A Trendy Classroom Management Strategy You Should Never Use

A Trendy Classroom Management Strategy You Should Never UseThere is a lot of bad classroom management information out there.

Now more than ever.

Not a month goes by that we don’t hear of another irresponsible method being promoted.

We hope to list our top ten worst strategies in a future article, but today we’d like to cover one in particular that is gaining considerable traction.

It’s a strategy that both surprises us here at SCM and leaves us dismayed anyone would think it’s a good idea.

Yet, it’s actually being encouraged in many school districts.

It’s a close cousin of the “caught being good” strategy, which we also don’t recommend, but is far more damaging to the targeted student.

The way it works, in a nutshell, is that when you notice a student misbehaving, you would first approach them so they’re aware of your presence. Then, instead of confronting them directly, you would . . .

Praise the students around them.

That’s right. You wouldn’t say a word to the offending student, but instead gushingly tell the students near them how well they’re doing.

“Wow, I love how you’re working, Ana!”

“You too, Javier. Way to go!”

“Emily is also working beautifully.”

You would give the students within proximity of the misbehaving student an enthusiastic pat on the back for not misbehaving.

The idea, in theory, is that the targeted student would see their tablemates receiving praise, and thus they too would begin behaving properly.

They too would desire your praise. They too would seek to be recognized for doing what they’re supposed to do.

Setting aside the troubling and bar-lowering message you’re sending to the entire class by offering false praise—which you can read about in Dream Class—the strategy attempts to manipulate or fool the offending student into better behavior.

It’s the classroom management version of a magician’s sleight of hand. But it’s cruel and dishonest and doesn’t help the student actually change their behavior.

It offers no helpful feedback, no meaningful lesson, and no opportunity to reflect on their misbehavior.

Although it may work in the moment—which is why proponents of the strategy are quick to cite its “research based” credentials—it will quickly weaken over time and train every student in the class to become extrinsically motivated.

It will make difficult students less inclined to get back on track in the future and turn your classroom into a petri dish of neediness, dependency, and underachievement.

So what should you do instead?

Well, first imagine yourself on the receiving end of such a strategy. How would it make you feel? How would you feel about a teacher effusively praising everyone around you while you’re being ignored?

Is this someone you would trust or admire? Of course not.

Like your students, you too appreciate a straight shooter. You too appreciate a teacher who tells the truth rather than tries to manipulate you, toy with your emotions, or underhandedly bend you to their will.

Being a leader students look up to and want to behave for isn’t so difficult. Have a classroom management plan that clearly lays out the rules and consequences of the class.

Hold all students equally accountable by letting them know exactly how they’re misbehaving (feedback) and what the consequence is.

Follow through. Be a person of your word. Do what you say you will.

Sadly, most difficult students have been on the receiving end of an endless procession of strategies that attempt to appease, manipulate, and deceive them into better behavior—which only makes them worse.

What they really need is your honesty. They need your truth and forgiveness. They need your accountability, your leadership, and your consistency.

They need your praise based on genuine achievement. The kind of praise that is real and heartfelt. The kind of praise that uplifts and informs.

That stirs internal motivational engines.

That matters now and forever.

PS – If you’re a principal and would like to improve recess behavior, click here.

Also, 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.

18 Responses to A Trendy Classroom Management Strategy You Should Never Use

  1. Carlos June 6, 2015 at 11:01 am #

    There is a distinction between “praising” and “narrating.” The misinterpretation on your end, of this strategy, was that teachers do “narrate” instead of “praising” expected behaviors. There is a huge difference between those too. Praise in the classroom should always be directed towards genuine achievement, like you said. If your directions were, get a pencil, work on the warm-up silently, then it may be useful to narrate the students who are following the expected behavior. A reason for this would be simply to state the directions again without telling the misbehaving student explicitly what to do over and over again. I would look like this: “student A got a pencil,” “student B is working on the warm up,” and “student C is silent.” This is no praise. Where is the praise? What is your definition of praise? All the teacher did was narrate the expected behavior. This is a strong message that the teacher is a no-nonsense teacher, who will not put up with students not following directions.
    Indeed, it is very possible to have a clear and consistent management plan that is based on consequences while also making use of the no-nonsense strategy of narrating student expected behavior.

  2. Carlos June 6, 2015 at 3:58 pm #

    Thank you so much for the great article! It is so insightful. I will continue reading your articles and implement your strategies in my classroom!

  3. Emily June 6, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    Yet how many times should one be narrating correct behavior to a student?

  4. Beth June 7, 2015 at 5:00 am #

    Thank you for putting into words what I’ve believed all along! I need to add another component, and that is NOT to use food/candy as a reward!!! Noooo! Once in awhile I will treat the entire class to a small candy, but I don’t ever tie it to a behavior. I have been guilty of announcing an edible reward in advance of a task for those who choose to go above and beyond the assignment’s requirement, but never for just meeting the minimum.

  5. Laura June 7, 2015 at 8:08 am #

    This made me think. I do this all the time. I think I align with commenter Carlos but I can see the point you make. Thanks for a thought-provoking piece!

  6. Rebecca June 7, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

    Huh. This is really interesting, I admit I am guilty of this, I do it all the time. But it really works, though I cannot picture myself doing it with any grade above 2nd grade. (I teach music so multiple grades)

    I think, and I’ll have to observe myself more, but my intent is really that I am “narrating” more than I’m “praising”. Isssss THAT ok? haha. I mean I guess anything’s OK depending on what you want to get out of the situation.

