When You Shouldn’t Enforce A Consequence

Smart Classroom Management: When You Shouldn't Enforce A ConsequenceOne of the core tenets of SCM is to hold your students accountable for every rule violation.

You do what you say you’re going to do. You follow through on your promises.

Student breaks a rule and you enforce a consequence.

It’s as simple as that.

Done in a certain way—as we recommend here on this website and in our books—the benefits can be staggering.

Not only will you eliminate misbehavior, but . . .

  • You’ll create an atmosphere of respect.
  • You’ll build strong influence, trust, and rapport.
  • You’ll become a leader worth following.

However, there is a circumstance whereby a student breaks a rule and you shouldn’t hold them accountable.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s when a student calls out without permission in order to stop a classmate from interfering with their right to learn.

“Can you be quiet please?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you right now.”

“Do you guys mind? I’m trying to read.”

“Please leave me alone, I have to get this done.”

Now, if you were to follow your classroom management plan as written and hold this student accountable for calling out, you would very likely alienate them.

You would leave them disillusioned, confused, and resentful.

Bear in mind that this is a student who has fully bought into the culture of your classroom. They care about learning and represent what you’re trying to inspire in others.

They’re a role model whose support and example makes your classroom better and your job easier.

So what should you do? How do you handle the situation without sending the message to the rest of the class that you’re playing favorites or breaking your promises?

Well, first off, the circumstance underscores the importance of vigilant observation, supervision, and awareness. In previous articles, we’ve discussed how critical it is to be in position to catch misbehavior.

Thus, the best solution is preemptive.

You witness the initial misbehavior and follow through before anyone feels the need to speak up.

Once you get the reputation for having eyes in back of your head—and you will as you become more consistent—then the chances of missing even one act of misbehavior becomes very small.

In the rare case that the original misbehavior does get by you, however, and you see only the second student’s response, you would immediately enforce a consequence with only the originator of the interruption.

However, it’s important that you don’t just leave it at that. When you get a chance, later in the day, briefly apologize to the student who felt they had to stand up for themselves.

Let them know that it’s your job to take care of misbehavior and that you don’t want them to worry about having to take matters into their own hands.

You’ll do better. It’s a big part of your promise to protect their right to learn and enjoy school.

As for the rest of the class who may have witnessed the incident, you don’t need to address them as a group in order to explain why you didn’t enforce a consequence with both parties.

They get it.

You’re showing understanding and compassion, and at the same time, making a statement through your actions that you respect the difference between the literal rule and the true spirit of the rule.

It makes natural sense and will not in anyway result in your class thinking that you’re being unfair or inconsistent.

To the contrary. It makes you more human, more like them. It proves that you’re not a dictator, a robot, or a narrow-minded stickler without common sense.

Rather, you’re someone they can trust, relate to, and believe in.

PS – I’ll be taking next week off for Thanksgiving, but will be back with a new article on December 2nd.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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20 Responses to When You Shouldn’t Enforce A Consequence

  1. Tara November 18, 2017 at 8:31 am #

    Continue loving your articles!!!

    • Michael Linsin November 18, 2017 at 11:22 am #

      Thanks Tara!

  2. Amy November 18, 2017 at 9:01 am #

    I teach my students hand signals for other students’ misbehavior. That way it isn’t disruptive, it gives me a clue to deal with the offending student, and it empowers students to also take care of themselves.

  3. Margaret November 18, 2017 at 9:18 am #

    I disagree. It is every students right to learn and any person has the right to remind another person to behave appropriately, allowing him to learn. It is not only the teachers job.

    If a child (x)sees another child (Y) being bullied or hurt in the playground, should X tell The bully to stop, or walk away because ‘it is the teachers job to manage behaviour’?

    If a pedestrian walking along the street witnesses a mugging, should he/she walk away?

    I teach my children to remind each other politely of appropriate behaviour. If I am reminded, politely, of something I forgot to do, I say’thank you for reminding me’. Children sometimes say it to each other too.

    We, all members of the classroom and wider community, should help each other behave appropriately.

    I would be interested in others’ views.

