Are You Afraid To Hold Students Accountable?

Student AccountabilityHere at Smart Classroom Management we talk a lot about the importance of building rapport.

It’s your relationship with students, after all, that in large part determines your effectiveness in curbing misbehavior.

It’s your likability, good humor, and pleasant demeanor that causes them to want to please you and behave for you.

Building rapport is one of the secrets to reaching, influencing, and then transforming the most difficult students and classrooms.

But it can also be a source of confusion.

Many teachers become so committed to this one important strategy that they lose perspective. They go too far. They venture beyond effective means of building rapport and into unhealthy deference.

Before long they’re kowtowing to students—bargaining, giving in, walking on eggshells, and looking the other way in the face of misbehavior.

They fear that if they truly hold them accountable, the relationship will suffer. Their students won’t like them anymore, and they’ll lose the precious influence they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

But it isn’t true.

In fact, when you let misbehavior go without a consequence, when you let poorly followed routines slide and difficult students off the hook, you lose influence. You never gain it.

Without fixed and faithfully defended boundary lines of behavior, without sky-high expectations for courteousness and respect, without detailed, here’s-how-we-do-it instruction backed by fair accountability, your students will disregard you.

It doesn’t matter how kind and understanding you are. It doesn’t matter how sympathetic or friendly or funny. It doesn’t matter if you shower them with the love of ten people.

If you fear accountability, your students will walk all over you. They’ll become flippant and blasé, brazen and disrespectful. They’ll become too cool for school and absolutely, positively too cool for you.

They’ll view you not as a leader worth looking up to, but as a weak-kneed peer they can manipulate and dismiss with a wave of the hand. Of course, not all students will behave this way, but the tone and tenor of your classroom will surely reflect this inescapable truth.

One of the most overlooked aspects of building a strong relationship with students is your ability to protect them from disruption, disorder, chaos, and the like. It’s your ability to engender confidence that when they come to school, you’ve got their back.

Although important, building rapport isn’t all about likability. It’s also about strength and leadership. It’s about doing what you say you will and safeguarding every student’s right to learn and enjoy school.

It’s about doing what is best for them and their learning—which may entail redoing routines and procedures. It may entail being late for recess to reteach how to work in groups. It may entail sending a student to time-out during the coolest lesson of the week.

Yes, they may grumble and complain under their breath. They may sigh and look to the heavens. They may practice walking in line for the second time in a row like they’re heading for the gallows.

But they know deep down that coming from you it’s justified.

It’s right and true and one of the reasons why your classroom is the best and happiest they’ve ever been part of. It also reflects a world that makes sense, that resonates with the innate truth of right and wrong etched upon every heart.

In the hands of a fair and consistent teacher, accountability works. It works in the suburbs and in the inner city. It works in the backwoods, the small town, and the largest metropolis.

It prepares students for what is required for success in school and beyond. It teaches, it protects, it humbles in the healthiest, most wonderful way.

So take heart! Dust that classroom management plan off and mount it high on the wall for the world to see. Teach it to your students. Model it explicitly. Rededicate yourself to protecting your students’ education and your peace of mind.

Then build rapport that is real and lasting and unforgettable.

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16 Responses to Are You Afraid To Hold Students Accountable?

  1. Mrs. Anna Nichols December 15, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    Wonderful article! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Michael! I believe this issue, the issue of student accountability, is the most overlooked and ignored in our field. Why do adults seem to be taking more and more responsibility for what is essentially the students’ job to do?

    • Michael Linsin December 15, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

      Thanks Anna!


  2. Jenny December 16, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    I have been reading your articles all morning. School was cancelled today because so many have the flu. I am a retired teacher who recently began teaching fifth grade in a free charter school in Cincinnati. I knew going in that it was going to be challenging because their original teacher quit because of their behavior. But I honestly thought that my 30 years of experience would be an advantage. I have taught some very challenging classes but none even compare to this class. I have spent the first month basically focusing on classroom management. I have spent a lot of time and money to make my classroom an exciting place to be only to have had everything trashed at the end of the day. I only have 20 students but 15 of them are extremely challenging. My approach has always been pretty straight forward. CHOICES – CONSEQUENCES. In the past I have always had a good rapport with my students but the majority of my children do not like me. I was told to lower my standards but honestly I believe that has made it worse. I have children that will scream in each other’s faces, say terribly unkind things to each other, break and throw any pencil or crayon in their possession, flip each other with rubber bands that seem to materialize out of thin air, scream at me, storm out of the class room, slam the door, accuse me of treating them like dirt, harming them, etc. Just when I think we have rounded a corner something happens. Last week I had to evacuate the students from my classes because two students were fighting. I have never had students repeatedly punch one another in the face. And then find that they were not suspended when I have had other students suspended for relatively minor things. Last week I literally had a student throw a heavy desk at me. I still went in yesterday because I wanted them to see I was not going to let them push me out. But I must admit… a part of me wants too. Still I find myself searching for solutions and that is how I found your site. Do you think this there is any way I could get this class back on track. I would be willing to do anything if I thought it would really work.

