I Stopped Holding My Students Accountable And Here Is What Happened

Smart Classroom Management: I Stopped Holding My Students Accountable And Here's What HappenedSo I ran this experiment.

And enough time has passed that I can now share it with you.

Here’s what happened:

I was halfway through the semester with a class I really enjoyed.

I had prepared them well to start the year by employing the same strategies I teach here at SCM.

And it showed. They were polite and well-behaved. They were independent and listened well.

We were cruising along, and I couldn’t have been happier.

But for the sake of knowledge, and for a deeper understanding of what many teachers face every day, I thought I’d try something interesting.

For one week, I decided to no longer rely on my classroom management plan. That’s right. I just stopped following it.

I didn’t change who I was or how I interacted with students. I didn’t raise my voice or begin glaring and lecturing.

I just stopped holding them accountable.

So when a few students began whispering to each other while I was giving instruction, which was the first misbehavior I noticed, I just paused and smiled or gently asked them to stop.

But that was it.

I continued in this manner as more rule-breaking began popping up. This wasn’t a surprise. Remove accountability and it’s bound to happen sooner rather than later.

But what I wasn’t prepared for, and found most curious, was that my relationship with my students quickly began to change. By Wednesday morning, it was clear that their opinion of me had dropped a few notches.

They no longer looked at me the same way. They weren’t as friendly or as pleased to see me. Some hardly made eye contact and nearly all were markedly slower to listen and follow my directions.

I started to feel like the invisible man.

Although they were never out of control or outright rude and disrespectful, I could feel the animosity building.

Toward the end of the week, I was coaxing and cajoling them through lessons and all but tap dancing to keep their attention. I ramped up the engagement and overt friendliness, but could still feel control of the class slipping away.

My leverage and influence was fading before my eyes and my leadership presence was fading before theirs.

They, in turn, began showing signs of frustration and discontent. They grumbled under their breath and expelled sigh after sigh, all over the room. Their enthusiasm waned and they slumped lower and lower in their seats.

I was working in a challenging school, mind you, but it became clear that my simple kindness and good humor alone weren’t enough to stem the downward tide.

They needed accountability as their counterpoint.

One thing I found especially interesting about the experiment, and heartening, frankly, was that as the week went on more and more students approached me to ask variations of, “What are you doing?” “Why are you doing this?” and “Are you okay?”

By Friday morning, I decided that enough was enough and came clean about the experiment.

They were relieved, to say the least. Many laughed and said that they knew something was up. Some even mentioned that they had been worried about me.

After a quick review of the rules and consequences and promising never to do it again, things went back to normal almost immediately. Blessed peace returned to the kingdom.

That afternoon, I asked them to write about their experiences. We shared out in groups and as a class. It was a great lesson in the value of firm boundaries—and not just in class, but in society and in their own personal lives.

They came away with a deeper understanding of how and why a fair, consistently followed classroom management plan is for them, not the teacher.

They learned in a memorable way that it’s the very thing that ensures their right to learn and enjoy school, that it safeguards them from disruption and frees them to focus on their responsibilities.

They also learned just how profoundly even minor misbehavior can affect others as well as the entire mood of the class.

Done right, as we recommend here at SCM, accountability is a powerful force for good. It’s a wonderful benefit for students and indispensable to creating a happy and well-behaved class.

If you’re anything less than fully committed, consistent, and faithful to your classroom management plan, then double down on it today.

Take a stand for your students.

Make a promise to yourself and to them that you will follow it exactly as it’s written.

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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47 Responses to I Stopped Holding My Students Accountable And Here Is What Happened

  1. Scott February 3, 2018 at 8:29 am #

    Wow. Just wow. Proof in the pudding, Michael. And your Life Lesson for that class is invaluable to them (and now to us).

    • Claudia A February 4, 2018 at 6:04 am #

      I work in a school in which the whole school is out of control from kindergarten through eighth grade. The students run the halls in pack including kindergarten. The students walk out of classrooms, curse teachers our, throw food on walls around the building and curse out the principal.

      I have two sections of sixth grade classes. Both classes do what they want to do. I enforce rules consistently but they ignore them. Most of the times they are on their phones blatantly and out in the open. My lessons are planned and I have used your ideas for a classroom management plan. They worked for my classes every year except for the last two years.

      During our first report card conference only six parents showed up for a total section of forty-six students. I had one parent that gave her phone to her daughter. I kept calling leaving messages and was not getting any response. Most of the numbers are disconnected. I did one home visit with the climate manager for another child but the behavior doesn’t change.

      Up until two years ago I hated breaks for holidays. I used to have excitement about teaching and watching my student thrive. I have always been able to manage very disruptive children with various management strategies including yours. I have given up. I cry every day (not in front of them!). The love of teaching I have lost and I am heart broken.

      • LLopez February 5, 2018 at 9:28 am #

        Claudia’s experience is a cautionary tale about the entire school needing a management plan of sorts. I hope for her sake, and the students’, the teachers and administration can come together to establish a new culture. And by the way, it is my experience that students can behave well at school regardless of the background from which they come. I have taught children of criminals, and while they may not have ambitions to become doctors and engineers, they do understand expectations and consequences.

