Do You Ever Feel Coldhearted Enforcing Consequences?

Smart Classroom Management: Do You Ever Feel Coldhearted Enforcing Consequences?The student looks up at you with pleading eyes.

They’re distressed. They’re remorseful. They’re in anguish over the mistake they made.

Please . . . I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll never do it again.”

Indeed, they appear for all the world to be contrite.

You pause. You sigh.

Every bone in your body is screaming for you to give them a second chance.

After all, no one was harmed by their misbehavior. It was the teeniest, tiniest mistake.

Besides, might giving them another chance be better in the long run? Might it improve your relationship and encourage them to think twice the next time?

Plus, giving second chances feels good.

It feels like the right thing to do. It feels kind and charitable. And seeing the smile on their face after you wink and say, “Alright, I trust you. Just don’t do it again.” . . . well, it’s satisfying.

But letting students off the hook is a mistake. It’s a mistake every single time.

Here’s why:

A warning is a second chance.

A second chance is already built into the classroom management plan we recommend here at SCM. Its purpose is to give students an opportunity to take care of it on their own and without a true consequence.

Your trust will take a hit.

Each time you go back on your word and fail to do what you promised—in this case, following your plan as it’s written—your students will trust you less and less. Even the very student you let off the hook.

It opens the floodgates.

As soon as you show a tendency to give in to arguments, justifications, pleadings, and the like, nearly every student will try to take advantage of it—and with ever-increasing aggressiveness.

It’s unfair.

Deciding who to hold accountable on a case-by-case basis is grossly unfair and impossible to know where to draw the line. It’s also a surefire way to lose control of your class.

Your students will dislike you.

Children have an acute sense of fairness. So when they see you letting some students off the hook and not others—regardless of your reasoning—they’ll resent you.

Misbehavior will increase.

Failing to follow your own rules of the class will result in an uptick of misbehavior. You’ll be viewed as a pushover. Thus, your students will begin testing you at every turn.

Do It Anyway

At times, it can be difficult.

It can make you squirm. It can make you feel insensitive and uncaring to hold students accountable who in every way appear remorseful. It goes against your baser instincts.

But you do it anyway.

You do it for them and their future. You do it for you and your peace. You do it for every member of your class because it’s right and it’s fair and it’s what you said you would do.

The truth is, though it may sometimes feel like it, it isn’t coldhearted. Rather, it’s an act of compassion to care enough about your students to make the tough decisions.

It’s an act of compassion to care enough to protect their right to learn and enjoy school.

This is leadership.

As soon as you walk away after enforcing a consequence, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief because you’ll know in that instant that you did the right thing.

You’ll have proven once again that you mean what you say, that you’re a person of your word, and that you can be trusted.

Your students will be watching. They’ll see that student try and fail to beg and bargain their way out of it. They’ll see you follow through, and they’ll approve.

They too will breathe a sigh of relief knowing that at least in your classroom . . .

The world still makes sense.

And they’ll love you for it.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving new-article updates in your email box every week.

40 Responses to Do You Ever Feel Coldhearted Enforcing Consequences?

  1. Monika December 12, 2015 at 10:14 am #

    Hi Michael,
    Thank you so much for all your help and ideas

    I have got a question:
    I have 28 kids in my class, at least 5 boys have problems in following the classroom rules.

    My problem is keeping track with the number of warnings I have given out in the course of the lesson: how many warnings has X got? 1 or 2. ?

    I do not think that the blackboard is the right place for keeping track of the number of warnings and the names of the pupils because it is a learning tool not a warning tool.

    Any ideas?

    Many regards and thanks a lot

    • Michael Linsin December 12, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

      Hi Monica,

      A simple clipboard should do the trick.


  2. Chuck December 12, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    I messed up once this year already and regretted it immediately. I hope I can stay consistent for the rest of the year.

    • Michael Linsin December 12, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

      You can do it, Chuck.


  3. Candy December 12, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    I love your articles! Even though I tutor one-on-one, I find them so valuable! Thanks for all you do in helping teachers have a classroom that is a great place to learn!!!!

    • Michael Linsin December 12, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

      You’re welcome, Candy. I’m glad you like the articles.


  4. Marion McAnulty December 12, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    Very interesting and informative. It is easy to give in but this shows it would be a mistake. Great advice.

    • Michael Linsin December 12, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

      Thanks Marion!


  5. Alli December 12, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    This article couldn’t come at a better time. I struggle with this topic daily. I have started to not give second chances on tests and quizzes, but rather offer extra help and review sessions. It’s a kick in the pants for all, incliding me, but your right, it does feel better doing the right thing for the kids growth.

    • Michael Linsin December 12, 2015 at 12:56 pm #

      You’re welcome, Alli.


