Why Rules And Consequences Aren’t Enough

Lately, I’ve been receiving emails from teachers wondering why they have so many students in time-out every day, so I think it’s a good time to revisit a few core principles of Smart Classroom Management.

When you implement a classroom management plan for the first time—or strictly follow one for the first time—one of two things is likely to happen: Either behavior is going to get a lot better or it’s going to get worse.

If it gets worse, and you find yourself sending multiple students to time-out, the problem isn’t your plan. And it isn’t who is on your roster or what neighborhood you teach in. The problem is that your students don’t care enough about being in your classroom to make your plan effective.

In other words, you don’t have any leverage.

If sitting in time-out doesn’t remove your students from something they want to be part of, then it isn’t a consequence. They must genuinely like and enjoy being a member of your classroom or your consequences will prove ineffective.

The responsibility to make this happen, of course, is with you. Any expectation of simply showing up and having a ready-made, self-motivated class isn’t realistic. Nor is believing that rules and consequences alone are enough to curb misbehavior.

Certainly, there are students who enjoy school no matter who the teacher is, but this is a small percentage.

Typically, greater than half of most classrooms, and sometimes every student, need something more. They need a reason to listen and learn and care about sitting in your classroom.

Most of the strategies on this website either detail simple ways to provide that something more or show you how to respond to misbehavior in a way that preserves and enhances that something more.

Generally—but not always—they fall into one of three broad categories:

1. Relationships

The relationship you have with your students is the most important factor in gaining the leverage you need to create the well-behaved class you want. If they like you, trust you, and respect you, then your rules and consequences will have power, and you’ll have strong and sure influence over their behavior choices.

2. Routines

Routines are about students knowing what you expect of them throughout every minute of the school day. They not only make your job a lot easier and maximize learning time, but they move each day along swiftly and purposefully for students, keeping them sharp, engaged, and focused on learning and enjoying school.

3. Lessons

You must be able to present your curriculum in a way that causes students to want to listen and learn, so that misbehavior is the last thing on their mind. This runs the gamut from how to speak to students to how to make the material more compelling. Much of your day is spent in this mode, and thus if your students are bored and uninterested, then misbehavior will be a constant presence.

Anyone Can Do This

Searching out rules and consequences and then abruptly applying them to an already unruly classroom will cause behavior to get worse—because unhappy, unmotivated students will resent and rebel against your efforts to control their only source of stimulation.

To make rules and consequences effective, to give them the muscle they need to dissuade misbehavior, your students must look forward to coming to your classroom every day.

There must be a distinct and ever-widening gulf between the special feeling they have being a valued member of your class, and the remorse they feel sitting alone and apart in time-out.

The wider the gulf, the fewer behavior problems you’ll have.

The big-picture idea is to so overwhelm your students with that “something more” contained in the three categories above that your rules and consequences recede into the distant background—rarely needed or even referred to.

Creating a well-behaved, motivated classroom in this manner is doable for anyone—no matter who you are or where you teach—and it works 100% of the time. In fact, it is the only surefire path to becoming the calm, confident, and inspirational teacher you always wanted to be.

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15 Responses to Why Rules And Consequences Aren’t Enough

  1. Lucero February 2, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    Hi, thanks to your advice I’ve developed a high sense of respect towards kids. Sometimes I notice they had a stressful day, maybe they were sitting three hours on the previous class so they need chill out and have fun. So I’ve tried to focus on having a good time while they learn, learning becomes a byproduct by the way. It’s as simple as feeling good, letting them choose how to process information, maybe in an outdoor game, card games, miming, they have great ideas. We have a time in our class called “project time” in which kids seem absent, they speak quietly, they are so engrossed in their projects because they chose what to do and how, then when it’s “book time” we can review tons of topics. Kids are so motivated, they also use finger puppets to study grammar contents and they are developing a virtual project on Minecraft; kids prefer behaving better to be part of the class. Thanks a lot Michael =)

    • Michael Linsin February 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

      That’s great, Lucero! I’ll bet your students indeed love being in your classroom. Thanks for sharing.:)


  2. Maria April 1, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    I took over for a teacher who left mid year and this is my first year teaching. Trying to implement structure (in a previously structureless classroom) halfway through the year is extremely difficult and many of my students tend to be very wild. My issue is they do not care enough about school or any consequence to care if they get in trouble (including calling home), and they have no issues voicing this to me. Additionally, they don’t care enough about any possible reward (candy, video, pizza party, etc etc) to try and behave well. The bottom line is they just don’t care, and there are about 7/20 students that tend to ruin it for the whole class. I feel like I have tried everything on every blog and website I’ve read! Any suggestions?

