The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 48 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host

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I share a lot of other people’s blog posts on my Facebook page, and the person whose stuff I’ve probably shared the most is Michael Linsin, the teacher behind the website Smart Classroom Management. Every time I go to his site, I just keep saying “YES” over and over. I really believe that any teacher who needs guidance on classroom management will find the best stuff there. So my main goal in this episode is to introduce you to Michael Linsin, give you a taste of his philosophy, and urge you to visit

In our interview, Michael and I talked about how teachers can start the school year on the right foot by setting up a simple, clear classroom management plan. We talk about what the plan should look like, and more importantly, how teachers should introduce that plan to their students. And that’s the real key, the thing that makes Linsin’s work so special; it’s his highly detailed, super specific approach to teaching rules and consequences that’s different from anything else I’ve ever been exposed to on classroom management. I’d go so far as to say Linsin has found the secret sauce to running a classroom that’s well-behaved, cooperative, and happy. By the time you’re done listening, you will definitely have some new ideas for how you can run your classroom this year.

Before I play the interview, two things: First, I want to thank those of you who have left a review for this podcast on iTunes. This really helps bring more listeners to the show, and I absolutely love finding new reviews to read, so if you’re enjoying this podcast, take a few minutes to go over to iTunes and tell me what you think.

Second, I want to mention another podcast you might enjoy. It’s called the Hack Learning Podcast and it’s hosted and produced by my friend, Mark Barnes. In 2015, Mark and I co-wrote a book called Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Since then, Mark has developed a whole series of books he calls the Hack Learning series, and he now does a podcast where he talks about hot topics in education and shares some really cool ideas. In episode 49, Mark talks about how teachers can use the free book previews available on Kindles to engage reluctant readers.  In Episode 25, he shares some really interesting thoughts about that really snarky sign that went around social media a few months ago where the teacher announced that no extra credit would be offered. The episodes are quick and practical and I think you’d really like them. So again, that’s the Hack Learning podcast, and you can find it at

Okay, let’s get to the interview: While you’re listening, notice Michael’s tone of voice, his calm demeanor. I want to point this out because I think that’s another big key to his success as a teacher. I’ve heard so many teachers who speak to their students in tones that are bossy, sarcastic, or just harsh, or they use what they think is a “teacher voice,” which can often come across like they’re talking down to students. If I imagine Michael Linsin talking to his students with the same quiet confidence he has in this interview, I can see how that calm would rub off on students as well.  

Now here’s my interview with Smart Classroom Management’s Michael Linsin.


GONZALEZ: Michael, welcome.

LINSIN: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me. I appreciate it.

GONZALEZ: I have actually wanted to have you on my podcast for a while, because I am constantly sharing stuff from your website with my Facebook audience. If I get questions from people about classroom management, I’m constantly sending them over, and I say, “If you just look at Smart Classroom Management, you will find what you need.”

LINSIN: Wonderful. Well, thank you.

GONZALEZ: You are still currently in the classroom, correct?

LINSIN: I am. I have a 50 percent assignment in high school. For the first time in 25 years, I’m teaching part-time, and I write the rest of the day. I teach half the day and write the rest of the day.

GONZALEZ: Oh, that’s a nice arrangement. That’s great.

LINSIN: Yeah. It’s good.

GONZALEZ: Right now, are you teaching English?

LINSIN: I’m teaching physical education, PE.

GONZALEZ: Did you at one time teach English? For some reason I thought you were an English teacher at some point, but maybe I’m mixing you up with someone else.

LINSIN: I have an English credential.

GONZALEZ: OK, that’s what it is.

LINSIN: But I’m not using it at this time.

GONZALEZ: OK. The main source of a lot of your information is Smart Classroom Management, but you have also written four books. You’ve got a book called Dream Class from 2009, The Classroom Management Secret, which you wrote in 2013, and then you did a book that was specifically for art, music and PE teachers, and that was 2014. And then just this year you have released your newest book called The Happy Teacher Habits, which I am reading right now, and I am loving it so much. This to me, from what I can see, is your first real broadening out from just specifically on classroom management.