        • Claudia A February 7, 2018 at 4:34 am #

          ” it is my experience that students can behave well at school regardless of the background from which they come.” I agree 100%. Thank you for your response. There needs to be a new culture established and higher expectations of children which is lacking. Its a new day today…..I will try my best to get a piece of success.

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 3:09 pm #

      Thanks Scott!

      • Claudia A February 7, 2018 at 4:44 am #

        Hello this is Claudia. Would I be able to re-work my classroom management plan in February. I have never had to do this and I know it’s insane. What tips can i get from you or any one here.

  2. Susan G. Bohs. February 3, 2018 at 8:37 am #

    Any experienced teacher could have predicted what would happen. It’s great that you turned it into an object lesson for your students.

  3. Ryan February 3, 2018 at 8:40 am #

    Hi there,

    I want to thank you for taking the time to compose these very helpful posts about classroom management. I read them every day and I find them very valuable. I do have one request- and that is for you to provide an example or two from your classroom management plan. I know every plan will be different because every class has its own unique set of challenges, but I find it helpful to read about specific strategies that can possibly be implemented. You refer often to the “classroom management plan” but provide few examples. Speaking for myself, I’d love to hear about 1 or 2 examples from your plan.

    • Michael Linsin February 3, 2018 at 10:51 am #

      Hi Ryan,

      The exact classroom management plans I use can be found in the link in the above article (“classroom management plan”) and in the e-guide The Smart Classroom Management Plan for High School Teachers. We also have a category in the archive called Classroom Management Plan, where you can find tons of examples and strategies of how best to implement them.

  4. Donna Abbott February 3, 2018 at 9:27 am #

    What are your consequences? Just curious.

    • Michael Linsin February 3, 2018 at 10:52 am #

      Hi Donna,

      Click on the link in the article (“classroom management plan”).

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 3:08 pm #

      When you get a chance, follow the links in the article, use the Search box, or look through the archive at right.

  5. Lisa Clipp February 3, 2018 at 9:35 am #

    Mr. Linsin, over the last two years, I have purchased and pored over your books. I have transformed my classes with this year experiencing the largest change yet. And my circle of influence continues to grow, quietly and subtly, as I implement my plan. I can’t begin to thank you enough for your wisdom. Much of what you advocate was already brewing inside of me, but I needed the courage to put it all into practice. You were the mentor I needed at just the right time. I have been teaching for nearly 15 years, and I can honestly say it is never too late to have a dream class. If I ran your experiment now, I know my students would react the same way as yours, asking me “What’s up?” Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your books and website. You rock!

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 3:07 pm #

      Thanks Lisa! I very much appreciate your kind words, but you did it. Way to go!

  6. Elizabeth S. February 3, 2018 at 9:39 am #

    Hello. I really enjoy your articles and book. I know I slip up and let things start to slide and it affects my classroom (I’m a second-year teacher). I do have the set of rules and the consequences. My question is that it seems pretty reasonable for older kids to make it through a 1-hour class with 0-2 violations, but when you’re talking about 5, 6, 7, 8-year-olds who are in a room with you for 5 hours a day, is it reasonable that they will not slip up 3x a day and whisper to a neighbor or blurt out an answer? I want to think that it is, but many wiggly, young kids can’t keep that up for so many hours before getting their clean slate. What do you think? And then, of course, there are many times of the day NOT spent in desks doing whole group, but kids start to goof off. You can’t apply the regular rules because they are supposed to be out of seats and talking, but that seems to need a whole different set of rules. Should there be two sets posted, one for whole group and one for small groups? Any advice is appreciated.

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 3:06 pm #

      Hi Elizabeth,

      I think you can and should expect more from your students. You don’t need another set of rules. You just need to clearly define the activity and what is expected of students.

  7. Carrie February 3, 2018 at 10:01 am #

    Great article. Question, what can a teacher do when the behavior continues with no follow through from Adminstration?

    • Michael Linsin February 6, 2018 at 9:03 pm #

      Hi Carrie,

      This is not a requirement of the SCM approach. When you get a chance, I encourage you to dig into our archive or pick up one of my books.

  8. Rebecca February 3, 2018 at 10:31 am #

    I would love to know more about your classroom management plan. It seems that what works for my 1st and 4th period classes does not work for my 7th period class.

    How does your work for all your classes?

    I am drowning here.

    • Michael Linsin February 6, 2018 at 8:59 pm #

      Hi Rebecca,

      It’s designed to work the same for all classes.

  9. Jenny Street February 3, 2018 at 11:15 am #

    I’ve been in the classroom (public, private and home schools) in SA and beyond for 25 yrs and this is a constant truth. Children thrive on accountability – sure they’ll test you, that’s their role as teenagers – but stay firm and make them accountable by enforcing those consequences of their choices.
    Well done Michael!