  6. Nancy Gesshel- December 12, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

    Even though I have bought and read all of your books, it is nice to recieve these articles. This article just helped me reflect on my own weaknesses as I am a work in progress. I teach fourth grade. Giving second chances is letting students in my grade level off the hook. In my experience, the student will repeat the same misbehavior one hundred percent of the time. A warning is more than enough. Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin December 12, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Nancy. I’m glad the article was helpful.


  7. Cameron December 12, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

    Hey Michael, I rotate classes with other teachers, so I only have my students for 70 minutes a day. Since they have a whole lot less time in class with me, I’ve done away with the warnings, and I go automatically to timeouts. I am consistent with it, and overall the students seem to be responding well. Do you think it would be better to give them the warnings even though I only have them for 70 minutes? I’ve had great success taking your advice.

    • Michael Linsin December 13, 2015 at 9:10 am #

      Hi Cameron,

      When you get a chance, type “warning” into the search function in the top right-hand corner and check out the several articles on the topic. In the long run, I think they improve behavior and responsibility.


  8. Ms. S December 12, 2015 at 9:03 pm #

    As a 2nd year teacher, this was one of my main problems. I hate not giving second chances but I’ve been working on being diligent with my classroom management plan. I almost lost it this year but reading your articles has helped me get back on track. Thanks.

    • Michael Linsin December 13, 2015 at 9:12 am #

      You’re welcome, Ms. S. I’m glad the articles are helpful.


  9. Diane December 13, 2015 at 6:57 am #

    What do you do when the student gets to the “tell the parent” part of the school-wide discipline system, yet you know they will get corporal punishment at home?

    • Michael Linsin December 13, 2015 at 9:17 am #

      Hi Diane,

      I’m not sure i understand your question. Please email me with more details.


  10. Rochelle December 13, 2015 at 11:14 am #

    In my experience what you say in this article is true. I’m left with the following question: Is it wrong/self defeating to tell the student begging for a second chance that you cannot accommodate him/her, even if you might otherwise consider it, because it would be unfair to deny the same reprieve to others, and not all others are necessarily deserving of a “second chance?”

    • Michael Linsin December 13, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

      Hi Rochelle,

      No, there is nothing wrong with being honest in this regard. However, there is more to the story. There are things you can do to avoid being in this situation, which we’ll be sure and write about in a future article.


  11. Christina December 13, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    This came at a good time for me as well. I just implemented strict procedures for using laptops in my classroom. Already 3 students have broken relatively minor procedures, but they knew the consequence was not a light one. I got a LOT of pushback from these 3 middle school students who tried to reason why they didn’t deserve the consequence. I felt like a mean, strict teacher – especially since the other middle school teachers are much more lax about their laptops.

    I’m really glad I stuck to my guns now. I knew in my head the things you write are correct, but after these last few days, I feel in my gut too. It’s tough being the “strict” teacher, but I think I get less kids testing and arguing with me than the other middle school teachers (and they’re the same kids!).

  12. Modestine Samuel December 14, 2015 at 7:04 am #

    This is a wonderful article for teachers who are new at this game. All they have to do is remember when they were kids. When we tried to weasel our way out of punishment. Our parents gave us more punishment. That taught us that the first punishment was nothing compared to the second punishment. Same thing in life. Little errors turn into big errors if left unchecked. After 33 years in the classroom, fairness among kids has got to be the highest priority.

  13. Ross December 14, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks so much for putting the time into writing these articles.

    As a very new practitioner of the “teaching arts”, I have found your classroom management plan extremely helpful so far, and of course I am ever learning and failing and growing and it is so exciting. My main issues seem to be ones of consistency and focus.

    For instance, I have the typical issue of not being completely impartial in every moment, and even more than that, I am experiencing situations where I feel almost mean-spirited towards particularly difficult students when doling out consequences. As I write this, it occurs to me this will likely be rectified by implementing exactly what you mention in this very article!

    I wonder if you might point me in the direction of any additional articles or materials you have available which address my particular situation. Any help you can give is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you again for your time, and I look forward to connecting with you!


  14. Ebenezer December 16, 2015 at 4:04 am #

    Thanks so much Michael.
    For this great article too. As a sanguine phlegmatic i try to reason with students and trust they will not break rules and regulations but , i realize a few say 2 out of 40 are able to do this. I tried implementing consequences fairly and realized my students respect me more to be a teacher than a friend.
    I want to find how you can manage your temperament in following plans.

    • Michael Linsin December 16, 2015 at 7:47 am #

      Hi Ebenezer,

      I’ve written about this in the past, but will be sure and cover it again in the coming year.


  15. HELEN OGIDI December 16, 2015 at 6:55 am #

    i find your articles enlightening, thanks. How can i run a better school based on all these latest information and learning im getting now. The issue is that i started the sch when ignorant of all these latest information. Im finding it difficult changing both the teachers and students who are already used to my casual and lukewarm attitude to learning and ddiscipline. we are starting 2nd term in jan, could you suggest interesting items to include in the calendar that will enhance teachers performance and students learning? antticipating a quick response. Thanks once again.

