3 Big Mistakes Teachers Make When Enforcing Consequences

Smart Classroom Management: 3 Big Mistakes Teachers Make When Enforcing ConsequencesLast week we talked about how to be consistent with your classroom management plan.

Which is especially important to begin the school year.

This alone will go a long way toward creating the learning environment you really want.

Once you’ve conquered this challenge, however, there is another pitfall looming around the corner.

You see, how you enforce your plan in no small part determines how effective it will be.

Get it wrong and you risk nullifying the many benefits of being consistent. Get it right and it’s smooth sailing.

What follows are three big mistakes teachers make when enforcing consequences.

You’ll do well to avoid them.

1. Showing displeasure.

It’s normal to occasionally feel disappointment or frustration when a student misbehaves, particularly if it interrupts the class. But you must never show outward signs of it.

Sighing, glaring, frowning, and the like create friction and animosity, which takes the focus off the student and their misbehavior and makes it a personal feud between you.

So instead of reflecting on their misbehavior, taking responsibility for it, and vowing to never do it again, they’ll grumble under their breath and seethe in anger at you.

2. Waiting for a response.

Another common mistake is to enforce a consequence and then wait for a response. Most teachers do this because they want the student to verbally answer for their misbehavior.

But this isn’t what your classroom management plan says. Further, waiting for an explanation—or coming right out and asking the student why they misbehaved—is an invitation to argue.

It provides an opening for the student to justify for their misbehavior, point the finger elsewhere, or try to convince you that you didn’t see what you just saw. It’s also a stressful and monumental waste of time.

3. Adding your two cents.

The final big mistake usually crops up when the teacher decides to escort the student to time-out—which is a no-no. It may also come later while checking on the student in time-out.

Instead of allowing the consequence to work, the teacher will express their disappointment in the student. They’ll tell them how they should feel, what they should think, and how they should behave the next time.

But this interferes with the student coming to these conclusions on their own, which can be a powerful experience and the very point of time-out.

How To Enforce

Enforcing consequences effectively is a quick and painless process.

As soon as you witness misbehavior, calmly approach the offending student, look them in the eye, and deliver your line:

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

Then turn and walk away.

When a student misbehaves, your only job is to inform. It’s to hold accountable in the least disruptive way so your classroom management plan can do its good work.

This way, you safeguard your relationship with the student. You allow them to ponder their mistake and take responsibility for it.

You empower them to learn and mature and leave their misbehavior behind them.

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34 Responses to 3 Big Mistakes Teachers Make When Enforcing Consequences

  1. Douglas August 1, 2015 at 9:35 am #

    Hi there,

    You have a couple of articles that explain how to give a warning. In “How to Give a Warning that Curbs Misbehavior” you seem to encourage the verbal “You have a warning for…” In “How to Give a Warning that Improves Behavior” you explain that a large majority of warnings can be non-verbal (name on the board, card on the desk) as long as the student will clearly understands why they are receiving a warning. One would verbally warn a student if it is unclear whether he or she knows a rule was broken. And in this article, you seem to favor the verbal warning.

    Can you just clarify the preferred method? I personally prefer non-verbal indication of a warning because 90 percent of the time, rule breaking is so glaringly obvious in my classroom that the non-verbal warning is all that is needed. Also, I spend a lot of time modelling how warnings and time outs are given, but I just want to make sure there isn’t some hidden power or reason behind always verbally informing students regardless of the situation.

    As always, thank you for your wonderful articles and insight.



    • Michael Linsin August 1, 2015 at 10:08 am #

      Hi Douglas,

      Yes, you’re exactly right. A non-verbal warning or simply “You have a warning” is usually all that is needed—and preferred. I should have made note of it or included a link. 🙂


  2. Bethany August 1, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

    Hi, Michael!

    I know discipline needs to be done privately when possible. However, if I’m at the front of the class speaking, and a student in the back corner is disruptive, it seems more distracting and like it would invite further misbehavior to stop teaching, walk over, deliver the consequence, walk back, and begin teaching again. Because of this, when I am standing in one place in the middle of the front of the room teaching, and a student misbehaves, I generally look at the offender, deliver my line, and continue teaching. However, this is very public. Do you think this is okay?

    • Michael Linsin August 1, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

      Hi Bethany,

      Yes, I think it’s fine. I’ll be sure and write about this topic and why it’s okay in a future article. 🙂


  3. Carla August 1, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    This is so helpful . I am especially guilty of waiting for a response and adding my two cents. I did not know that they were unhelpful. I had no idea what these were doing to the classroom climate, yet that climate was as you described and I am now sure that these were a key part of the problem. Thank you for these insights!

