Responsibility, support, healing and forgiveness are practiced.

One of the worst things we do to ourselves is criticise ourselves.


Learning without Punishment.

Each aspect of this paradigm I see as a piece of a jigsaw which when put together forms a complete picture of the possibility of a new approach to education. The first jigsaw piece that I identified with, was punishment. I came across the idea in the process of my own growth the idea that punishment was something I could learn to do without. By punishment I am referring to any punitive behaviour by the teacher, peers or support adults towards a student in the process of their learning. .. and any self punishment by the student themselves.     (Refer back to the definition of ‘sacred’ at the end of the Introduction)

Punishment is something I had previously not consciously questioned, because it permeates every part of our society. I was also taught it by example in my home and definitely in school. What if I choose to stop using punishment?   How would life be without it?

When I put this question in front of me it’s as if I had been asleep all my life, just accepting things because “they are”. As I started opening my eyes I could see that any form of punishment is counter productive to learning. I looked for, but could find no valid reasons for using punishment in my life or my work. The deeper I looked into punishment, through reading about the impact it has on us, the validity to continue using it as a strategy in the classroom or in any aspect of school or learning diminished.

I saw that learning of another form was taking place whilst punishment was an ingredient of the classroom – fear, resentment, heirarchy, self loathing, lack of compassion, competitiveness and a belief that it is not OK to make mistakes, were the outcomes that I could see. Would I knowingly treat a sacred being the way students are punished in our school system?   Punishment fosters guilt, fear, humiliation, shame, distrust and revenge. It diminishes the confidence to take risks, to ask questions, to be inquiring or curious. Learning is perceived as a frightening or threatening   experience   as   a result of the threat of punishment.

Being a person who enjoys a challenge, especially in my work, I set about finding all the overt and covert ways myself and others use punishment in the classroom and the school. Sarcasm, ridicule, labeling and name calling, favouritism, segregation, criticism, guilt, rewards , exclusion and pain.

I set out to eliminate each of these from my practices. Now I had set myself the challenge to teach without punishment, and it opened up a never ending set of challenges for me as to what to put into the place of the punishment. I realised I needed to come up with lesson strategies that actually eradicated or minimised the behaviour that led to the punishment. I feel that it is the core of the evolution of this whole paradigm shift.

My first and most obvious solution was to make the learning experiences and lessons exciting and fun so that the students might not want to misbehave. The attitude of the students could be one of enthusiasm to attend classes and to want to learn. My personal experiences in teaching involve students aged between twelve and seventeen. The first experiments make me blush. I was considered weird and strange by the students. To my own surprise, this decision made me stand out as very different without me even letting the students know. They very quickly felt the absence of any spoken words alluding to punishment in my teaching process and began different ways of being in the class space. My determination kept me exploring and experimenting with ways to make learning enjoyable.

I was exposed to Howard Gardener’s theory of Multiple Intelligences through a wonderful program run by Glen Capelli and saw how it could expand the fun of learning for my students. I started changing the way we recorded information, how I arranged the room, how to include music and our bodies. I tried every new idea that came to me. As well as the mistakes I was making, I was having fun and the students seemed to be having fun despite   their   sceptical   attitude   that   these new ways were still called learning.

Bit by bit I refined the strategies to a point where they felt normal and familiar to me and eventually over time to the students as well. The outcome of favorable behaviour and an interest and enjoyment of learning that I had hoped for started to emerge. I was a bit wobbly to begin with and yet I was also recognising that I was role modelling that making mistakes is OK. I was a student learning my tasks anew. It kept me in touch with the students and their experience of learning new things. We were learning together.

The language of punishment was the next thing to tackle. Old habits, phrases and responses needed to change. I found myself constantly re-phrasing my comments and instructions until I had encompassed a whole new language of communication, where all hidden messages of punishment were disappearing. I worked on eliminating the following words and phrases ….. ‘have to’ ….’must’ …. ‘should’ …. ‘got to’ and ‘or else’. I was amazed when I listened to myself, how entrenched these words were in my language of teaching. I saw that none of these phrases fostered a healthy learning environment or learning experience for me. They all contribute to a lowering of self esteem as well. They contribute to the reasons why many children hate school. I replaced them with, ‘could’ …’possible’… ‘choice’ ….. ‘want to’ … ‘like to’ …’choose to’…’prefer’. Next I included as wide a range of choice as I felt I could handle so that the students could do tasks of their own choosing in their own unique way and this new language could be used with integrity.

I also began incorporating a new honesty in the communication in the classroom. In my search for the forms of punishment used in schools I had discovered lying in the written and spoken communication between students and teachers in both directions. Comments like ,’this has to be done because I said so’   and ‘You will fail if you don’t do such and such’. A result being students felt the need to lie about their work and behaviour to avoid punishment. There was a lot of coercion, game playing and manipulation. I conscientiously shared the truth about what we were doing in our time together, what the real consequences of each situation were and I asked that the students share their truth too.

Don’t think the students accepted all this without resistance. They were used to the old paradigm and had trouble trusting me. The fear was strong and it was unsettling for them because other teachers were not demonstrating this way. I was the oddball.     They took some time to believe that I was for real and to trust me and then allow the new expression to have impact.

In situations of undesireable behaviour, instead of punishment I encourage accepting and learning personal responsibility. Having students own the problem and coming up with healthy solutions with personal and group problem solving. I gave support with negotiating solutions. With new behaviour and a willingness to work, the student is forgiven and encouraged to move forward to maintain healthy attitudes to themselves. It is important to not keep referring to past events. Each situation is treated separately as a new learning. Unless there is genuine forgiveness, they hold onto the destructive aspects of punishment, the diminished self esteem, the fear and the withdrawal from new experiences. Students are given as much support from myself and their classmates as is appropriate.  (see the added article at the bottom of this topic, which I had not seen when I was on this learning incline).

When a certain level of trust and safety is reached it is possible to expect a child to share deep hurts or painful experiences that have contributed to their undesirable behaviour. This provides an opportunity to work with causes rather than effects. Through the trust and sharing there is support given to change. The reasons are not accepted as excuses, but add to the understanding and the process of change towards personal responsibility. I am responsible for creating a space where punishment is not needed, thereby creating a space where students can choose to take responsibility for their behaviour.

The experience of learning without punishment, where fear becomes less familiar to the process and the environment, creates openness and opportunities for responsibility to be accepted. It is a safer environment for taking risks. What’s more, I am able to enjoy my teaching more. I have been able to share my approach with some other teachers willing to try this and the feedback is identical. Teaching is so much more fun and the children are more relaxed, better behaved and more willing to take responsibility for all aspects of their learning.  The learning is exponential.

The greatest benefit that has come as a response to this change is that I can honestly claim that I am able to LOVE each and every one of my students – without exception. I have incorporated the concept of letting go and letting in, and I believe I am well on the way to demonstrating and experiencing successfully that learning can take place without punishment.


Here is an article I came across  a few years ago, some time after writing this chapter of my book. I love it and see it as an inspiration for this topic.


In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he / she is placed in the centre of the village, alone and unfettered.  

All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual.

 Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the centre of the circle has done in his lifetime.  

Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted.  

All their positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.  

This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days.

At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.


~The Art of Forgiveness~


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