The Learning Renaissance

Why Shaming Children to Change Their Behaviour Doesn’t Work

I have a long and detailed memory and can remember the few occasions on which my behaviour brought forth a rebuke from a teacher.

Perhaps the most embarrassing occasion was in a whole school assembly in secondary school, when I thought the surreptitious whispering I’d been engaging in had gone undetected by the teachers arraigned on the stage.

Suddenly the deputy headteacher broke off from the homily he was delivering to point into the assembled throng.

‘You! You there! The tall boy in the middle – how dare you have the temerity to speak when I am sharing grains of wisdom!’ 

I smirked, thinking he was speaking to someone behind me and anxious to see who the unfortunate victim, who would be facing detention at the end of the day was.

‘You, the tall boy turning round! Detention – report to my office at the end of the day!’

As predicted I thought, still trying to locate the unfortunate fellow student described twice now as a piece of furniture. Everyone behind me was now looking forward to a point close to me so I face the front to locate the victim. Strangely everyone was looking back. I looked to each side and it was clear that the demon chatterer was located quite close to me, based on the line of sight of everyone’s eyes.

‘You chattering buffoon… it should have dawned on you by now that you are the epicentre of everyone’s stare and pity. Go and stand outside my office now for wasting so much precious time, tall boy!’ 

Such shaming didn’t change my behaviour. I was a more careful whisperer after that and had little respect for the deputy head who had embarrassed me in front of my peers. It was my fault, but his actions did not modify my behaviour successfully.

Sarah Morgan’s post reminded me of that assembly. Both of us were committed to treating young people with a little more respect. Some gentle joshing was fair enough but I’ve found myself apologising to pupils if I’ve overstepped the mark in any throw-away comment I made. What is more, when I’ve apologised, it has always strengthened the trust between us.

Punishment and shame truly won’t create positive behaviour changes – for children or for us grown-ups.

Sarah has some wise words about behaviour management in this post on the Motherly website: Shaming a child for behavior doesn’t work – here’s what does | Motherly

About educationalist04

I'm convinced we can, as a species, do much better than this if we set our minds to being much more positive and productive towards our fellow humans. The solution is learning - creating independent and autonomous learners who can problem solve, innovate and create a better more equitable and sustainable world. My books, Future Proof Your School and Re-Examining Success together with this blog, explore how better learning outcomes for all can be achieved.

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