    • Michael Linsin August 1, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

      You’re welcome, Carla!


  4. Cindy August 2, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

    I’ve been implementing your ideas for a few years now. But first graders can be tough. I had a group of boys last year who could care less when I delivered the consequence calmly as you said, They would just carry on laughing and interrupting the lesson. They were unfazed that they would get a letter home. What do you recommend in these situations?

    • Michael Linsin August 3, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

      Hi Cindy,

      Your classroom management plan, though important, is only a small part of an effective CM approach. It’s all the other stuff—relationships, rapport, routines, influence, personality, and much more—that give your plan its teeth to curb misbehavior. For more, please spend time perusing our archive or check out The Classroom Management Secret.


  5. Charlotte August 14, 2015 at 6:28 pm #


    I followed your plan to a tee last year and had a great year with my first graders! As I get ready for the next year, I’m starting to doubt myself. When asked about my management system, I explain that I do time outs for 15 minutes for a second offense or for the remainder of the day for a third offense.

    Some people look at me in disbelief as if I am cruel. I’ve heard of the one-minute-in-timeout-per-age-of-child “rule” and so have many others, so they question the 15 minute or longer timeout.

    I actually think the plan outlined in your book and website it very loving and ultimately good for children. How do I explain this to parents or naysaying teachers?

    Also, I’ve found that this approach works for most children but was a problem last year with a student with severe ADHD. How does that work, and should children with disabilities be held to the same standard of accountability?

    • Michael Linsin August 15, 2015 at 7:14 am #

      Hi Charlotte,

      I recommend that when a student receives a letter home, they go back to time-out, but not for the remainder of the day. Just a regular time-out. As for how to explain it, over time students in a well-run classroom with clear rules and consistent consequences spend far less time in time-out than the average classroom. Your final question is one we hope to cover in a future article or ebook.


  6. Heather August 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    Hi, Michael!

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon your site, and will definitely be buying your book, Dream Class. I am a first-year teacher (although I’m 39!), and school is about to begin in a couple of days. I’ll be teaching 9th and 10th grade English in an area known to be “rough”. I’m nervous about a lot of things, but classroom management in particular. I’m in the process of writing my classroom “rules and consequences”, and I took your advice from one of your articles regarding keeping it brief and simple. However, my question is about the consequences. My second consequence cannot be a time-out because, aside from it not really being age-appropriate, my school does not allow students to be in the hallway, etc. because they’d be missing out on instruction time. I thought about keeping a student one minute past the dismissal bell, but was told that is not allowed either. My husband suggested simply issuing a written warning. Since my third consequence is a note or phone call home, do you think a written warning is a sufficient middle step between the first and third consequence. Will it even be effective? I envision them wadding it up and throwing it at me. I can’t seem to think of a suitable second consequence. Please help!

    • Michael Linsin August 15, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

      Hi Heather,

      A better second consequence is a quick (30-second) conference with you after class, whereupon you’ll advise them to take care of it (the misbehavior) on their own or, if it happens again, they’ll lose a percentage or point from their behavior/citizenship grade. Why and the how this is effective, as well as how it can also be connected to a school-wide detention (if applicable), will have to wait for another day. I’m planning to write a guide or ebook for high school teachers in the near future.


  7. Charlotte August 15, 2015 at 9:44 pm #

    Thanks for the reply! I will take this advice on!

  8. Hilary August 18, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    What is your opinion on behavior clip charts? I see many elementary teachers that have these. They have their student move their name to a certain color when they have a warning, or they can move it up when they have excellent behavior. If they have a second warning it’s moved to another color which means time out. I could see how this could be helpful because I often forget how often I have warned a student, but worry about it being public humiliation.

    • Michael Linsin August 18, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

      Hi Hilary,

      I agree that enforcing consequences can certainly be done more subtly. The real problem, however, is that clips can move up and down as the day goes on. This is a topic I hope to cover in a future article.


  9. Monique August 21, 2015 at 4:45 am #

    What are your thoughts on Class Dojo?

    • Michael Linsin August 21, 2015 at 7:34 am #

      Hi Monique,

      We recommend a much different approach to rewards, incentives, and motivation here at SCM. When you get a chance, please check out the Incentives & Praise category of the archive or any of our books.


  10. Damien August 28, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    Do you advocate warnings straight away for things?
    For example, I have a rule that children must remain seated. If they get up should that be an immediate warning or is it ok to say “you’re out of your seat, sit down” on their first misdemeanour. Then a warning next time. Or say something like “you’re out of your seat, it will be a warning if it happens again…”

    • Michael Linsin August 28, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

      Hi Damien,

      I recommend a warning straight away.


