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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at

Education Opinion

Paddling Is Pathetic. Here Are 6 Alternatives.

By Peter DeWitt — September 12, 2018 4 min read

Over the last decade or more schools have really been under a lot of scrutiny. Whether it’s test scores state by state or how we compete against other educational systems, it feels as though there is more negative news than positive news when it comes to schools.

The truth is there is a lot of good going on. I have the good fortune to work with hundreds of schools around the U.S. and have many friends who are teachers, instructional coaches, school psychologists and building or district leaders. I was a teacher for 11 years and a building principal for 8 years, and have worked with great educators, families and students.

So many educators are working hard building relationships with students and families, creating rigorous academic lessons and jumping through the hoops of constantly changing accountability measures. And they are doing it at a time when Back to School commercials focus more on the sadness of summer ending or the marketing of dressing cool with expensive clothes to encourage our students to keep up with their peers. Very few commercials focus on the importance of education, and sometimes the news doesn’t either.

Seriously? Paddling?
How school is viewed just got a whole lot worse thanks to the archaic, and what should be banned, practice of bringing back paddling. You need not do more than one Google search and you will find countless articles written about the school that brought back paddling. When watching NBC News with Lester Holt, I became aware of the story because it was covered there as well.

I only wish we could get that same kind of attention for all of the good that we do in schools every day. But no, thanks to one school and an archaic law we all have to spend countless hours talking about paddling.

Alix Langone from Time Magazine reported,

A charter school in Hephzibah, Ga., has introduced a policy of paddling its students as punishment, according to local news station WRDW/WAGT.” Langine went on to write, “The Georgia School of Innovation and the Classics (GSIC) sent home a consent form to parents requesting permission to use the corporal punishment on their children if they act out in the classroom, according to the local news report.”

Sadly, they even interviewed the superintendent who said, “There was a time where corporal punishment was kind of the norm in school and you didn’t have the problems that you have,” Superintendent Jody Boulineau told WRDW/WAGT.” I think if you look at our nation’s history, there were many things we would not want to go back to doing, and paddling is definitely one of them. I think it’s ridiculous that we equate paddling to not having the issues we used to have.

If we truly want to solve some of our issues when it comes to student behavior, perhaps we should take a proactive approach, rather than a reactive approach highlighted by the news stories around the school that brought back paddling. Those alternatives to paddling (and I’m sure we can think of more) are:

Teacher - student relationships- Get to know our students. Know their names. Talk with them about their interests, and ask them how they are doing. Students who believe we like them will work harder in the classroom than students who think we don’t like them at all. Read this great Education Week Teacher article for more information.

Engaging lessons- If we want students to “behave” maybe we should plan lessons that they find engaging. Students who are academically or socially-emotionally engaged are less likely to be behavior issues.

Positive school climate- Do students see themselves included in the murals on hallway walls or in books, novels and the textbooks being used in the classroom? Are those representations positive? Do students feel welcome in their own school?

Student voice- Provide students with an opportunity to debate with one another, learn from one another through reciprocal learning and classroom discussion. Allow them to have a voice in some of what they are learning and how they are learning it.

Recess & Brain Breaks- Superintendent Michael Hynes wrote a very informative article on the benefits and necessity of recess. Read it here. Our students are stressed and need recess and brain breaks.

Social-emotional learning- Some students lack the necessary skills to collaborate and get along with other peers. There are a plethora of resources that help students understand how to become empathetic and self-manage their own behavior. Check out resources by CASEL to get some ideas.

No, this will not solve all of our issues. We know that we have students who are coming to us experiencing trauma at home, and that trauma shows itself in school from time to time. Think paddling will help that? Probably not.

We also know that we have students who come to us with mental health issues. Paddling won’t take care of that either. In great schools around our country we have teachers, specialists and school leaders who work as a team with families to help find the help that these students need.

In the End
It’s 2018. Paddling students is pathetic. I would have thought this was some sort of joke if it were not covered on the news in so many media outlets. Paddling should be banned from happening in schools in light of other more proactive and positive ways to engage with students that we can do instead.

If we really want to be seen in a positive light when it comes to the education we provide to students, stories like the bringing back of paddling doesn’t help. In fact, it brings us back to a day that we should not be proud of in the history of education. And sadly, it may be one school that brought it back, but our whole educational system seems to pay for it, because it once again paints a picture of schools being out of touch.

Join Peter DeWitt for the Collaborative Leadership Institute in Dallas on October 22nd and 23rd. Click here for details. Connect with him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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