    • Michael Linsin December 16, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

      Hi Jenny,

      Yes, I think there is a way, and I believe you’ll find it within our pages. However, because you need a comprehensive approach, there is a lot to read on our website (archive). Alternately, you can read about our philosophy and strategies that support it in The Classroom Management Secret. Finally, if you’re interested, we do offer personal coaching.


  3. Jenny December 16, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    Well there are two days left this week. I will try some of the tips you’ve offered and see if they respond. If I feel motivated to continue after the holidays I just may try that.

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


    I work on a behavior team in a low income middle school, and have found many teachers that feel like Jenny. I know you have a couple of articles for hitting the reset button in the classroom. But how do teachers get control of a room when they never had it. I know in Jenny’s case the students appear to have all the power because they scared one teacher out of their room (and sadly based on Jenny’s comments maybe a second.) So how does a teacher who feels powerless and in a classroom where the students have control shift their classroom? How do you improve a classroom where you have already demonstrated that the students are the one in charge? How do you show leadership when your students feel you are not a leader?

    Maybe an article on how to use a semester break as a new start…
    (It may be here because I haven’t searched the whole site.)


    • Michael Linsin December 18, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

      Hi Jon,

      The SCM website addresses how to gain and then maintain control of any classroom. However, with nearly 300 articles, it’s a lot to take in, especially if you’re overwhelmed and at a loss of where to begin. The problem on our end is that the topic is too big to handle in a single post. I’m currently working on a project to remedy this situation and hope to have it available in a couple months. In the meantime, here is an article describing a particularly effective strategy in gaining initial control of a difficult class:


  5. Mrs. Anna Nichols December 19, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    Hi, Michael!
    Jenny brings up the issue of students’ behavior becoming dangerous to each other and to her. You have stated in the past that in these situations an administrator needs to become involved, although it would be a last resort. What does a teacher do when s/he has no support from administration?
    Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin December 19, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

      Hi Anna,

      If students are fighting, you must get your administrator involved—for many reasons we don’t have the time or space for here. Although I strongly believe such students should be suspended, it’s the principal’s call.


  6. Renee Jurado November 8, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    Thank you so much for this TRUTH that new young teachers are not given to help them teach and guide our children!!! i was losing hope on the process of teaching children respect in the classroom and the learning process. I now have hope and feel my teacher power recharged, thank you!!!!!!!

    • Michael Linsin November 8, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

      You’re welcome, Renee.


  7. Frustrated Future Kindergarten Teacher May 17, 2016 at 2:05 pm #


    I come to your site often, typically after rough day with various misbehaviors. I am currently a paraprofessional in a Kindergarten and as such the classroom management plan wasn’t set by me and the modes of communication with parents are slightly limited for me.

    To kind of explain the misbehaviors present almost daily in out classroom: (1) We have a student who tends to want to receive attention and has started to lean towards acting out in order to receive the attention or if another student is spoken to about talking, standing up, making trash, etc… he/she will say “I was doing it too”, and (2) there is another students who walks around the classroom, refuses to follow instructions, bothers other students, runs down the hallway no matter who speaks to him/her, yells out and constantly talks during learning/focus moments.

    Typically, both students are spoken to about the rules. The second student often puts me in a place that is very frustrating because it seems like he/she feels as though none of the rules in the classroom matters in their case and that the consequences (time-away) is optional. He/she will just continue pushing through and fighting away from teachers to get where he/she wants to go. If a teacher tells him/her to go back to restart and walk in the line/hallway, tries to have a calm down conversation, instructions on what the directions are for an assignment or directions on expected behavior with an activity he/she yells, walks away, pushes past the teacher when the blocks the door from him/her trying to run out of the classroom. Or if the student is being directed to time out in the classroom or in another teacher’s room, he runs away screams slams the floor and refuses it.

    Talking to this specific students parent has not been very successful. This experience, as a parapro, makes me nervous and dampens the journey of me being a Kindergarten teacher next year. What would a better route be, just in case I do happen to inherit misbehavior like this or worse next year. In Kindergarten as a whole this year, at this particular school, there are many students who get in the teachers face, yells, grabs, and even HITS! There isn’t any support from the admins so I want to find my way and how I can handle on my own since more than likely that will be the only option available.

  8. Deborah Walker October 8, 2016 at 8:20 am #

    Thank you! This and other articles of this kind are invaluable. I have been teaching for awhile now, and still find that the changing student and parenting values call for new strategies and varied sensitivities.

    • Michael Linsin October 8, 2016 at 9:46 am #

      You’re welcome, Deborah.