Why You Should Avoid Sending Students To The Principal

Contrary to what many believe, the role of principal doesn’t include directly influencing behavior in your classroom. It shouldn’t, anyway. Because the more personally involved your principal is, the harder it will be to manage your class.

It seems counterintuitive. It seems like the opposite would be the case. It seems like the best administrators would be those who encourage teachers to send unruly students to their office.

But the truth is, if you want exceptional classroom management, if you want to create a peaceful learning environment you look forward to coming to every day, it’s best to handle misbehavior yourself.

It’s best to avoid referring students altogether.

Here’s why:

It weakens your influence.

When you refer a student to the principal you’re communicating to that student—as well as to the rest of your class—that you’re not the ultimate authority of your classroom. It sends the unmistakable message that you can’t handle them on our own.

Thus, you become less relevant in your students’ eyes. You carry less weight and influence. Your respect and leadership presence diminishes. Your words, reminders, and exhortations become as easy to dismiss as a wave of the hand.

It saps your confidence.

Relying on your principal to step in and handle what is your responsibility can be devastating to your self-confidence. Dealing with challenging students is part of the job, and is something you’ll do well to never hide from or pass along to someone else.

Sending a student up the ladder will surely cause you to doubt yourself and your ability. It will make you fearful to confront misbehavior and inconsistent in following through. For every time you successfully handled it on your own, on the other hand, you’ll raise your skill level and bolster your confidence.

It emboldens misbehavior.

When a student arrives in the front office, for the most part a principal’s hands are tied. Yes, they can lecture. They can question, scold, and threaten with further consequence. They can try to persuade or intimidate the student into behaving.

But these methods are no more effective than they are in the classroom—less so because the principal isn’t there with your students every day. The worst of it is, in no time that same misbehaving student will be right back in your classroom.

The difference is that now they’ll know you’re unable to manage them by yourself—or at all for that matter. Rather than dissuading misbehavior, it emboldens it.

So When Should You Refer Students?

A good principal can have influence on behavior—tremendously so.

But it comes indirectly through their leadership, their organizational skills, their expectations of teachers, and their commitment to excellence. It comes via their emphasis on cleanliness, orderliness, and well-followed routines and procedures.

That isn’t to say that you should never refer students to your principal. Any dangerous, harmful, or potentially suspendable behavior should be documented and brought to your principal’s attention immediately.

But even still, it’s important that you don’t simply fill out a referral form and ship the student off for the boss to handle. No, you must take the lead. You must sit in the meeting. You must contact the parents. You must show the student that you’re not pawning them off on someone else.

You must show them that you care enough, that they matter enough, for you to be there in the thick of it, right along with them.

If you embrace the challenge of being the ultimate authority of your classroom, if you take responsibility for your students and the behavior in your classroom, not only will you be empowered with stronger influence, greater respect, and deeper self-confidence . . .

But you’ll experience far less misbehavior.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

, ,

12 Responses to Why You Should Avoid Sending Students To The Principal

  1. Lisa M May 24, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    I agree 100%. I rarely send a student to the principal. This year, I don’t think I ever have. I will, however, take a 5 min. advantage of a buddy teacher. If you send them to the principal all the time, you are giving them the message that you can’t handle them.

  2. Chuck May 26, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    What if they’re disrupting learning for everyone else by being extremely disrespectful and you want to ensure that the rest of the class can progress peacefully and learn the lesson? Wouldn’t you need them out of the classroom to do that?

    • Michael Linsin May 26, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

      Hi Chuck,

      It always pays to handle it yourself. But if it’s gotten to that point, where students are continually disrupting your class or are being brazenly disrespectful to you, then it’s a sign there are other, unhealthy classroom management-related issues that need to be dealt with. Sending them out may solve your immediate problem, but in the long run, it will surely make matters worse.


  3. Daniel S. May 26, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    Michael, I was really looking forward to your response to Chuck. But, I was really surprised by your answer. Sure, it could be as you say, essentially the teacher is the one that created the problem. Or it could be that the students have been empowered and emboldened by the lack of consequences to their misbehaviors. When I was in school in the early 80’s, students who exhibited regular disruptive/disrepecful behavior were promptly shipped off to Continuation School, where at least they could no longer harm the education of the other students.
    What do you do as a teacher if a student does not respect the rules in time-out? Letter Home, but now what, you have now have no further consequences for the student behavior, they have already been sent to time-out, didn’t respect the rules there. Sure, they get the Letter Home. However, there are no further consequences.