GONZALEZ: It is wonderful, and I’m going to link in my show notes to all of MIchael’s books, and maybe I can have him on some other time to talk about The Happy Teacher Habits, because I’m only halfway through, but it is a fantastic book. We’ll talk more about that some other time.

LINSIN: Thank you. I appreciate that.

GONZALEZ: What I wanted to do in this episode was just to give my listeners something that they can take with them at the beginning of the school year to get off on the right path, because one of the things you do on your site a lot is you talk a lot about the missteps that we take in classroom management and how they end up being counterproductive.

LINSIN: Occasionally I get accused of blaming teachers, which I never want to do, but I think it’s instructive to show some of the mistakes that we made, and I think when teachers see themselves in those things, then the solution becomes that much more powerful.

GONZALEZ: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that you advise people to do is to keep a very simple, clear classroom management plan that you introduce to students at the beginning of the school year. If you could, just give us an overview of what your most basic classroom management plan would look like. This is a system of rules and consequences.

Establishing Rules

LINSIN: Let’s take rules first. I think it’s really important, regardless of the grade level you teach or the subject that you teach — whether it’s you’re down in kindergarten or you’re teaching juniors and seniors — I think it’s important just to think about how you can protect your students’ right to learn and also protect your freedom to teach. You want to think about all those behaviors from your experience that are interfering with those two goals, and you create a set of rules as boundaries that protect that freedom, that box inside. Listeners can’t see me right now, but I’m creating a box with my hands. I like to think of it as there’s freedom within the box or within the square, and then we have borders. Our rules create borders to protect, or boundaries to protect the freedom to teach and the students’ right to learn and enjoy school, have fun and enjoy learning.

GONZALEZ: So what do those rules actually look like, the rules that protect the students’ right to learn and your right to teach? I know that you really are a strong advocate for simplicity.

LINSIN: Yes. They certainly can vary, again, depending on what you’re teaching, but I definitely recommend a listening and following directions rule. I think that probably shifts regardless of what you’re teaching or where you’re teaching. I think it’s important, and we can flesh this out a little bit, but I think it’s important that students raise their hand before speaking or leaving their seats, even at the high school level. What’s nice about that rule and with all rules is that you can define them, we can talk about that also, through modeling in the beginning of the school year, so you can define your rules to make them fit your situation or what you want from your students. If there are times when you want them to be able to call out, then you define when those times are.

GONZALEZ: The default setting is, Unless I say so, we’re all going to raise hands before we speak and before leaving your seat, just to keep a level of courtesy in here and so we all know where we stand.

LINSIN: You can certainly do it that way, or it can be a particular routine, so there can be a time of day, so you set that up beforehand, so that at this time of day you can always do that.


LINSIN: Like, when the lesson is finished, or whatever, when I’m finished speaking, then if we want to call out during a particular time, I think that’s OK. I think those times probably are pretty far and few between. It might be a very small portion of the day, because you can lose control very quickly if you don’t ask students to raise their hands. It also isn’t fair. The students who are shy or less outgoing get lost in the shuffle. That would be the first two rules. A third rule would be respecting each other and respecting the teacher. Again, it’s a very broad rule, a general rule, but you would define it, you’ll define exactly what that looks like in your classroom through modeling and practicing in the beginning of the school year. The younger the students are, the more you would model and the more detailed you would model. The older the students are, you would still model but maybe less so. You would be very, very specific about what it looks like, even using examples, the most common examples that you’ve seen through your teaching career.

GONZALEZ: With kids of that age group, yeah.

LINSIN: With kids of that age, so you would proactively describe and then model the exact behaviors that you’ve seen, and say, “OK, this behavior breaks this rule,” etc.

GONZALEZ: OK, good. That is something that we’re going to talk about. Once we go over what the rules and consequence look like, we’ll talk more about how you advise teachers to roll this out to their students, and it sounds like modeling is a key part of that, actually showing them what it looks like when you are following or breaking one of these rules.

LINSIN: Yeah, it’s really important that you put yourself and your students on record that this is what this is ahead of time, so there are no arguments or misunderstandings down the line. It’s important to mention that in elementary school, you may only have four general rules that pretty much can cover everything, but in high school, you may have 12, 14, 15 rules, because those students really are adept at finding loopholes. The longer you teach, the more you add to those rules, because those students can be so creative.

