An Easy Way To Keep Your Cool When Students Misbehave

Smart Classroom Management: An Easy Way To Keep Your Cool When Students MisbehaveHere at SCM, we’ve talked a lot about the importance of keeping your cool when enforcing consequences.

We’ve covered how it helps ensure that the offending student takes responsibility for their actions.

We’ve covered how it causes them to reflect on their mistakes.

We’ve covered how it maintains, and even strengthens, your relationships with all students.

Just knowing its supreme importance is the best defense against becoming frustrated or angry when students misbehave.

However, there is one piece of advice we slipped into an article a few years ago that resonated with a lot of people.

For them, it was the missing piece of the puzzle.

It was the one thing that made it all click for them. It was the one thing that freed them from getting worked up over misbehavior.

We’ve heard from so many teachers since the article was first published that I thought I should share the advice again. It’s a simple analogy, but it helps clarify how best to hold students accountable.

The advice is this: When enforcing consequences, think like a referee.

A referee’s job is to make sure players abide by the agreed-upon rules of the game. That’s it. They make no judgments or decisions of their own accord.

They have a rule book that lays out the parameters of the game, and they pledge to follow it to the letter.

They watch the action closely, and when they see a foul or penalty, they blow their whistle and apply the specified consequence. It’s automatic, something they do without pause or timidity.

A good referee is defined by their calm and consistent adherence to the rule book—the purpose of which is to make the game safe and fair for all participants.

When a good referee is in charge of a game, play is smooth, competitive, and representative of good sportsmanship.

Fans hardly realize they’re even on the court or playing field.

When there is an inconsistent referee, however, or when they insert themselves and their personal feelings and biases into the process, they lose control of the game.

Play becomes sloppy and uneven. Players and coaches grow angry and frustrated. Fans complain and throw popcorn.

As an SCM reader recently pointed out, the game becomes unwatchable.

In this one way, refereeing is similar to teaching.

Teachers who are inconsistent and enforce consequences based on how the misbehavior makes them feel, who is doing the misbehaving, or the perceived severity of the misbehavior also lose control.

Students grow angry and resentful. The classroom becomes noisy and chaotic. Parents complain and throw popcorn.

The best way to keep your cool when you notice misbehavior is to call ’em like you see ’em.

As soon as a student strays from your rule book (classroom management plan), follow through like a referee in the Super Bowl.

No hesitation. No Fear. No Anger.

Because when you focus on being a good referee, not only will you have excellent control of your class, but keeping your cool will be easy.

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28 Responses to An Easy Way To Keep Your Cool When Students Misbehave

  1. tanisha January 9, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    I work for an afterschool.I have autism and regular kids in my class. How can I deal with them both because the autism always misbehaving and are bothering the regular students and the class becomes very noisy.

    • Michael Linsin January 9, 2016 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Tanisha,

      We’re planning to cover this topic in a future article or ebook.


  2. KK January 9, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    So true ! Great analogy! Easy idea to grasp and reflect on if something is or isn’t working.

  3. Marlene January 9, 2016 at 10:12 am #

    One way to keep your cool is to use polite language and teach the students manners. Instead of barking orders (viz., yelling, losing your cool) – the use of respectful language works wonders. Students asked politely to open their books, close the door, take your seat, etc. respond to the teacher’s calmness without their previous rebellious attitude.

    I also teach the students how to ask politely by modeling polite requests and/or correcting their speech to conform to “manners”. May I/Can I/please/thank you goes a long way.

  4. Nancy January 9, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

    Dear Mr. Linsin,
    I have adopted your smart classroom management in my music classroom and I am very happy with the results. I have decided that when a student breaks a rule in my classroom, they have to put their name on the board under the appropriate category: warning, time-out or recess. I don’t have “eyes in the back of my head” and sometimes miss infractions of rules. What amazes me is the following: many times a student who has broken a rule, will come and put their name on the board on their own accord, when I haven’t noticed their infraction.
    Thank you for all your emails. They are very much appreciated!

    • Michael Linsin January 9, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

      You’re welcome, Nancy. Thanks for sharing. What a cool story.


