How To Encourage Your Students To Follow Rules

Smart Classroom Management: How To Encourage Your Students To Follow RulesHere at SCM, we talk a lot about the importance of creating a classroom students look forward to.

It’s one of our core principles.

Because, when your students enjoy being a member of your class, they’re naturally inclined to follow rules.

They want to follow them because the learning experience you provide is so much better than whiling away in time-out.

It makes the choice of following rules an easy one.

Much of that enjoyment comes from your personality, your kindness, and your ability to create compelling lessons.

But it also comes from your consistency.

It comes from your commitment to enforce consequences every time a student misbehaves.

Much of what we do here at SCM supports this approach.

But there is one other thing you can do to encourage your students to follow rules. It’s something that at first glance seems obvious, but many teachers fail to do.

It’s a strategy that can mean the difference between a reluctance to follow rules and a desire to follow them. It’s also backed by solid research.

So what is it?

It’s to explain to your students why your rules exist.

In his bestselling book, Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini describes a well-known experiment by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, demonstrating that when we ask someone to do something—or not do something—the response is more favorable when we give them a reason.

Simply adding the word “because” makes people more likely to do what we want.

This underscores the importance of emphasizing the true purpose of your classroom management plan, which is to protect your students’ right to learn and enjoy school.

You see, when you make it about them, and explain how your rules are in place for their benefit, it can transform their attitude toward the boundaries you establish for your class and your role enforcing them.

It causes them to agree with your rules, appreciate their purpose, and want to comply.

This natural desire to want to know ‘why’ is why teachers—and parents—who refuse to explain their rules, policies, and decisions experience so much pushback, rebellion, and hostility.

The “my way or the highway” approach misunderstands the call to be consistent with sternness, strictness, and authoritarianism.

But it’s nothing of the sort.

Consistency just means that you’ll do what you say you’ll do—in this case, follow a set of guidelines that protect your students’ freedom to listen, learn, and love school.

So what does the strategy look like in practice?

Well, when you first teach and model your classroom management plan, you’ll want to explain in detail how each rule benefits them.

It should be such a point of emphasis that at any time during the year they’ll be able to repeat back to you how each rule makes the classroom a better, more enjoyable place to learn.

You’ll also want to remind your class often that when you enforce a consequence, it’s not personal.

It’s not a means of revenge or a way to express your anger. It’s simply a way to ensure a learning environment that is best for them and their education.

This is one reason why here at SCM we stress the importance of enforcing consequences without lecturing, scolding, or causing friction with students.

It further reinforces the idea that the entire enterprise, the whole point of being in school, is about them and their future.

It’s not about us.

This is a remarkably effective approach to introducing, teaching, and enforcing rules and consequences, which we’ll be sure to unpack in greater detail in future articles.

In fact, there is a related strategy, also supported by research, that causes misbehaving students to reflect on their mistakes and resolve not to make them again.

We’ll tackle that strategy in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, thanks for being a reader of Smart Classroom Management! We appreciate you and the opportunity to help improve your classroom.


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16 Responses to How To Encourage Your Students To Follow Rules

  1. Debra Barbre May 28, 2016 at 8:24 am #

    Hi Michael, I’ve read all of your books and learned much from you. This year, I had that one class…it felt like admin put all the behavior issues into one period. I found that, although I could relax and do fun activities with all my other classes, I needed to be highly structured and always vigilant with this one. It needed to run on a highly supervised schedule or I’d lose them in transitions. I skipped some high energy activities with this class entirely–especially if they were my last class of the day. (Rotating schedule)

    What happened is, although I did achieve order and students are performing on par with the other classes, I don’t believe they enjoyed me or my class nearly as much as my other classes.

    I want my kids to love my class–and I think most do–but I’m still struggling with how to have fun and not lose a class in the process. Do you have any thoughts for me?

    • Michael Linsin May 28, 2016 at 9:20 am #

      Hi Debra,

      Your question would make for a good topic. I’ll put it on the list of future articles.


  2. Patty Fortna May 28, 2016 at 8:51 am #

    Everything in your article rings true, especially the part how this approach reduces scolding and friction. I”m looking forward to a lively discussion of the “whys”.

  3. Chuck May 28, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    Very good advice, and a piece of your plan that I may have been forgetting to do at this time of the year (you always time your articles to match my current issues! lol!).