GONZALEZ: So you’ve got, listen and follow directions, raise your hand before speaking or leaving your seat, respect your classmates and your teacher, and then there’s one about hands and feet.

LINSIN: Oh, OK, yeah. In elementary school, that’s important to keep hands and feet to yourself. It’s certainly important as a PE teacher, so that’s a rule that I use. I think that’s a good one to cut down on play fighting and that kind of thing.

Establishing Consequences

GONZALEZ: Once a teacher’s got these general rules established, and there’s going to be some teaching of them, we’re going to talk about some ways to do that, then you’re also introducing the consequences for not following these rules. We talked a little bit ahead of time, and what you were telling me is that your original set of consequences was more geared toward elementary, but we’re going to talk about how that can be adapted for middle and high school kids also.


GONZALEZ: So the consequences would be what?

LINSIN: I think it’s really important to have a warning, regardless of what grade you’re teaching. A warning is a courtesy. It’s not really a consequence, it’s a consequence by name only. It’s a way of saying, “You messed up, but you have a chance to fix it. You have an opportunity to fix it.” And I think that’s really important, and I think it’s important for students to be given that opportunity. The second consequence, for elementary anyway, and at least through sixth grade, and I think middle school teachers have to determine whether time-out is appropriate or effective after sixth grade. I think it depends on the school, it depends on you as the teacher, and the culture of the school. The students, how mature the students are. But anyway, I do believe in an in-class time-out where students don’t participate in the class, but they are required to listen and do all the work that’s required of the class.

GONZALEZ: They’re physically, even though they’re still in the class, they’re physically set to the side somewhere within the room, separated?

LINSIN: Yes. And it’s more of a symbolic separation than it is a physical separation, so it doesn’t really have to be … we don’t want them isolated. I prefer just kind of at the side of the room, just to show that right now you’re not a member of the class, you’re not an official member of the class right now. You have to behave a certain way, and if you’re interrupting teaching and you’re violating those rights of the rest of the class to learn, then we have to pull you out for a time.

GONZALEZ: Let’s talk for just a second, because I know that this scenario right here is something that teachers deal with a lot: You ask the student to go to whatever the time-out location has been established as, and the student resists going. So then what do you do?

LINSIN: Nothing. You don’t do anything, at least immediately. I’m a really strong advocate, and over the years, I’ve really worked this out and tested it. All of my advice I test in the actual classroom and with other teachers, and I believe in never ever creating friction with students. I believe in never lecturing, scolding, any of that kind of stuff, because every time you do it, it just makes managing your classroom more difficult. We want to create leverage. We want that student to respect their teacher, love being part of the class, and because they have the freedom to enjoy the classroom, and because they love being there, this gives the teacher this great feeling of leverage. You have the feeling that when you give a student a warning it really matters to them, it really means something. When you send a student to time-out, they go to time-out, because they know the mistake they’ve made. When they’re sitting in time-out, they then reflect on their mistake rather than being angry at you. Instead of seething in anger at you or being angry because they feel they didn’t do anything wrong, and I know I’m going into a lot here, but because you defined everything in the beginning of the school year, they understand that they’ve made a mistake, that it’s not you, right? Because you did it politely and, in a way, almost robotically, more as a referee, they go without complaint 99 percent of the time. Then when they’re in time-out, it matters to them, it really means something, and they don’t want to be there. They want to be part of a class they love being part of. When there’s that separation there, it’s very powerful. So if a student refuses to go, I wouldn’t do anything. If they don’t go, I wouldn’t do anything.

GONZALEZ: You just keep teaching, continue on …

LINSIN: Keep teaching and wait for them to calm down, and then I’d wait until they’ve forgotten about it.


LINSIN: And then I go over and ask them again to go to time-out, and then let them know that I’ll be calling home later that day, that we’ll go to the third consequence. This is at an elementary school setting.

GONZALEZ: Right. It sounds like all of these conversations are happening privately. This is not you across the room saying to them, “Get over to time-out.”


GONZALEZ: And that’s a big key, right? We’re trying to avoid a big public power struggle with the students?