  5. DP January 9, 2016 at 7:12 pm #

    I’m really struggling with enforcing consequences consistently. I am not a new teacher, but I’m new to teaching in this environment. I am in charge of EFL classes with up to 48 students who do not speak English and many of whom do not understand the most basic English phrases. When we are in the regular classroom setting and they are in their seats, they are more responsive and receptive. However, as soon as they come to kitchen and are permitted to start doing the cooking work, things get difficult. No one has been injured, but students DO break the rules, and I don’t even know where to start. I’m very frustrated because I’m getting different messages from my administration about expectations for the class. I feel like the worst teacher because each class I’m having to raise my voice over the loudspeaker or blow a whistle just to get the classes attention. They basically ignore me as soon as the cooking begins. I need a plan and some guidance because nothing I’ve tried has been really successful so far. Can anyone help me?

  6. Davina Ethridge January 9, 2016 at 9:15 pm #

    It’s time to comment. From your writings, I have gleaned the support I needed to start doing classroom management the right way, and I thank you Mr. Linsin! Last May, the end of the school year, I completely lost control of an 8th grade classroom. I gave myself an ultimatum. Figure out how to do classroom management like a pro or find a different job. I knew intellectually the things you write about, but I needed hand-holding and accountability to follow through. After school let out for the summer, I read a dozen or so of your articles and started to form a new plan. I took to heart your insistence on no compromise. I copied your classroom rules, with very little change, and decided on logical consequences. I talked over my ideas with other teachers, parents, and students. When I had fine tuned the plan, I took opportunity to talk with my principal, and we agreed on how it would play out in the classroom. I was ready to go. The hardest part was the first week of class in the fall, and it was also the best. Hardest, because I was nervous that I would fail myself and my students by reverting to previous behavior and “copping out” of my plan. Best, because the plan was so good and so foolproof, so well-explained to my students, that I had NO CHOICE but to follow it. The students themselves even HELPED ME FOLLOW THROUGH! I can say with GREAT satisfaction that this school year has been like no other in my career. The students and I all feel safe and comfortable with the boundaries, because we all trust that I will follow through with what I say. Reading your Jan 9 article prompts me to respond to you and thank you, because the content show me how much of my new attitude is due to your informal coaching. You see, my new plan, my new method, uses a little black book. With a yellow card and a red card. Soccer is my sport. And I literally, in the classroom, use the same technique as a soccer referee. It’s awesome, and it really works.

    • Michael Linsin January 10, 2016 at 9:55 am #

      Hi Davina,

      I’m so glad you commented. Thanks for sharing your success. I’m thrilled you’re doing so well and love the red and yellow cards and soccer referee idea. Way to go!


  7. Laurie January 10, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    That was the analogy that hit it home for me as well! Call it as you see it, name the rule, move on with the game. Easy and effective!

  8. Jessica January 10, 2016 at 10:49 am #


    I would have a procedure and routine for EVERYTHING in your situation. For example, “row 1 come get your cooking tools and sit back down. Row 2, etc. Etc.” And I would practice all the routines and procedures with them until they get it. Thats how you control the chaos. And if they still break the rules during cooking? Theyre out and have to sit down and do book work. That way there is an incentive to follow the rules and behave.

    Also, once they are in the midst of the cooking or whatever they are doing, its okay if they are loud. I had to learn this when I do group or partner work. As long as they are on task and talking about the work at hand, it really is okay. I actually learned this from this site. Or, if the noise really bothers you, you could have different noise levels that you practice with them and again, if anyone goes about the designated noise level, they sit down and do book work.

    Hope this all helps.

  9. Dan Leopold January 10, 2016 at 10:57 am #

    Mr. Linson,

    I have read your book several times and appreciate the simplicity in which you lay out very difficult situations in behavior management. In the end, the ownership is on the student for their behavior, but how we react to that behavior which has just as much, if not more, effect on the functioning of the class. – that is on the teacher. We have communicated before, and I am looking forward to a future book addressing the special education population that I work with execlusively – Emotionally Disturbed Children. Is this something in the future, for your book series?


    Dan Leopold

    • Michael Linsin January 10, 2016 at 4:12 pm #

      Hi Dan,

      We don’t have plans for it in the immediate future, but it is on the docket.


  10. Chuck January 10, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

    I personally resonated with the advice that you provided a while back about taking a few minutes at the beginning of the day to confirm that you will not lose composure and remain calm no matter what, even if a 3-ring circus burst into the room.

    I’ve extended this practice to reminding myself that I WILL be consistent, and I WILL NOT take behavior personally, and that all behavior is the responsibility of the student. My responsibility is just to enforce the classroom management plan.

