Why You Shouldn’t Redirect Misbehavior

Why You Shouldn't Redirect MisbehaviorIt’s standard practice.

You catch a student in the act of misbehavior and you move in to redirect them.

You physically intervene. You stop them in their tracks.

You lean down, explain what they did wrong, and then guide them down the proper path.

It seems like the right thing to do. It makes sense. It satisfies your instinct. It offers the validation of witnessing with your own eyes the student behaving correctly, immediately proving that they can indeed fulfill your expectations.

Besides, you’ve seen teacher after teacher doing the same thing.

So what’s not to like?

Well, because it’s done while the student is in the act of misbehavior, it encourages an argumentative response. It encourages an attempt to explain away and justify the misbehavior. It encourages a debate on the merits of the expectation itself.

You see, whenever you try to stop misbehavior while it’s occurring, you increase the likelihood of a confrontation—particularly with difficult students. You incite a defensive reaction and create friction between you and the student.

You also run the risk of losing your cool. After all, it’s an interruption of your teaching.

It’s only natural to simmer and steam under the surface. It’s only natural to narrow your eyes, wag your finger, and voice your displeasure at having to yet again drop what you’re doing to redirect a wayward student.

But the biggest problem with the strategy is that it’s ineffective. It does a poor job of dissuading similar misbehavior from happening in the future—especially if like so many teachers, you find yourself redirecting one student after the other.

The chief reason for this is that redirection doesn’t allow your students to reflect on their mistakes. It doesn’t allow them to ponder for themselves what they did wrong and what they could have done differently.

When you spell it out for them, you eliminate the thoughtful rethinking of their actions. You lessen the likelihood of them accepting responsibility and increase the likelihood of creating animosity between you.

The upshot is that they’re much more likely to repeat the misbehavior.

So what should you do? How should you handle it?

It’s best to let the misbehavior play out, to continue with whatever you’re doing while keeping an eye on the student. Only when they have finished the misbehavior, or stopped and noticed you observing them, should you approach and deliver your consequence.

You have a warning because you broke rule number two and left your seat without permission.”

The calm clarity of the message, combined with your quick exit from the scene, causes the student to automatically contemplate their violation of class rules. It removes their instinct to argue, deny, or point the finger elsewhere.

It causes them to take responsibility for their actions.

The best part, though, is that there is no confrontation, no resentment, and no added disruption to your teaching. You’re able to keep your cool, curb future misbehavior, and safeguard your relationship with the student.

All in a matter of seconds.

So instead of redirecting, instead of jumping headlong into the stressful fray, girded for battle, simply abide by the promise you made to your students.

And follow your classroom management plan as it’s written.

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21 Responses to Why You Shouldn’t Redirect Misbehavior

  1. JL October 11, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    I really appreciate your articles about classroom management. I was wondering how to be consistent in following a classroom management without something like ‘you have a warning…’ becoming like a catch phrase which children then take less seriously?

    • Michael Linsin October 11, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

      Hi JL,

      I’ve given thousands of warnings and that has never been my experience. I don’t think it’s a danger worth even considering. 🙂


  2. Mrs. Anna Nichols October 12, 2014 at 5:43 am #

    I teach middle school art, (7 classes per day) and I have been following your classroom management plan pretty closely. Most of my students come to art every day but the classes only last 30 minutes to an hour. I doled out hundreds of warnings for the first few weeks, writing students’ names on the board if they were talking without permission, interrupting me, and so on. There were very few times I would need to send a student to the isolation table due to breaking more than one rule, and even fewer times I would need to send multiple students to “time-out.” However, the last few weeks I have skipped the warning, needing to give an immediate consequence to students who have received multiple warnings for the same behavior, namely, talking. What do you think? Is this fair to the students or do I need to warn them over and over, day after day, with no other consequences?

    • Michael Linsin October 12, 2014 at 10:51 am #

      Hi Anna,

      No, it’s important that you do exactly what you promised. So, indeed you should always give a warning first. Having said that, the great number of warnings is a sign that there are other areas that need shoring up. This might include thoroughly reteaching your expectations regarding talking and how and why you enforce a consequence and/or focusing on creating more leverage through better lessons, relationships, personality, etc.


  3. Mitchell October 12, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    The only time a warning becomes a catch phrase which children take less seriously is if you don’t follow through with your next consequence if the misbehavior persists after the original warning.

