have well-functioning classrooms without the public behavior charts.  That students will try to correct behavior and set goals with you when you remove the element of shame and try to problem solve instead.  That they will see you as an ally, rather than just a punisher, and that will get you much further when you try to help them become better human beings.

There are only a few things I am willing to fall on the sword for on this blog.  Previous experiences have shown me that most ideas in education are not black and white.  There are always more than 2 sides to every story, and every teacher teaches differently, and that does not mean they are not good teachers, it just means they are different.  But today, I will make an exception.

The public shaming that happens to students in our schools has to stop.  The reliance on public displays of punishement as a way to control behavior has to stop.  And the first place we stop it is by getting rid of public behavior charts.  Those clip systems that tell the whole world something that should be a private conversation between a teacher, a student, and the parents.

Whether it is a clip-system, the move-your-stick, the flip-your-card, or the put-your-name-on-the-board, and yes I used most of them myself, we have to find a better way.  We have to try because we are creating schools where children hate coming.  Where parents worry that their child will be singled out for having energy, for being excited, for not being able to sit still all day.  Where teachers are forced into roles as enforcers rather than nurturers.  I know that there needs to be consequences.  I know that we have to help students navigate behavior in our classrooms, but there are better ways then asking a child to create a permanent reminder and public display of how they are having a very bad day.

I am not proud of the mistakes I have made as a teacher.  I am not proud of the things I have tried that have hurt children rather than helped them.  But I am willing to write about it in the hopes that it will start a dialogue.  That perhaps someone, somewhere, will take a moment to rethink something that seems to be so ingrained in our classrooms.  That perhaps this post will help someone wonder what they can do instead.   Because there is so much that can be done instead, there are so many ways to build community, to build better relationships, to still have consequences, and create classrooms where kids have a chance at thriving.  All kids, not just the ones that know how to behave.  But we have to take the first step.  We have to take down the charts, remove the cups, erase the names.  We have to create classrooms that do not run on shame, but run on community. I speak not just from my teacher heart, but from that of a parent.  Our children deserve better than this.  And it starts with us.  Even if it makes us nervous.  Even if we are not sure of what to do instead.  I will help.  Just ask.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

25 thoughts on “On Public Shaming and Our Classrooms

  1. This is beautiful. And so true. And so sad. Like you, I was aware of these ideas but didn’t fully appreciate them until I had a child of my own and watched my heart leave my body to walk into a classroom alone. I serve older students, at the high school level, and this is just as true for them as our younger learners.

  2. Well said….I too had used those methods in the past but last year I got rid of my clip chart and realized how much time & energy I wasted with it. Yes there were some kids that loved it and others that cried when clips got moved. I agree, there are other ways that are not “public” displays. As a Kindergarten teacher, I spend a lot of time on expectations and self regulation…it takes time. I too am always in search of new ways to help students..movement breaks, go noodle, balance balls,schoolmoves,…etc have helped. Thank you

  3. I think a lot of this is a cultural or societal issue. So many people think that public shaming deters bad behavior or “bad choices,” and that punishment is a necessary part of that system. Many of us know that to be false and can see examples of how punishment causes more problems than it solves… but trying to convince others? So difficult, especially when it is tied to their belief or faith system.

    I used to be one of them, too. It took me a long time to learn the difference between punishment and natural consequences. As a parent, seeing the difference through my own children’s eyes helped immensely.

    Luckily, I’m in a place where I’ve learned more (not perfect, but so much better)… and my students are not required to sit still so much, either. 🙂

    Glad you’re willing to fall on the sword for this, because I’m right there with you.

  4. Thanks, I needed this. I am in a new school, new grade, new everything. My 6th grade, very privileged boys who are used to a steady flow of sit-and-git worksheets to lectures to tests to grades based classrooms came to me with a rap sheet and all the specialists had something they had to tell me. I was getting close to your method of parent calls and giving up.

    Thanks to me preparing my first blog post on WriteAbout for the GRA, and needing a link for you, I found and read this. I’ve embarrassed them and myself enough already reverting to a raised voice and the Catholic ways that I was raised in and thought was the only way to get through to them. It is not there fault that they have been forced to “learn” in a system that does not fit any of them. It is not their fault that their cultural universals do not fit neatly into the American based, Saudi Ministry approved boxed education their parents are paying for.

    I was brought here for a reason, and it is them. As I continue to work toward transforming their learning environment, and rewiring their brains for 21C Learning, we will ruffle a few feathers, including those of my colleagues still stuck in the 1950’s. We will continue to applaud our failures, but we will learn to focus our lenses to see and celebrate the positive contributions that each of us bring to our classroom daily. I think it’s time for my “helping hands” aka caught doing good aka catching the random acts of kindness and making it visible to begin in this magic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Thanks again, Mick

  5. Bravo. I have always strived to be the teacher I’d want for my children–and now grandchildren–and that is the most effective teaching method I know. In 20+ years–it’s never included a chart/stick behavior method. Before I responded to a student I’d consider “How would I want a teacher to handle this if it were Justin (my very active boy). Poof–a reaction I won’t regret. The grandmother mode is even better. 😉

  6. Excellent share! I love the quicker resets and as my learning community continues to learn, when I’m using my “big voice” it’s a good thing – it’s when I’m being quiet and discreet that we are working on an issue – and the bigger the issue the fewer know/hear about it

  7. I thought your method for the classroom environment was very interesting. I strongly believe that we as educators should attempt new ideas however, every environment is unique as is every method is. I am not a user of cards, cups etc. I have certain areas in my room know as the reflection area. It is most useful and has a clear positive impact on my students. After their reflection time, I have a calm one on one with them and I reach them and attentively listen to my students. I feel that everyone has their own method but its just how you use it. I’ve seen the cups,change colors, cloth clip methods work. It’s pretty universal and it assists with the proactiveness of the student. I say keep using what works, keep building your learning style, keep reinventing ideas that we have seen time and time again…and if it doesn’t work, change it!