LINSIN: Yeah. And you’re also going to, in the beginning of the school year, you’re going to model exactly how you’ll speak to the students and what you’ll say. You’ll say, “I’m going to say this to you, and then this is what you’ll do.” And you’ll sit in the student’s chair, in their seat, and you choose a student to play the part of the teacher, and you’re going to goof around or talk when you’re not supposed to or whatever, and they’re going to put you in time-out, and you’re going to show them exactly how to go to time-out. You’re going to tell them what you do in time-out, how you reflect on your mistake.


LINSIN: I also recommend the student deciding when to leave time-out.

GONZALEZ: Oh, that’s good.

LINSIN: That doesn’t mean that they stand up and leave whenever they want. They have to ask. But they’re going to ask you—and this is again something you’ll model—they’ll call you over, and they’ll say, “I’m ready now. I understand the mistake I made. I’m ready.” You’re not going to force this out of them. You’re not going to question them or force assurances from them. They just have to say that they’re ready.

GONZALEZ: OK. That’s huge. Honestly, I think that’s going to be such an epiphany for a lot of teachers that the student decides when they’re ready, but it is not them sneaking back or trying to get away with something. So much of this is built on the relationship that you’ve established with these kids at the beginning of the year.

LINSIN: Yeah. Everything is very honest and upfront and transparent, and “this is how we do things.” We do it in such a way where we’re very respectful of the students. They know that we’re never going to pull them aside and embarrass them. We’re never going to pull them aside and scold them or point our finger at them or give them dirty looks or anything like that, that every day is a new day, and that student who had a bad day the day before, we’re going to welcome them and be excited to see them the very next day. It’s a really powerful approach. I use the word “leverage” a lot, because that’s the feeling. When I’m standing in front of the classroom, I know that I have the upper hand in the relationship, because they love being there. They want to be there, and they’ll do anything not to sit in time-out.

GONZALEZ: I’m thinking about some teachers listening to that, and they will be thinking about specific students of theirs, and they will be thinking, “That kid does not love being there, so I cannot use that as leverage.” And I know that for you, a lot of that leverage comes from the quality of your instruction and a lot of the things that you do with the environment to make it a really welcoming and exciting place for the student to be in the first place.

LINSIN: I really believe in shifting responsibility to students. When I visit classrooms, really most teachers are walking around with the weight of the world on their shoulders. They take all responsibility for student learning, if students are struggling, if students are misbehaving, they take all of that upon themselves, and the students are gadding about without a care in the world. We need to shift that. I really believe teachers should teach, and students should learn, and that there’s a very clear definition, a clear difference between the two. I won’t do anything that is a student’s responsibility.

GONZALEZ: OK. Give me some examples.

LINSIN: I have an article called “Why You Shouldn’t Care if Your Students Misbehave.” Because I really don’t give a wit at that time when it’s happening, because it’s not me, it’s a choice they’re making, and there’s a consequence for that choice. I’m not going to take it personally. I’m not going to personally take on and feel like that student is doing that because of me or somehow that I’m causing that or that I have to take the burden of that misbehavior upon myself, if that makes sense. We can unpack that a little bit more.

GONZALEZ: It does make sense. I really think one of the biggest mistakes a teacher can make with classroom management is taking things personally, because then your emotions get into it, and you start making really bad choices as a teacher. Having a little bit of professional distance from the situation helps you to make smart choices.

LINSIN: Yeah. It’s one of those things where you’re incredibly personable with the students, and you build really close relationships, but when it comes to classroom management, you’re an unfeeling robot, almost. Or a referee on a football field. You call them like you see them. Present the facts at parent conferences, or if you have to call parents, you just give them the facts, and that’s it. “I know you’d want to know.”

GONZALEZ: Yeah. Without using judgmental language, just describing what you have observed, and this is what’s happened.

LINSIN: Exactly. No judgment whatsoever. This is what happened. It may sound incredibly altruistic maybe, I’m not sure, but it’s really selfish in a way, because I want to love my job, and I want the students to be eager to listen and learn, and this is the way to get there.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. We got to what the rules and the consequences are, I’m going to review them really quickly, and then it sounds like a big key to this is what you actually do in the first couple of days to introduce your policies to the students. In general, we’ve got listen and follow directions, raise your hand before speaking or leaving your seat, keep your hands and feet to yourself, and respect your classmates and your teacher, and there may be some adjustments for older kids. And you are actually working on an ebook right now for middle and high school teachers to talk about some of the finer points of these things for them.