    • Michael Linsin April 1, 2014 at 6:20 pm #

      Hi Maria,

      I can tell from your question that you’re new to our website. I invite you to spend some time in the archive, beginning in the Classroom Management Plan category and going from there. I think you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.


  3. Gary April 30, 2014 at 4:25 am #

    I think u r quite inspirational, like a breaking dawn, manna from heaven, a sense of absolute honesty, an unerring eye and the ability to scythe thru bs. Clear simple and cogent ideas for a complex job.
    I am at the early stage of applying some of your ideas, day three and already big improvements. I agree with the gist of this article, that u need to be an exceptional teacher in the three areas of lessons, routines and relationships to actually succeed with the rules and consequences, but it can be a little daunting. Jazz up your spelling lessons, make them care about multiplication? It can be done I know and I am not bad on the fun side of teaching but not all teachers manage to keep up great exciting lessons, it’s a real skill. My son is unenthusiastic about most of his lessons at high school and he seems fairly normal and goes to a pretty good school.
    Anyway, reading your book and your blog is the best professional development I have done in a decade. Thanks mate!

    • Michael Linsin April 30, 2014 at 6:15 am #

      You’re welcome, Gary! I’m glad you found us.


  4. Belinda Jeffers July 18, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    Hi, Michael,

    What I would like to know is what you feel about letting students help make classroom rules. I feel it isn’t doing them any favors, but I am learning in my MAT program that educators should let students help make the rules and consequences. I feel like they aren’t learning the value of following rules they themselves haven’t made, which is a skill they will need later in life. Do you know of any research that points to a clear answer to the question of student behavior in regards to teachers making the rules or students helping make the rules? Do students respect a teacher that makes the rules or lets them help make the rules and consequences?

    • Michael Linsin July 18, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

      Hi Belinda,

      I believe the teacher should make the rules without student input. This will be a topic for a future article.


  5. Hang November 17, 2014 at 6:06 am #

    Hi Sir!
    I’m so grateful to you and your articles. Thanks to them, my class, which was really badly behaved, is now so nice and disciplined
    Thank you so much. I wish you will post more articles. I love all of them. Wish you health, happiness and success!

    • Michael Linsin November 17, 2014 at 7:04 am #

      You’re welcome, Hang! Thanks for sharing your success.


  6. Allison Rapp January 30, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

    Hi again Michael:)

    Recently I was thinking about classroom rules and whereas I’ve read a lot of your articles and Dream Class, I thought I had a good grasp on them but now I’m not sure.
    For example, one of my classroom rules is “Treat people with respect.” I do make this more tangible by giving clear examples but there is no way I can possibly address by name all eventual misbehaviors that could potentially fall under this category. Another one is “Make safe choices.” Within that I explain that they must use school supplies/furniture only as intended. Well, some behaviors would obviously fall here but technically, if they were flying a paper airplane across the room it would fall under this category because the paper is not being used as it was intended, so it would fall under this rule category.

    My question is do I still have the right to enforce a consequence on a behavior that falls under a rule but was not specifically mentioned by me as an example? Most of the time, even when they give me that “Who me? What did I do?” look they know when they said or did something they shouldn’t have.

    The reason I really connected with your plan was that it didn’t leave me feeling guilty or questioning whether or not to enforce a consequence on a behavior like I did when I first started teaching; I started to feel empowered. But as I started thinking about this I was wondering and feeling guilty if a scenario like this arises and they think I’m unfair or something.

    • Michael Linsin January 31, 2015 at 8:16 pm #

      Hi Allison,

      Yes, you absolutely can and should give a consequence that falls under the rule, whether specifically explained or not. Rest assured, when a student receives a consequence for being disrespectful or unsafe, they get it. I’ll be sure and write about this topic in a future article.


  7. Donna April 26, 2016 at 8:34 am #

    I am a librarian aide, I have over 600 students in our school and many of them do come to library, but many of the same ones come to hang out and meet up with friends or just to get out of class. I have address this letting them know they are here to get a book or two. I do activities throughout the year, but it seems like many of them do not get involved with them. Which to me is surprising since I do have many gift cards etc donated. Recently they now think it is cool to hide books and move things around. I am trying to watch to see who is doing this regularly but working with other students makes it difficult. Any suggestion?

    • Michael Linsin April 26, 2016 at 10:56 am #

      Hi Donna,

      You have to set parameters for what you expect of students who come to library and then hold them accountable if they don’t follow them.