  11. Elizabeth A September 17, 2015 at 10:06 pm #

    Thank you for this information. I really benefited from the “adding your two cents” section. I often find myself coming back to the student to help them reflect. But after reading this, I realize that I should let the student reflect upon himself/herself so that the reflection is authentic and meaningful.

    • Michael Linsin September 18, 2015 at 6:52 am #

      You’re welcome, Elizabeth!


  12. jgomez December 12, 2015 at 10:14 pm #

    How do I handle high school girls who wrote ugly things
    About me on Facebook. They received bad grades and wanted to humiliate me.

    • Michael Linsin December 13, 2015 at 9:16 am #

      Hi jgomez,

      I’m sorry this has happened to you. It’s a topic that is too big for the time and space we have here. I’ll add it to the list of future articles.


  13. Retno December 20, 2015 at 8:49 pm #

    How to make students feel that they need teachers to study or to learn something?

  14. Jenny December 23, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    I’m sorry I just completely disagree with these suggestions. These would never work in my school. And children need to be taught, even if they’re being taught how to self-correct. They need that two-cents. They need to know that what they do causes displeasure, otherwise they continue to do it. I hope these suggestions work for someone, but I don’t see how any teacher of children would be successful with these suggestions.

  15. Ashley December 28, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    One of the things taught in Understanding Poverty is to teach kids to find motivation for actions and what they can do instead the next time. You ask three questions: 1What did you do? 2Why did you do it? 3What will you do instead next time?

    I have found that this method often works and allows students to think. It provides them the opportunity to grow and discover their motivations for disruptive and unacceptable behavior. I think kids need to understand why they acted that way. It’s part of acceptance of responsibility, which is huge in low socioeconomic areas.

  16. Caroline December 30, 2015 at 9:08 am #

    Thanks so much for all the precious advice on this site.
    One question regarding the enforcement of the classroom management plan: should there be a “reset” at some point in time (for example every week/month)?
    For example, if a student gets an warning one day and then behaves properly for weeks, will he go to time out immediately at the next problem or has the warning been cancelled at some point before?

    • Michael Linsin December 31, 2015 at 8:08 am #

      Hi Caroline,

      Yes, students begin fresh each new day.


  17. mdubbs July 1, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    Hi, I teach art in middle school and have bought your book for specialist. But most of the information seems for elementary ( wish I’d had it when I taught that). While my classroom management benefited from some tweaking with you tips, this year I had a terrible time with the new sixth graders. I teach in a low income area and theses 6 th grade classes had nearly 2/3rds IEPs and/or 504s. Letters home or not delivered, and many don’t have Internet for email. Phone calls were often not returned, and all but one of the few returned either said “that is your problem” or they got angry, or are surprised and say but he lioves your class. I know that many of the teachers are having a problem with this class ( not all the students are tough, but a larger than normal). When I gave a consequence to go sit over in a place desegnated for time-out/reflection, one or two would refuse, or would go there and shout out how stupid it was to be there, how boring it was. Worrying about this, and dreading the fall, is making think of leaving, but I know I make difference, and I normally have great relationships with students. Help

    • Michael Linsin July 1, 2016 at 10:05 am #

      Hi mdubbs,

      This is a big issue about a specific situation. Thus, the only way I could give you reliable advice is if we were able to meet and talk. I would have a lot of questions myself. Although there is a cost involved, I do offer personal coaching.


  18. Erica Laczi September 4, 2016 at 7:09 am #

    Hello! Thank you for your insightful articles. I often have the problem where pretty much my whole class is talking and I can’t pinpoint the one or two students who need a warning. Maybe I needs to tighten up my transitions, but I was wondering what you’d recommend in those situations.

    Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin September 4, 2016 at 7:46 am #

      Hi Erica,

      You must stop and reteach the expectation.


  19. celia September 19, 2016 at 4:52 am #

    Hi Michael

    I do have some difficulty with a class of teens that I have. It is class of 15, 16 and 17- year old students that do not like school and have a kind of vocational curriculum, which in our schhol is the last step to avoid school dropp out.
    So, we are at the beginning of th year and I was thinking to adopt a kind of internal sanction system in order to prevent and deal with misbehaviour. Do you somtehing like that to share?

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2016 at 7:50 am #

      Hi Celia,

      Although I haven’t written an article specific to your population, we do have an e-guide available called The Smart Classroom Management Plan for High School Teachers that you may be interested in.