  4. Mrs. Anna Nichols October 12, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    To clarify, I have changed my beginning of class procedures this year to require students to enter the classroom quietly, with no talking the first 5 minutes of class. I have wanted to do this for years, and I finally realized that, yes, I can have that 5 minutes of quiet! It is good for the students to be focused on their bell-ringer assignment and not each other, and it allows me to get my housekeeping chores, such as attendance, done. Most of my classes have respected this new procedure, but I had one 6th grade class that virtually ignored it. Also, there were several occasions where a 7th grade and also an 8th grade class came in, talking loudly, and I wound up writing 15 names on the board! After we completed the “Do it Again” strategy multiple times for these classes and I reminded them all of the procedures day after day as they were entering the room, I decided that something needed to change. In my opinion, the kids were not taking the procedure seriously enough and were being disrespectful to me. So, I explained to all my classes that if they chose to talk at the beginning of class they would receive an immediate consequence. I felt I had given enough warnings for the first few months of school. Now, if a student is talking at the beginning of class s/he has to write sentences. I have found no empirical evidence that this is harmful, and the results are that the students are now quiet for the first 5 minutes of class!
    I do not believe there are issues with the kids not enjoying the class or with my personality. My students love to come to art! Do you recommend that I discontinue this practice of enforcing an immediate consequence, even though the same students were breaking the same rule day after day?

    • Michael Linsin October 12, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

      Hi Anna,

      Same advice as before. Follow your classroom management plan as it’s written.


  5. Mrs. Anna Nichols October 12, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    I have the greatest respect for you and your classroom management philosophy, Michael! You have helped me tremendously as well as thousands of teachers, but here I must disagree with you. In middle school, giving a warning in the above mentioned situation, where many students are simultaneously and repeatedly disregarding a teacher’s rule, is simply not a very effective consequence. The method I was following was not apparently working, so I changed it. I explained to the students in detail what the new consequence would be, and they have responded positively. They did not resent me or rebel against the new plan; they have been humble and contrite. They knew how they should have been behaving! My classroom management plan is still being followed, I just tweaked it a bit because of the need. I do very much appreciate you taking the time to read my questions and respond. I may be proven wrong in the end after all!

  6. Greg Kalthof October 12, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    As always, great article. I’ve said it before, this is the best classroom management advice that I’ve read on the web. In addition to this blog, let me recommend Michael’s book “Dream Class” to all. Michael is the Zen Master of classroom management.

    • Michael Linsin October 13, 2014 at 6:17 am #

      Thanks for your kind words, Greg! I appreciate you being a regular reader. 🙂


  7. Traci October 16, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    Waiting to discipline after the behavior has stopped is a good way not to be confrontational. In doing so you don’t draw attention to the child for behavior issues. It is better not to draw attention to a child that is misbehaving. Other students should not know about the discipline of another child so waiting to discipline after the misbehavior has ceased is a good thing I believe.

  8. Jennifer October 25, 2014 at 5:15 am #

    Hi Michael,

    As a first year teacher, I am still trying to learn the ropes of classroom management on top of building my curriculum and teaching materials. I am glad to have found your blog (and wish I had found it sooner!).

    My question to you, regarding avoiding redirection at the moment of misbehavior, is: What do you suggest when the student is excessively loud and other students are unable to hear the teacher so that continuing with the lesson is not productive? Is there a way to redirect without being confrontational? Also, as an addendum, how effective do you find calls to home regarding student misbehavior?

    Thank you for your time, and I look forward to continuing to peruse your blog throughout the year!

    Best, Jennifer

    • Michael Linsin October 25, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

      Hi Jennifer,

      You follow your classroom management plan. No redirection required. As for your second question, it depends on the parents and how you communicate with them (just the facts). A letter home, on the other hand, can be effective regardless. To earn why, please visit the Rules & Consequences category of the archive.


  9. Bonnie December 4, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    I like the way the article suggests to calmly tell the student that he/she broke rule #… However how do you respond when a student says he/she didn’t do anything and argues with you for picking on them?

  10. Jon December 18, 2014 at 10:41 am #


    The one concern with the waiting technique is that sometimes the behavior spreads. So the misbehavior of one is now being done by three or more. And then threatens to become a class issue. How do you handle multiple behaviors at the same time?


    • Michael Linsin December 18, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

      Hi Jon,

      If you can’t pause because misbehavior will/may spread, then it’s a clear sign you’ve lost control of your class. In this case you would have to change your entire classroom management approach. As for what to do in the moment, here is an article that may help: http://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2011/10/15/how-to-handle-whole-class-misbehavior/ I’ll also be sure to address this topic more specifically in a future article.


  11. Deni October 24, 2015 at 8:24 am #

    I am new to your site. I find your advice very logical. I have a student in my 1st grade class with severe behavior difficulties (as in I have never seen anyone like him in my 30 years of teaching). I have been given a behavior plan that I am instructed to use by the higher ups that does not follow your guidelines and goes against how I would prefer to handle misbehavior. For instance, there is to be no consequence until he has been given 3 chances, and even then the consequence is that he doesn’t get a smiley on his behavior chart for that 30 minute period. He gets rewards for a certain number of smilies, but no one else is rewarded for simply behaving how they should. How do I reconcile what I want to do with what I have to do? Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin October 24, 2015 at 11:23 am #

      Hi Deni,

      Unless you ignore the behavior plan, it sounds like your hands are tied.


  12. Teacher5 December 29, 2015 at 6:09 am #

    I am interested in how to handle the consequences when I have 6 IEPS and/or 504s that require me to redirect students without calling attention to those students.