LINSIN: Yes, and it should be ready this month. I think the date is July 27th.

GONZALEZ: That’s perfect, because this episode will come out right around the same time, end of July, early August, so we’ll link them right to that.

LINSIN: OK, great.

GONZALEZ: And then the consequences would be the first time is just sort of a courtesy warning to let them know that they have started down that path. The second, for younger kids anyway, is a time-out, and there may be some alternatives for older kids, and then the third time would be contacting home. And would that also be for older kids, contacting home?

LINSIN: Yes. Uh, yes. It’s either the third or fourth consequence, but we can talk about that. It’s really important to mention that there is no magic in the rules and consequences themselves, right? They mean nothing, really. It’s how you present them and then how you fulfill them.

Introducing Your Classroom Management Plan to Students

GONZALEZ: Let’s talk about that. How do you present them?

LINSIN: If we talk about how we present them, we’re going to present them in, we talked a little bit about this before, a most transparent way. With the rules, it’s going to be in a highly detailed way, and transparent in that we’re going to let them know ahead of time, we’re going to cover everything, we’re going to lay it all out on the table right up front. It can avoid drama and arguments and trying to convince students to behave, which is a no-no in Smart Classroom Management land. We don’t convince students to behave. We create an atmosphere they love being part of, and then we hold them accountable, we protect that sacred place, your classroom. We model those rules so there are no misunderstandings about what they mean, and what behaviors that they cover. And we do that through highly detailed modeling. We model very, very specifically what those things look like, and then the path the misbehaving student would take from warning to call home and, to the most extreme, if they continue to misbehave later in the day, we need to send them back to time-out, continue to cycle them right back to time-out.

GONZALEZ: Walk us through that, if you will. Think of a rule that you think not enough teachers model, and they end up having a lot of problems because they don’t. And how exactly would you model this for your students? Because I know you were talking at one point about swapping roles with them and having you be the student and having one of them be the teacher. What does that actually look like in one of the first few days of school for you to model a rule like that?

LINSIN: As far as teachers not modeling enough rules in enough detail, it’s all of them. Almost every teacher doesn’t model with enough detail in the beginning of the school year. You would model from your perspective as the teacher and as a student, so you may be sitting in a student’s chair with the students surrounding you showing them precisely how to raise their hands. The more detailed you are, even to a ridiculous degree, the more effective and powerful it is. I may show them the actual bend in the elbow of how to raise their hand, the finger placement …

GONZALEZ: And the kids are probably making fun of you this whole time, like, really?

LINSIN: Yeah, well they think it’s hilarious. They think it’s fun. And that’s the other thing. I make it fun. I want the modeling to be fun, and so I’m going to exaggerate their behaviors. If it’s stomping and complaining about this and that, I’m going to model those student behaviors in an exaggerated way, and so I’m going to make the lesson fun. I’m going to make them enjoy it. The more detailed you can make it, even if you add in insignificant details, funny insignificant details about things, it’s memorable, and it’s impactful. They tend not to do those behaviors that you’ve made fun of, for lack of a better phrase, so if you really exaggerate those behaviors, they tend not to repeat them.

GONZALEZ: I’m thinking about the pencil tapping with middle school boys. They just want to keep tapping those pencils over and over and over again, and it’s not any particular rule that they’re breaking, so you have to show them and have the kids help you identify, “This is what that looks like, this is what rule you’re breaking,” and then you’d actually walk through the process of how you would respond as a teacher?

LINSIN: Yeah. And that’s a good example of something that might be very specific to you, so you would add that as a rule. You could have a different consequence for that. I’m not sure if that’s a behavior thing, but it could be that you, I don’t know …

GONZALEZ: I think that’s respect for your classmates and your teacher, maybe, it’s making it hard for them to listen.

LINSIN: Certainly. I think you’re right. And so, yeah, if that’s been a big problem, you’d have it as its own rule. And that’s the thing. As the students get older, you want to have those very specific rules, you know? You can add, “No throwing the volleyballs at each other,” you know? That kind of thing.

