Why Giving A “Look” Is A Poor Classroom Management Strategy

Smart Classroom Management: Why Giving A "Look" Is A Poor Classroom Management StrategyIt’s a popular strategy.

You notice two students talking and giggling during a lesson, for example.

So you move into their field of vision and give them “the look.”

You deliver the old evil eye.

You communicate with your piercing stare and tight lips that you dislike what they’re doing.

That they better cut it out, or else.

Which may indeed stop them from continuing to disrupt your lesson.

The problem, however, is that the strategy causes more misbehavior in the future.

Here’s why:

It’s antagonistic.

Whenever you glare at students, or otherwise try to intimidate them into behaving, you create a you-against-them relationship.

You make it personal. You give the impression that not only are you angry, but you dislike them personally. After all, when someone gives a dirty look, that’s the natural conclusion—especially with children.

It causes private hurt and resentment and ultimately results in you having far less influence over their behavior choices.

It’s confusing.

When you give a “look,” you have no way of knowing whether your students understand what it means. They may not even be sure you’re looking at them or what behavior you’re referring to.

Short of saying, “Hey Emily, I gave you that look earlier because you weren’t on task,” chances are they’ll be confused.

Effective classroom management requires you to communicate clearly with your students, to tell them directly how they transgressed the rules and what will happen as a result.

(Note: In The Smart Classroom Management Plan for High School Teachers we recommend eye contact as one of two defined ways of giving a warning, which is altogether different than giving a “look.”)

It’s inconsistent.

When you promise to follow your classroom management plan, but then go back on your word and glare instead, you send the message that you can’t be trusted.

Furthermore, the use of intimidation, no matter how mild it seems in the moment, isn’t accountability. It doesn’t result in students taking responsibility or vowing to do better in the future.

It just makes them angry and emboldened to misbehave behind your back. A leader worth following is someone who does what they say they’re going to do.

No Friction

Giving a “look” is another in a long line of strategies that can curb misbehavior in the moment, but that make classroom management more difficult down the line.

Sadly, this strategy is recommended by more than a few educational “experts.” It’s passed around as a viable solution because, by golly, it gets Robert back on track.

But now Robert can’t stand his teacher and has little motivation to push himself academically.

To create a peaceful learning environment that frees you to be the inspiring and influential teacher you were meant to be, you must be able to hold your students accountable without causing friction.

You must follow your classroom management plan as its written and give them an opportunity to take responsibility all on their own—without your dirty looks, lectures, or two cents.

In this way, you maintain your likability and influence. You safeguard your relationships. You create a world that makes sense, a world your students love being part of.

A world where you can teach without disruption.

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14 Responses to Why Giving A “Look” Is A Poor Classroom Management Strategy

  1. Greg September 12, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

    I agree about the ” evil eye” being antagonistic. In addition to being a long time reader of your blog and of all of your books, I also use the body language ideas and “blank stare” or the ” Queen Victoria Look” as taught by Fred Jones. This look is not an evil eye but uses body language to “look a student back to work”. How do you feel about ” looking”a student back to work if it is done calmly? I am very interested in your answer since I consider you and Fred Jones as my two favorite classroom management mentors.

    • Michael Linsin September 12, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

      Hi Greg,

      I’m okay with it as long as it isn’t in response to misbehavior. Otherwise, it’s inconsistent. I think it’s a particularly good strategy for daydreamers (like me). An accompanying smile works best.


  2. Greg September 13, 2015 at 12:20 am #

    Thank you for your response. I was very anxious for your reply because I have the utpost respect you and Fred Jones ( who I studied early in my career). I have read plethras of classoom management books and you along with Dr. Jones are the two giants; the best of the best; the Holy Grail, etc. He does recommend “lookimg a kid back to work” especially when they’re talking during instruction or practuce, etc. and other things like proximity to limit misbevavior. You and he seem to diverge on this topic. Maybe you eould recommend giving the student a, ” warning” first instead as oppossed to “the look”?

    • Michael Linsin September 13, 2015 at 8:13 am #

      It’s my pleasure, Greg. Yes, if a rule is broken, then a warning is the best response.


  3. Bob September 16, 2015 at 11:46 am #

    I think your article presupposes a negative relationship with the student. A look does not have to be an intimidating glare, it can be a simple glance that redirects. This simple head shake or nonverbal clue can be a very effective tool. This is less invasive than a warning and can quickly correct problem behavior without disrupting class.