    But, here’s an example, for when we’re doing some movement, I might give a multi-step direction to my little ones. When I say “go” quietly spread out and find a spot, and make a cool shape with your body that’s low to the ground. “GO” kids scatter, no one’s misbehaving, they found spots that are spread out from each other, but 3 of them remembered the part about making a shape and everyone else forgot. “Sophie made a low shape, Eric made a low shape…” etc oh poof they all remembered. And I don’t *think* I’m super gushy about praising them because it’s not REALLY praiseworthy to make the shape, unless it really is an interesting one. I don’t feel like punishing them is appropriate for not remembering the last step.

    I guess I’m going to answer my own question and say if it’s frequent that they’re not remembering all the steps, I should make sure *they* review them beforehand. Sometimes you just wanna get to the activity though!! 🙂

    Thanks for the article, definitely making me think.

    OH also definitely agree with the no snacks as rewards, tried that this year (with band), can’t wait to never do it again!

    • Michael Linsin June 7, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

      Hi all,

      I’ll be sure to cover narration, which has some notable differences from the method above, in a future article. 🙂


  7. Amara June 13, 2015 at 10:58 pm #

    I’m also interested in the line between unnecessary praise and other acknowledgements. I frequently say “thank you” to the first few kids who follow an instruction and find that it works very well in the moment to get other kids going. Where does this fit in relation to praise and narration?

    Thank you for the blog; I often find it helpful!

    • Michael Linsin June 14, 2015 at 6:47 am #

      Hi Amara,

      I’ve written about this in the past, but saying thank you when a student follows a direction or routine as taught is perfectly appropriate. 🙂


  8. Debra July 18, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

    I appreciated this article. Thank you. I know I was supposed to do this. It’s what was recommended by my admin, but I just couldn’t do it. Every time I tried, it felt so fake and I was sure my kids would know what I was doing.

    I taught at a gang-outreach, charter school for high school drop outs. They can sense manipulation a mile away. I just couldn’t afford it.

    • Michael Linsin July 18, 2015 at 8:01 pm #

      Hi Debra,

      Thanks for sharing. So glad you followed your instincts and said no to what you knew was wrong for your students.


  9. Alice July 27, 2015 at 8:05 pm #

    My school uses PBIS and we are all required to use it. I fee like I am constantly having to reward “good behavior” with an extrinsic reward, a paper dollar that can then be exchanged for bigger rewards. I have issues with this for many reasons. I was just wondering your opinion of the program.


    • Michael Linsin July 28, 2015 at 7:13 am #

      Hi Alice,

      Here at SCM we strongly believe that any program that manipulates students to behave by rewarding them in exchange for expected behavior is damaging to their future and strips them of their intrinsic desire to succeed. For more, please read through the Incentives & Praise category of the archive or any of our books.


  10. Liz December 11, 2015 at 5:44 am #

    Hmmm. Seems like your classroom management suggestions have to do more with your belief than what is appropriate or works. An ADHD kid or an ED kid (or any urban student I’ve ever taught) often times out – because of a disability, because their dad is dying, because their brother was hair shot, because their family was evicted, because they haven’t eaten in two days- and they are wired so tightly that redirecting them is going to set them off because they weren’t intentionally being disrespectful or disengaging purposefully- they just have lives that few adults could even manage. So instead of calling them out, you give them the opportunity to tune in by noting the correct behaviors modeled by their peers. This allows them to correct their own behaviors without needing a perceived negative interaction with the teacher. What you believe philosophically is kinda irrelevant. The research on intrinsic motivation isn’t terribly encouraging when it comes to high poverty settings that are rife with PTSD, emotional disturbances, trauma, lead exposure, poor nutrition, high mobility, etc. I truly hope no one takes your advice to heart because I have yet to see you recommend any thing that is effective with our most vulnerable populations.

  11. Meg February 19, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

    I 100% disagree with this article. The child who is not listening and causing distractions needs to be refocused. More than likely they are distracting my other students nearby and I am definitely going to notice them for doing the right thing. Focus on positive energy rather than negative. It has worked amazing and my classroom management gets high remarks. It is loving and the child who then wants to be praised will follow suit and then you praise that child for doing that on their own! They made the choice on their own and they should get praised immediately after. There is no dishonesty and it welcomes a warm environment where kids don’t get called out for making a mistake. They are praised for being responsible and redirecting their focus on their own! How could that possibly be a bad thing?

  12. Carrie November 29, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

    I think many of the articles on this site are extremely beneficial and useful. That being said, as a behavior analyst, I do disagree with this one and others disregarding the use of reinforcement systems such as token economies or behavioral contracts. The research of PBIS strategies is extremely prevalent and positive. Many students don’t HAVE intrinsic motivation based on where they’re at developmentally or social-emotionally. PBIS is a way to teach them appropriate skills that they may not have mastered, and as they learn the skills, transition them from extrinsic rewards to intrinsic motivation (when it’s used appropriately). The point of the extrinsic rewards is that once the appropriate behavior is learned and maintained, the reinforcement fades and becomes more intermittent and natural. It is not meant to be in place forever. Praising, or narrating other student’s behavior, is also a way to teach students with skill deficits what the expectations are and what they look like. And in many cases, it intrinsically motivates students to behave like their peers.