    • Michael Linsin December 16, 2015 at 7:53 am #

      Hi Helen,

      If you’re an elementary school, The Smart Principal’s Recess Plan is a good way to begin changing the culture of the school. As for what to include in a calendar, I would select the articles that support what you would most like to convey and link to them. You can also encourage your staff to sign up for our weekly email updates.


  16. Erin F December 17, 2015 at 6:02 am #

    Loving all of your articles!

    I have a unique situation that could use your and your reader’s help to find something that works. I serve in a middle school as part of AmeriCorps on the Frontlines. I mentor students considered “at risk” for dropping out. I have several students in a Behavioral Disorder classroom. The class has less than 10 students made up of all boys and 1 girl, but she’s not a problem; the problems existed before she joined the class. There is a wide rage of behavior issues: anger, authority, self-management, learning deficiencies coupled with behavior, socioeconomic, etc. These students also have their share of baggage doled out to/on them from bad choices made by the adults that are or were in their lives. Several are being raised by grandparents; some have parents around but not involved.

    These students do not care about consequences and there aren’t really any consequences to give anyway. The room is bare bones to limit things from being taken, destroyed in outbursts or even used as a weapon. There are 3 computers, so they are about the only thing that can be used as a privilege to earn so they’re used to it being lost. Students daily refuse to do work and don’t. They lay their heads down and sleep – literally! The classroom teacher and aide are at a loss. They do all the right things and of course – all the wrong. We’re all at a loss. Any advice, instruction, direction would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks so much.

    • Michael Linsin December 17, 2015 at 8:02 am #

      Hi Erin,

      I’m so glad you like the articles. This is a big question that I just don’t have the time and space to address here. I’ll try to think of how I can get to your question in a future article. We do also offer personal coaching.


  17. Cindy Carroll December 18, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

    I love your philosophy but have trouble coming up with appropriate consequences for elementary children. I teach first grade and we are not permitted to take time from their recess. What kinds of consequences can you recommend especially when the “Letter Home” does not encourage parents to serve a consequence or have a serious conversation with their child? I have tried doing something fun with the rest of the class and have the student sit out for those few minutes. But I would love any additional ideas.

    • Michael Linsin December 18, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

      Hi Cindy,

      When you get a chance, please read through the Classroom Management Plan and Rules & Consequences categories of the archive (along the sidebar). You’ll find many articles written about this topic.


  18. Greg December 18, 2015 at 11:43 pm #

    Great article again, Michael! ( I have posted that many, many times). Please know how much that I appreciate these articles.

    If I may offer a suggestion to an earlier emailer, Monika;I have discovered an app for my device called
    ” classdojo”and it keeps track of classroom behaviors. I use it within the framework of smart classroom management and it works like a gem.

    • Michael Linsin December 19, 2015 at 8:18 am #

      Thanks Greg!


  19. Maureen December 19, 2015 at 5:31 am #

    I have been teaching for 35 years and I still learn so much from your articles. That is the beauty of this profession–there is always room for improvement. Not only do your articles offer sound advice for change in my classroom management, they are affirming when I realize I am already doing something that works. Every time I reach the end of the article, my eyes fill with tears. You make me see my fifth graders in a different light. I am so grateful that you touch that emotion in me about my students…after all these years! Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin December 19, 2015 at 8:19 am #

      It’s my pleasure, Maureen. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate your kind words.


  20. Mrs. Clemmons December 19, 2015 at 7:01 am #

    I love your writings and suggestions. Where can I find your suggested classroom management plan briefly mentioned in the above article?

  21. Jane March 25, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    Michael- simply problem difficult to solve? 6th grade students coming unprepared for class-no pencil and/or by notebook- repeat offenders. If I give them a pencil to borrow sometimes they do t return them and then I’m spending $ supplying them. When I don’t give it they sit unprepared? I feel mean not giving them the supplies

  22. Amy May 21, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I try my best to follow your suggestions and be more consistent but a lot of the time when I try to enforce consequences it seems that the situation is more complex than I thought and I often end up making the wrong call. For example, I asked students to begin independent work silently last week and put two children on a warning for talking. It turned out they were both lending classmates coloured pencils. It felt unfair to give them a warning for that so I let them off. But then it turned out that Year 2s can talk a lot about pencils! One of the students felt he had to explain to everyone on his table exactly who he was prepared to lend pencils to, who he wouldn’t lend pencils to, and why – with reasons ranging from legitimate to absurd. This then opened a whole can of worms and caused arguments with other children at the table. It was very difficult for me to identify at what point sharing turned into misbehaviour. This seems like a strange example but actually for me it seems to be the norm. My commitment to consistency keeps being shaken by these potential exception cases. Any insights, or am I over-thinking it?