    I think with my class, I have had to explain less since I’ve reminded and taught them, so when I have to explain my reasoning again, it sometimes feels like they’re just trying to waste time or argue with me. I would venture to guess that it’s probably not a good idea to respond to them when they say “WHY?!” after a consequence because that might initiate or come to close to an argument.

    But I might pre-empt their ‘why’ by explaining as I provide the consequence, particularly for some students who don’t know me and my classroom procedures as well (for behavior I catch around the school from other students). When I provide them consequences and they question them, it feels insubordinate and like back-talk, but I forget that they simply don’t know me well and don’t know my rationale for holding them accountable to school rules.

    • Michael Linsin May 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

      Hi Chuck,

      Yes, always, always, always preempt.


  4. Ingrid May 28, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    Here’s one that I suspect you mightn’t have covered and excuse me if I’ve mistaken. What would be your choice of wording to your class where you had to make rule allowance for mental conditions. So far I’ve done pretty well and the children seem accepting overall but there will always be one or two ‘typical’ that say ‘that’s not fair….’I’m meaning for those children who come to school from home situations where school is almost a sanctuary from family violence. -Children whose fine emotional line you have to navigate so they don’t errupt into violence but whom other children (10-11) don’t ‘get’? Children whom government agencies are hard to secure support from and whom can’t go into formal school detention because they’ll get further ill treatment at home? In other words ‘damaged’ children? They have so much going on their little heads. How you would explain in your words to the rest of the class why its important for us to have empathy and allowances for others? We are in a system where battle for additional support is never ending. I have managed to fight and get support on previous ocassions but it is a fight and you have to go into battle on behalf of these children.

    • Michael Linsin May 29, 2016 at 7:52 am #

      Hi Ingrid,

      This is a big question that I don’t have time to cover here. I will, however, try to work it into a future article.


    • Mrs. Martin May 30, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

      This is a very good question. The biggest behavior issues in my class are usually the ones that parent referrals, time out, and other consequences either don’t mean a thing to them or are impossible to implement because of their situation or emotional/mental/legal issues. I often find myself ignoring things in those children that I would never ignore in others. The students in my classroom all notice the disparity and the “special needs” student winds up feeling untouchable.

  5. Kathryn May 28, 2016 at 6:58 pm #

    Your articles are extremely helpful! I am looking forward to reading your new book this summer to prepare for next year! Many thanks!

    • Michael Linsin May 28, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

      You’re welcome, Kathryn. I hope you enjoy the book.


  6. Michael May 28, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

    Hi Michael, I’m a big fan of your blog, and I find the simple classroom management plan very useful. Question for you and something I may have missed but do you have any specific advise when applying the classroom management plan to kids with autism? Would you apply the same consequences to such students with special needs such as this? I have a kid with autism in my Year 7 English class and I haven’t made any modifications (I.e. He has had the same consequences as everyone else). I have also made a point of avoiding any one on one ‘lectures’ pep talks etc and this seems to be working. Just wondered if you had any specific thoughts in regards to this area.

    All the best, Michael (Melbourne, Australia)

    • Michael Linsin May 29, 2016 at 7:47 am #

      Hi Michael,

      I think every student should be given an opportunity to follow rules like everyone else. Good for you and good for that student. Way to go!


  7. Denise McAreavey August 10, 2016 at 2:36 pm #

    Hi! I have been encouraged by my new building principal to use your classroom management plan. After spending much time reading over your plan I am excited to try it this year in my 2nd grade classroom. I do however have one question. Your plan seems to focus on managing the students who may deviate from/challenge the rules. Does your plan at all praise those students with “clips up” or card change if they demonstrate outstanding behavior in the classroom?

    Also, can you better explain how you use colored cards or names on board to track behavior!

    Thank you in advance for your advise,
    Denise (Ohio)

    • Michael Linsin August 10, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

      Hi Denise,

      When you get a chance, please read through the Incentives & Praise category of the archive. We strongly recommend not rewarding students in exchange for good behavior. As for how to track misbehavior, we’ve written about this as well. Probably the best way to find articles is by using the Search function in the top right-hand corner.


  8. Bethany Miller September 25, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    Thank you so much for this article! I am new to your blog and am looking forward reading many more articles! I am a brand new teacher this year and have found that I really need a do-over for the beginning of the year. I am an elementary music teacher and only see my students twice a week for 30 minutes. Do you have any advice for helping students remember rules when they don’t have the consistent daily reminders? I find the more I remind students of rules, the more time we lose for music-making which is ultimately detrimental to their progress.