    • Michael Linsin November 18, 2017 at 11:06 am #

      Hi Margaret,

      When you get a chance, please reread the article. You’re confusing rights and responsibilities. The strategy is limited to the confines of the classroom where it is indeed the teacher’s responsibility to protect the right of every student to learn and enjoy school. It isn’t and should never be a student responsibility.

      However, the strategy acknowledges that it is okay to speak up and it is their right to say something if the teacher isn’t there to take care of it. Hence, the reason why you shouldn’t enforce a consequence. As for empowering students outside of the classroom to safely stand up for themselves and others—which is a different topic altogether—please check out chapter 11 in Dream Class.

  4. Mourad B November 18, 2017 at 10:18 am #

    I want to thank you 🙂

    • Michael Linsin November 18, 2017 at 11:21 am #

      You’re welcome!

  5. Chris November 18, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    “You’re showing understanding and compassion, and at the same time, making a statement through your actions that you respect the difference between the literal rule and the true spirit of the rule.”

    The essence of great classroom managenent in a nutshell. Yes, we must be firm and fair, but also flexible and use wisdom in each case, all without reneging on our principles. Thanks for showing us in specific detail how that looks, Michael!

  6. Sara November 18, 2017 at 10:35 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I would like to ask for your permission to translate some of the articles of this website and publish it as a physical book. I will include your name and the address of the website.

    Regards, Sara.

    • Michael Linsin November 19, 2017 at 11:24 am #

      Hi Sara,

      I appreciate your interest. The answer is NO. You would have to legally purchase the copyright to the articles, which is not for sale at this time. I do have some of my books published in other languages, but they were acquired legally through negotiation, compensation, and a signed contract.

  7. Emmanuel Lambon November 19, 2017 at 4:09 am #

    This your massages has made me the best teacher in my school. May God bless you.

  8. Susan November 19, 2017 at 5:43 am #

    I teach Kindergarten in a high poverty, high need school, and will simply say “Good for you” or give a nod of affirmation to the student who yelled out when they are defending their learning time, or defending their right to not be touched, pushed, etc. I then immediately return to the task at hand, whether it is a whole group lesson or getting the students in line for a transition.

    I have been reading these articles for several weeks, and as a result have made adjustments to my classroom management procedures. The information and suggestions make the most sense of anything I have ever read. I am huge on accountability, logical consequences, and “the less said, the better”.

    Thank you for providing useful, sensible, and appropriate information.

  9. Cynthia Fawcett November 19, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    Dear Michael

    Hi. 🙂 Thankyou, and Happy Thanksgiving. May God Bless you and your family ever sooo soo much. May you receive His beautiful blessings.

    We look forward to your future postings. 🙂

    Kindest Regards

  10. Cindy Au November 19, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    Ok, I teach in a large classroom of 35-40 freshman students for English. The most difficult class has 9 students with IEPs (special ed) and 5 English Language Learners and another 5-6 who are “led off task” by other students. This leaves more than 1/2 the class talking, off task, talking loudly and generally working hard to prevent any work from actually happening. Now this is in a class where I have set very clear rules, consequences and such but as the semester has progressed and the work has increased in difficulty so has the off-task behavior. I have an RSP teacher in the class as well and still it feels like a zoo every single day. We have a warm up routine each day that now only 1/2 the class follows while the rest are busy talking or getting out of their chairs. Each day we have talks, try for positive incentives, siilent reminders, name on board for warning. This is LAUSD.
    Students in this class are on average about 3 grade levels behind in skills and have been tracked in “struggling” classes for most of their school careers.

    I have changed up lessons, incorporate visuals, change seating, try to have regular class participation, send the most egregious students to the dean, individual conferences, calls to home, talks to student privately….so far the behavior is getting worse as we approach the 20 week end of semester period.

    How many other teachers are dealing with these types of ratios of off task students with learning disabilities or that students just don’t care about their academics after the first 2 weeks, maybe less?

  11. Ellen November 22, 2017 at 6:30 pm #

    I have a great many students with extraordinary issues that make their day time schedules a real challenge. This is a regular elementary with some ED students that create havoc in their classrooms and several students with anger issues. They are allowed to “misbehave” by their regular teachers and for me to do otherwise would create more havoc. Although, the students are watching and if I don’t intervene, other students will misbehave as well. Big issues here.


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