    This has worked wonders with me. More experienced teachers wonder how I can stay so calm, and come into a chaotic room and just completely bring it under control quietly and calmly, even when I don’t even know the students. I keep my promise to myself and to my students everyday because of those few minutes before my students come in.

    Thanks for all of your help Michael. You are one heck of a teacher and coach.

    • Michael Linsin January 10, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Chuck. Way to go! And thanks for sharing.


  11. nellie mitchell January 11, 2016 at 6:53 am #

    Wow. I watching the playoff game on Saturday, I actually told my husband that I wish I had a yellow flag to toss down in the classroom when students deserved a penalty. How funny! I agree completely with this post!!

  12. James Barfield January 12, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    Dear Mr. Linsin,

    I need to tell you that your blog and your books saved my teaching career. I used to be a teacher with horrible classroom management. I blamed the students, parents, poverty, the institution of school itself, anyone or anything but me. I have been implementing your ideas for about a year now, and the change is wonderful. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your knowledge. I am a much better teacher, and my self esteem has increased as well.

    • Michael Linsin January 13, 2016 at 7:38 am #

      Hi James,

      That’s great news. I’m thrilled to hear how well you’re doing and appreciate you letting me know. Way to go! It will only get better.


  13. Susan M. January 14, 2016 at 7:43 pm #

    Mr. Linsin,

    Last year after reading your articles I came to the same conclusion; I am like a referee in the classroom. The one part that bothers me though, is the caveat that we should give everyone one warning. That is when my plan erodes. Referees in a sports game do not give chances. Would I be terrible if I didn’t give them a warning? The students know what the rules are. Maybe I’m not clear on what “one chance” means. I just know that it’s too much for me to keep track of who has one warning and who does not. Advice?

    • Michael Linsin January 15, 2016 at 7:43 am #

      Hi Susan,

      This is a bigger question than you might imagine. It’s possible, but it depends on your grade level as well as several other factors. I can’t accurately answer your question without knowing a lot more about you.


  14. Jura Litchfield January 17, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

    I am grateful for your insight that a teacher must take on the dispassionate role of referee when doling out consequences for poor behavior. The teacher, however is both coach and referee, to continue your analogy. I find it challenging to be both judge and counsel for the defense. It is hard to juggle these roles for me, as my brain is busy thinking ahead to what needs to happen next in terms of class curricula, to ask the right question, help or encourage the confused student, etc. Any way to develop a multi-tasking brain that can referee and teach at the same time?

    • Michael Linsin January 17, 2016 at 7:47 pm #

      Hi Jura,

      I’ll think about your question and try to include the answer in future article.


  15. Richard Ellsworth January 17, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

    Just to offer another perspective, whilst all the ideas work successfully, have you considered why we have to be so careful in our strategies. There was a time, only a generation ago, when teachers were respected automatically and what the teacher said, however they said it, was what happened.

    Nowadays, from what you are saying, teachers only get students to cooperate if they use well thought out psychological strategies.

    This is so desperately sad and wrong morally. It’s putting teachers on the back foot and essentially giving the message to young people that thry can do what they want and be as rude and disruptive as they want unless the adult who is there to help them has some very sophisticated and often exhausting strategies for quelling them.

    it is this subliminal message which has made students misbehave worse now than at any other time in the past.

  16. TF Jenssen January 20, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

    I have bought and read a couple of your books, and also many of your articles on the blog. This is my 4th year of teaching and find it still really hard to manage the classroom. I work overseas, in Europe, and we don’t have our own classrooms, rather teachers are the ones to go to the students classroom.

    I have tried very hard to implement your plan, but I have always failed miserably. It’s OK to explain what the rules are about, and the consequences etc My main problem is actually giving out the consequences, as I find myself in a classroom full of kids that chat and break rules simultaneously. Where do I start? It feels hard and difficult to identify the kids … HELP PLEASE

    • Michael Linsin January 20, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

      Hi TF,

      I would have to know a lot more about your situation in order to give you accurate advice. The only way I can do that is through personal coaching, which we offer. Here’s the link if you’re interested:


  17. Ursula February 16, 2016 at 7:59 am #

    Can you suggest some effective classroom management strategies for middle and high school teachers?

    • Michael Linsin February 16, 2016 at 8:17 am #

      Hi Ursula,

      Other than the particular rules and consequences, most of the strategies translate. However, we hope to have a classroom management plan ebook for middle and high school teachers available by next fall.