  4. Liz December 11, 2015 at 5:34 am #

    “A look” doesn’t have to be dirty or antagonistic to get students back on track. There is a whole spectrum of looks that can be given. Sometimes just staring at the kid. Sometimes making funny faces. I work with urban students and many severely emotionally disturbed students who easily register disrespect and can blow up at the slightest provocation. Expressive looks are immensely successful with them. Talking to them is more likely to escalate a situation than a look will. It’s funny how often classroom management strategies disregard cultural perspectives. There is no single strategy that works with every child or for every teacher. To universally state that something a simple and silent as a look is harmful and bad is fairly one dimensional. There are students who prefer to be yelled at. There are students who respond best to cues. There are students who respond best to hallway conversations. Each item in your repertoire needs to be used thoughtfully. The look remains a useful staple.

  5. KK January 28, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    Hi Michael,
    I’m trying to find out if you’ve addressed asking a student for “eye contact” when speaking to individuals about their behavior. Many teachers get down to children’s height level and ask them to look them in the eye when the teacher is speaking. What is your thinking? Or point me in the right direction if you’ve already written about this.
    Some children have extreme difficulty looking at a teacher/authority in the eyes. I’m not sure this is a good strategy. Thank you!!!

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2016 at 7:49 am #

      Hi KK,

      I haven’t written about this, but will put it on the list of future articles. Thanks for the suggestion. I might write about it soon. It’s a good topic. (I don’t think it’s a good strategy.)


  6. NB February 4, 2016 at 12:12 am #

    I feel that in my career as a teacher the non verbal communication such as the look, hand gestures and body language have all been successful in combating low level disruption. I am no expert but in my school it has allowed me to develop a mutual respect with students with having to raise my voice. I also feel that coupled with knowing your students it works a treat. I understand people will not agree but this is my experience and it’s a positive result.

  7. Holly February 5, 2016 at 12:58 am #

    I would have to agree with Bob and Liz. Giving a look is one of the most successful ways to cease small level disruptions. Rather than stopping the class, reminding them ALL of class procedures and treating them like elementary students, which they would offend them, the look works wonders. As I’m teaching or monitoring or whatever the case maybe, I just stare at them, and based upon the students involved, I have either a blank, quizzical, or even confused look on my face. How do I know they understand what I mean by my look? They make some kind of obvious gesture of apology. They say they’re sorry. They raise their hands to acknowledge they get what I’m saying. My look is one of my most useful tools. In fact during formal and informal observations, we are scored upon our “nonverbal” communication skills.

  8. Kate February 5, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

    I agree with several replies; a blanket statement that a non-verbal look towards students is indicative of poor classroom management is too general and misguided. Everything a teacher does or does not do effectively is due to rapport. One’s approach must also be age appropriate. As a middle school music teacher, a “look” was all I could do when a whole band was playing. My students responded out of respect for our relationship and my clear expectations, not because I intimidated them. Talking to students (instead of just the “look”) can also escalate a situation if students feel lectured or embarrassed, particularly when they know perfectly well what you mean with your “look.” It’s not the “look” that’s the issue– it’s the intent and feelings from the teacher that makes or breaks classroom management.

  9. Helen March 4, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    I have no problem with a ‘look’ and I have no problem with my students. The reason it works is because we have good communication and they know what is expected of them so a quick ‘look’ gets them back on track. I don’t ‘glare’ at them generally speaking, although I have a whole range of ‘looks’ for other classes in Assembly!

    Giving a ‘look’ can avoid confrontation in front of other students. The fact that it is wordless can also prompt the student to think about what it is that they are doing wrong, without the need to have it spelled out. It means you don’t have to be constantly interrupting the flow of things to talk about behaviour. It means that you can curb poor behaviour from the other side of the room/hall without shouting. Brilliant.

    Of course you shouldn’t be glaring at the kids all the time – if this is the only ‘look’ you have in your repertoire, you need to get practising!

  10. Dena Campbell August 24, 2016 at 7:06 am #

    In you Classroom Management book that I purchased, as well as the High School Management Plan that I just purchased, you mention that the warning may either be verbal or “a look” which the teacher has modeled, role played, practiced when introducing and teaching the CM plan. So, now the look is not ok?

    • Michael Linsin August 24, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

      Hi Dena,

      You’re confusing a couple things, mainly the difference between a classroom management plan for high school students and one for elementary students. Also, the article above refers to an evil-eye look and not an official warning that would count as a consequences—whereas “eye contact” in the high school plan is something you would model and define for students ahead of time and is an official warning. Finally, I don’t recommend in any book giving a look as a consequence.