Why You Should Never Punish Your Entire Class For The Behavior Of A Few

A friend emailed me this week to share a story about his son’s first week of school.

Evidently some of his classmates were misbehaving, and in response the teacher kept the entire class in for recess.

Smart Classroom Management: Why You Should Never Punish Your Entire Class For The Behavior Of A FewThis isn’t an unusual strategy.

We often hear from teachers asking if they should do the same.

At first glance it seems like an odd question with an obvious answer.

But the truth is, keeping everyone in for recess, taking away points, or asking them to put their heads down can indeed get unruly students temporarily under control.

It’s a reliable way to get the class quiet and settled down. It gives the teacher a much-needed breather and usually results in calmer behavior for the next lesson.

The problem with the strategy, however, is that it alienates your most well-behaved students.

When my friend’s son got home after school he was angry and confused. It didn’t make sense to him. Why did he have to stay in for recess when he did nothing wrong?

Why indeed?

Students from kindergarten on up have an acute sense of fairness. Although they may not always voice their frustration to you, you can bet they’ll bring it up at the dinner table.

You can bet they’ll look at you differently.

Holding everyone accountable when only a few are misbehaving creates resentment and will damage your influence.

This begs the question, then, of redoing routines, which we recommend here at SCM. Isn’t asking your entire class to repeat a routine a form of holding everyone accountable?

Yes, it is. But there are some notable differences. First, you should never redo a routine if the problem is just a few students.

This underscores the importance of closely observing all routines, and then being quick to enforce individual consequences. This alone virtually guarantees that it will never be more than one or two students.

Also, when you redo a routine, it’s not because of misbehavior. It’s because your class did the routine incorrectly. It’s because they didn’t quite believe that when you taught the routine so explicitly, you actually meant it.

Furthermore, after now 24 years of teaching students in kindergarten through high school, a poorly performed routine is usually, almost exclusively, everyone.

And although we often use the word ‘redoing,’ it’s best to think of it as reteaching. Even if you’re not actually modeling the routine again, asking your class to show you how you expect them to do it is a form of reteaching.

It’s a way to communicate that when you say something, you mean it.

Finally, when you ask students to repeat a routine, you’re not taking anything away from them. They aren’t missing recess or arriving late to lunch or losing out on class points.

You’re merely backing your words with action and ensuring what is best for them and their learning.

To sum up, when individual students misbehave, hold them accountable individually by following your classroom management plan. If it’s more than one or two at a time, then it’s a sign you must become a more vigilant observer.

When the class as a whole performs a routine poorly, have them do it again as a form of reteaching.

In this way, you’ll never alienate students, cause resentment, or feel the need to punish everyone for the behavior of a few.

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13 Responses to Why You Should Never Punish Your Entire Class For The Behavior Of A Few

  1. Debra Barbre September 19, 2015 at 8:57 am #

    Thank you for this. I have wondered if re-teaching isn’t a punishment. That being said, I still have one freshman class who winds up re-entering the room once a week.

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2015 at 9:09 am #

      You’re welcome, Debra.


  2. Kristen September 19, 2015 at 9:39 am #

    I am having this very problem with my 8th graders and I think I goofed yesterday! What do you do when it is more than a few students and you can’t figure out who is the perpetrator? About 15 of my students are awesome, but the other 21……In a class of 36, it is so hard to have your eye on everything and with only 50 minutes of instructional time per day, I feel like I am always trying to beat the clock. I feel like I have taught procedures to the point of “beating a dead horse.” There is a lot of pressure to do collaborative learning at my school and I truly hate it because this is why they go haywire. They have a very hard time with transitions. I am teaching group work strategies consistently and persistently, however, I must say it is taking an inordinate amount of time and I am truly concerned that my pacing through the content is much too slow. BTW- this is my third year of teaching. Any ideas?

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2015 at 1:07 pm #

      Hi Kristen,

      This is a big question that we don’t have time and space for here. It’s something I’d need to talk to you personally about to iron it out. It does cost money, but if you’re interested in coaching, here is the link: http://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/personal-coaching-2/


  3. Heidi September 19, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    Hi Michael, thanks v much for this. What should I do when several in my class re do a routine wrong the second time and I know it’s not that they don’t know what’s expected? Thank you

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

      Hi Heidi,

      If they’re choosing not to do the routine correctly, then it’s misbehavior and they’re testing you. Follow your plan.


  4. Emily September 19, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    If a few students are not doing the routine correctly, how should that be handled? Should those students practice the routine on their own or should they go into the classroom management plan? Would the latter rob them of a chance to practice a routine they aren’t quite getting or do we assume that after demonstration and class practice is enough for those few students?

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

      Hi Emily,

      If a few are choosing not to do the routine correctly, then they are breaking class rule (not following your directions) and you would follow your plan.


  5. Sarah March 22, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

    I had an issue today in which my 3rd grade PE class was not being safe on the equipment. They were repeatedly asked to change their behavior. The class as a whole was extremely unruly and I wasn’t getting there attention. I decided that the entire class was done. They had 5 min left and I told them we were done for the day. However, I took a few students who I knew weren’t misbehaving, and allowed them to continue. Of course I got students yelling out “That’s not fair! I didn’t do anything wrong” (they all say that). I explained to them why they were sitting out and why the other kids weren’t. I get a call later from a parent who was upset about their child sitting out “the whole class”. As I said, they sat out the last 5 min of class so the whole class was an exaggeration from the child/mother (I’m not sure which). Did I do something wrong. How do I deal with the parent? Anyone have any advice?

    • Michael Linsin March 23, 2016 at 6:55 am #

      Hi Sarah,

      It’s always best to lay out exactly what will happen if students misbehave ahead of time via a classroom management plan. This way, you protect yourself from complaints from parents and resentment from students.


  6. Liuda April 4, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    Hi Michael. Thanks for great advice! I’m interested – what should I do if a student does the routine wrongly,but while doing he understands his mistake and corrects it? But the routine is done in the wrong order. I mean that he did step 3, but forgot about 1 and 2. Should he redo the routine from the very beginning? Thanks

    • Michael Linsin April 4, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

      Hi Luida,

      Not if he understands his mistake and corrects it. It’s probably a good idea, though, to follow up with him later to make sure.



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