This attached strong negative connotation to the term “peer pressure” in my brain, but in my years as a teacher, I’ve come to realize that peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing.
It’s nice when classmates quiet each other down for you as a teacher. In band class, I’ve noticed that sometimes kids will correct mistakes because of what other students are doing. This is all good. It’s actually fantastic when these things happen. It shows that other students care about the group agenda and helping each other learn.
There are problems with peer pressure in a classroom, even with a positive motivation behind the pressure. Sometimes these suggestions to quite down actually create more disruption than if I just gave the kid who was talking a look. And in band class, sometimes I would rather that the kid work through a mistake and figure it out than simply be told what to do by a peer.
Bigger than these two issues is the possibly toxic situation when someone who doesn’t want to receive this kind of peer pressure is being told what to do by his or her classmates. I witnessed a class slowly start to come apart while I moved through the lessons. Students were getting frustrated at an individual who wouldn’t come along with the lesson and this individual didn't want others telling him what to do.
I’m fine with kids being frustrated with me as a teacher. Sometimes it actually makes kids bond together better, but kids getting frustrated at each other in a rest of a class versus an individual conflict creates a detrimental classroom environment.
I did my best to diffuse the situation and remind my students of what is “my job” and “their job.” Basically, I was told the kids that I needed them to stop doing any kind of peer pressure (without using that term), and let their thoughts and reactions stay in their brain. I told them that I valued that they wanted things in the class to go a certain way and that I would work with them to express these thoughts in a productive way later in the year.
In this beginning part of the year when so many kids are trying on different social roles and persona, peer influence and peer pressure is a tricky thing to address. It' something we all need to be aware of as teachers, and let it help move the class along, but only to a point because without conscientious attention, it could go bad fast.