    • Michael Linsin May 27, 2014 at 6:20 am #

      Hi Daniel S.,

      The student is solely responsible for their behavior. The point is that consequences are only a small part of classroom management, and by themselves do little to dissuade misbehavior. It’s all the other stuff–primarily what this site is about–that give you the power and leverage to effectively manage your classroom. That said, we’ve covered each of the questions you’ve asked extensively, and will continue to do so. When you have time, I encourage you to look through the archive. You’ll find what you’re looking for in the Difficult Students, Time-Out, Rules & Consequences, and several other categories of our archive. Further, if you have a topic you’d like us to cover, email me. I’m happy to do it!


  4. Chuck May 27, 2014 at 6:21 am #

    As Daniel said, this is the circumstance I am facing. I would understand that I am having unhealthy management issues if it was many students, but it is one, for whom the consequences don’t work, there is no accountability at home, and who continues to brazenly disrespect me and every teacher around. I’m the only one who seems to be doing anything about it by continuously trying to hold him accountable while the other teachers seem to have given up and attempt to skate on through the rest of the year without kicking up a fuss.

    This has made me his primary target. I found your article on “How to handle an out-of-control student”.

    I don’t know what good it will have this late in the year, but I’m going to contact the parent again if he misbehaves today and offer this up as an alternative to the classroom suspensions. The only problem is that the parent feels that my actions are fueled by racism against her student, so I don’t know how open she’ll be. If she doesn’t agree, then I’ll have to continue relying on admin.

  5. Aman Ullah Maad June 8, 2014 at 11:54 pm #

    Hi Chuck,
    this really seems very challenging issue if the parents are not caring and teachers have given up. now you are the only person to convert the challenge to opportunity and help out the student, class and the remaining teachers. there are several ways, one way you may arrange a meeting with teachers of the class and find out what strengths the child have, what are the weakness and opportunity you see to over come the situation. this information itself will lead you and rest of the teachers to help out the child.
    best regards

  6. Caleah November 1, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    This article is exactly what I am looking for. I am conducting research on managing everyday misbehaviors in the classroom. I agree 100% with what you are saying, for the purposes of managing everyday misbehavior. Of course, as has already been said, this doesn’t always work with more difficult behavior issues. But for a teacher, that is a whole different realm and requires a whole lot more than just the basic classroom management strategies.

  7. Beth February 28, 2016 at 9:50 am #

    This has not been my experience. When disruptive students behaved defiantly and challenged my authority, “Do you want to go to the principal’s office?” kept the classroom under control. In fact, those students were great for the rest of the day.

  8. Marcia August 23, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

    Good afternoon Michael. Right after work we were told to read “Why You Should Avoid Sending Students To The Principal.” Tired as I was, i surveyed it, and dismissed it as another administrator’s excuse for avoiding administrating. Then I drove home, and in my relaxed living room, read your bio, saw you have 25 years’ teaching experience (classroom AND what we call “special subjects”) – nothing about administration experience. THEN I read the articles “Why You Shouldn’t Stay Late After School,” “Are You Encouraging Your Students Too Much?” and “Why You Shouldn’t Pick Your Battles.” [OK, I thought…these AREN’T written by some ivory-tower educator!] So, Michael, I RE-read “Why You Should Avoid Sending Students To The Principal,” and discovered that I concur with much of its content. Perhaps I missed that you didn’t cover the administrator’s responsibility because you are writing to us teachers AS an experienced teacher on OUR responsibilities. Because I NOW serve at a school with good administrative support, I see the benefits of your article. In other schools where I had worked with overwhelmed administration and few management resources for teachers, one classroom managed well might not compensate for the need for a complete school/district overhaul. Anyhow, thanks for your work, and your website.

    • Michael Linsin August 23, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

      You’re welcome, Marcia. I’m so glad you found the SCM website and gave the article a chance. Indeed, I have no administrative experience. I want to empower teachers to succeed and enjoy their jobs no matter where they work or who their principal is—which I know, from experience, is not only possible, but doable.


  9. Stephanie December 5, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    I just read this article after actually just sending a student there because he was out of control. I’m a first year teacher and am really struggling with classroom management. My kids don’t respect me and for this one particular child, he has been disrupting the teaching and the other students. I tried different approaches with him including sitting out, moving clips, and other tactics. When it gets to that point, what do I do? The other children were laughing at him and he was totally in control and I didn’t know what else to do. Any suggestions are appreciated!!!