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

      Thanks Jenny!

  10. Randy Revels February 3, 2018 at 1:39 pm #

    Hello! I read all of your articles and I am planning to purchase your high school guide shortly. I just wanted to say that it really has helped me, but I do have what seems like a huge problem still. I have trouble pin pointing misbehaviors to who did it because I have vision issues and the students like to play the “it wasn’t me” card because they figure out my handicap fairly quickly. Could you point me to any posts you’ve made that might help?

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

      Hi Randy,

      I’ve written a number of articles on the importance of observation and supervision. You can find most in the Learning & Independence category of the archive.

  11. Nayan Morar February 3, 2018 at 3:23 pm #

    Hi. thank you for all of your inspiring articles.I teach English (Home Language) and I need your expertise to resolve this dilemma: How would you approach a senior class that seems to have a” reputation” to defend? They’re great kids, individually but as a group, they’re different. They offer considerable resistance to change for the better. If one learner isn’t prepared for a task, then the rest aren’t; there are also learners who do not actively participate in a lesson because they’ll be frowned upon by the ‘leaders’ of the pack. Thanks for handling this query.

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi Nayan,

      This is a big question that I don’t have the time or space to cover here. I’s also have a lot of questions for you. You may want to consider personal coaching.

  12. Natalie February 3, 2018 at 5:04 pm #

    Love this!! Is it ever too late to start this? I know you got your kids back on track fast. How long does normally take to get your kids back on track if you haven’t been as consistent for not than a week and want to get back on the plan?

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 2:57 pm #

      Hi Natalie,

      No, it’s not too late. As for how long it takes, it depends on you and how familiar you are with our methods.

  13. Penny February 3, 2018 at 5:40 pm #

    I especially like the following line: “It was a great lesson in the value of firm boundaries—and not just in class, but in society and in their own personal lives.”

    Learning about boundaries has been one of my big life lessons! I have often been puzzled and surprised that kindness and friendliness isn’t enough to guarantee the same from others. I have found this to be true not just with children, but in many adult and family relationships – especially marriage!


    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 2:56 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Penny.

  14. Mary February 3, 2018 at 6:01 pm #

    I love your work but it often seems to be better for primary kids who are willing and eager to learn. I’m not sure how to implement it for high school students?

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 7:51 am #

      Hi Mary,

      I’m currently teaching high school. The strategies and approach are the same, but the classroom management plan is different. Be sure to check out The Smart Classroom Management Plan for High School Teachers.

  15. sleeplessinseattle February 3, 2018 at 11:42 pm #

    Great experiment. What does everyone think about PBIS? It’s at my school, and my brother in law’s school, and we don’t like it because we think it is ineffective, for that very reason, it doesn’t seem to hold students accountable.

  16. Jonatan February 4, 2018 at 6:20 am #

    Thank you for showing us the results of your experiment, Michael. Consistency is hard sometimes, but as you showed here, we need to do it for our students (and ourselves).

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 2:55 pm #

      You’re welcome, Jonatan.

  17. Gary February 4, 2018 at 1:46 pm #

    Good insight as usual!

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2018 at 2:55 pm #

      Thanks Gary!

  18. Sharon Tabaczka February 4, 2018 at 7:03 pm #

    I was always given the instruction as a teacher that you could start to “relax” around Halloween. The same behavior happened as you described when I tested this advice.

    *I greet my elementary art students in the hallway as you suggested. I have added the notion of eye contact as they enter the room. I make it fun and it helps the shy students make a quick safe connection.

  19. LJ February 6, 2018 at 12:55 pm #

    Thank you for the articles! I was wondering if you could direct me to an article about how to deal with a child who will not move when given a consequence – whether out of defiance or because they are struggling emotionally. (I noticed someone else asking about this but couldn’t find the articles you referred them to). As I am unable to force the child to move physically, they end up having their time out at recess instead but still feel like they have won. Any advice would be great. Thanks.

  20. Zach February 6, 2018 at 11:24 pm #

    I have a question, how do you keep students engaged? I feel as though my classroom management plan is holding up, but I sometimes see my students getting restless. I teach middle schoolers, so you can already foresee what types of things I go through. How do I pace and chunk my class, so my 50 minutes classes don’t seem like 500 minutes?

    • Michael Linsin February 7, 2018 at 8:50 am #

      Hi Zach,

      This topic is covered extensively in The Happy Teacher Habits. There are also several articles in the archive, which are most likely found in the Learning & Independence category.

  21. Jerome February 7, 2018 at 4:03 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights, they’ve been hugely helpful. A bit off topic, but while I was in a remote Latin American village, they helped transform a class of middle-schoolers, and the kids loved the class. I think the principles in your writings would benefit many other teachers there. Are any of your resources available in Spanish, and if not currently, are there plans for that (or any other languages)?

    • Michael Linsin February 7, 2018 at 5:25 pm #

      Hi Jerome,

      My books are translated and published in Chinese and Korean, but rights to other languages are still available to publishers who are interested.



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