    • You seem to miss the point she is making, though- that even if something works, it doesn’t mean it is right for children to feel part of a trusting community and feel empowered to grow and change. Cups, sticks, names on the board- they MIGHT work in helping stop negative behavior, but it’s at the cost of the child’s heart. Public shaming methods need to stop in our schools. Just because they work and are easy, doesn’t mean they should be used at the expense of children.

      • The writer makes excellent points in her views on public shaming… But that is her view. A child outcome is based on everyone that is involved in that child’s life events at home, friendship, and all around upbringing. You’re missing my point. Everyone has their own tactics and it’s not proven that selective tools that we use as instructors in the classroom will have a negative impact on the life of a student. Once upon a time there was brutal consequences in the classroom and now there is this. All I’m saying is my style of positive reinforcement works, your style works, the teacher that wrote this works. it wasn’t until she had a child and witnessed her child growing pains. It’s a beautiful thing, the growth of a child. I’ve been doing this 25 years now and what I found is that there is no such thing as a perfect system, there is no such thing as an easy system, there is no one person’s view on positive tactics in the classroom. We are always evolving because eventually Systems breakdown and we change our way of dealing with that exciting particular child. This is all that I have to say on the matter. I’ve been to blog sites like this before and found out that debates can go on forever. Let’s just keep doing what we are doing, reaching for excellent with our students, and keep them on the righteous path to a more avid world.

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  9. This really made me think. As a specialist, I do not have my own classroom, but spend my day teaching in different classrooms with different management systems. Most have built in rewards and punishments. I agree with an earlier comment, that this is a societal issue. We are taught from an early age that you will be rewarded for good behavior and punished for bad. This naturally extends to the classroom, where administrators expect us to have a classroom management system with rewards and consequences. Unfortunately the same students are typically suffering the same consequences, an indication that the management system is not effective. These are never the students who earn the “rewards” so they don’t even try. Students also need to understand that they need to follow rules and do their best, not for the carrot we are dangling, but because it is expected of them.

  10. Thank you, Pernille. You had the courage to say what I’ve been thinking, but hadn’t been able to put into words. I too used clips and sticks when I was in the classroom, but now as an instructional coach supporting new teachers, I know there has to be a better way. My own children are grown now, and maybe my advancing age has softened my heart a bit. I want to figure out a better way. I look forward to working and learning together with others who feel the same.

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  12. This is great and all, but where are the ideas and suggestion for what to do? It’s the same thing as telling your student not to do things, but not helping them with ideas or strategies for what they can do. Complaining about gets you no where if you can’t offer suggestions on what can be done instead.

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  14. Well done on changing what you knew and had seen and then tried, but paying attention to the results. Everyone makes mistakes, but its awesome to put your hand up, own up and make the changes to move forward in a positive direction.

  15. Today, I had a teacher post on Facebook group and shame me for asking him about how to submit the final assignment (everyone else in the class also don’t know because he didn’t state it clearly, I made sure to ask everyone before consulting him). Now here I am, all upset and hurt because he posted “why is there still a naive student asking me about final assignment, every one else could you please teach her?” I was just so shocked because I asked him by personal email on behalf of the whole class because I am the monitor and that’s what other students also wanted to find out. I am now speechless because I did not mean anything and in turn get shamed on publicly online in front of hundreds of other students. Is it me overreacting or the teacher really could have just emailed me back telling me what I need to know?

  16. Thanks for restating what I believe! I felt this way, and still do, many years ago. At that time I came across Conscious Discipline and have been using it ever since. I great way to create a School Family in your classroom and teach caring, kindness and respect through modeling it and practicing it each day! So glad you chose to learn from your mistakes – that’s what I’ve done, too. Still learning each and every day! Trying to remain non-judgemental, supportive and caring with my littles.

  17. Thank you!
    I wrote a post on my blog in regards to this Very subject! The name in the board thing. It’s Shame. I have spoken to a child psychologist and she was shocked to hear this was still going on. The approaches that are takes in some classrooms are shocking. And even if the teacher is quiet and sweet sounding, it’s still shaming. I actually brought this up to our school principal. He did nothing. No follow up…
    Thank you for writing this!

  18. I just had my first grader moved to another classroom. The first teacher was extremely harsh; not only using “behavior charts”, but put the child’s name on the board and if there were two or more names written, the entire class lost recess. Then she started making children stand facing the “white board” if they were not focused enough. Some children were expected to be responsible for the behavior of other children. The final straw was when she separated the class into two sides: the “don’t do rights” and the “good or cool kids”. Most of the children were on the “good” side but 5 or 6 were on the “bad” side. My child is being moved after I reported to the principal and the teacher has been “counseled” but no changes have been made to the classroom.

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