GONZALEZ: Right. So you’re teaching this the same way that you would teach any other content, with examples and modeling, and you test them, right? Not written tests, but you ask them, you’ve made a point about being skeptical when you’re teaching these. Not being sure that they’ve got it, so asking them to model it for you?
LINSIN: Sure, yeah. After you model, then you have them model. You may have the whole class showing you how to raise their hand, how to get up to get a tissue. You may have one model, and then you’ll have five model, and then you’ll have them all model at the same time. Yeah.

GONZALEZ: Once this is all sort of in place, and would you just not teach any content at all the first couple of days? Just really devote the first few days of school to just teaching how the classroom is run?

LINSIN: First, it’s all teaching, and it’s all good. A lot of teachers will say to me, “I don’t want to teach routines.” And I always say, “What’s the difference? It’s all teaching. It’s all the same, good stuff.” It’s good teaching. You’ll model everything you do. Modeling is good teaching. You’ll teach very specific everything you do. You want to make everything as crystal clear as possible. You want to give your students the best chance to succeed, and so you’re going to walk them through what they need to do to succeed, whether it’s lining up to go to lunch or being respectful to each other, what that looks like, or dividing fractions.

GONZALEZ: Right. Yeah, that’s a good point.

LINSIN: I do believe it’s important, on the first day of school and the first week of school, I think it’s important not to just do classroom management all day long. I think an hour is OK. I think it’s really important to preview for your students what the classroom is going to look like. It’s not just expectations, it’s, “Here’s what the experience of being in this classroom is going to look like.” I think it’s important that they’re excited about it too. You have to sell your program. My number one goal is not that at the end of the day that they know the rules and consequences. My number one rule is that they’re happy and excited to be part of the class. That they run home to their parents and say, “Oh my gosh. I have the best teacher. I have this awesome class. We’re going to do this and that this year. It’s going to be great.” Because then that’s what’s going to give you the leverage. The classroom management secret is to create a classroom that students love being a part of and holding them firmly accountable, you know?

GONZALEZ: And that’s the leverage.

LINSIN: Yeah, that’s the leverage.

GONZALEZ: It’s that they want that.

LINSIN: You asked about academics. I think it’s really important to jump into academics on the very first day of school all the way to the last day of school too, because that’s what we’re there for. We’re going to do academics also on that first day.

GONZALEZ: If I’m a seventh grade teacher and I’ve only got 50 minutes and maybe the idea is do an overview of the rules and consequences, model some of the most important ones that are likely to come up soon, and then get into something kind of fun and exciting that’s academic also?
LINSIN: Yeah, because let’s say you have time to only model one rule, right? If you model it in a highly detailed way, it transfers. They begin to understand that you’re going to expect that with everything. Routines also. The first routine you teach of the year, you want to teach the heck out of it …


LINSIN: … to a remarkable, ridiculous level, because what it does is you’re not so much teaching the routine, you’re teaching how to do things the right way. You’re teaching excellence. You’re setting the tone for “this is how we do it here.” We do things the right way, and we pursue excellence in everything we do, even lining up. Because then that will transfer to our math lesson, that will transfer to the way we treat each other, all of those things. So if you see a teacher who kind of lets them line up, you know? They’re going to bring that to everything else they do also.

GONZALEZ: You’re teaching a whole value system, really, with that. I’m thinking back to my years of teaching, and that was my number one mistake was at the beginning of the year I was like, everybody’s behaving really well right now, so I’ll wait until a problem comes up, which sounds like if I had done it your way and gotten really detailed on one procedure or one rule, then they understand that that is going to transfer over to everything else.

LINSIN: Yeah, and this is a big leap, but even if you’re really focusing on excellence in everything you do, and you’re really expecting that, you’re creating this atmosphere they love being part of, and you’re holding them strictly accountable and you’re consistent, and they know you’re consistent, and they know you’re going to follow through, those misbehaviors really disappear, they really do. And then what’s really crazy is you’ll wonder, “Oh my gosh. Why are my test scores so high? I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even talk about testing,” and then, “Why are my students performing so much better in everything? I’m not really doing anything more than I’m just kind of really, really teaching expectations about everything we do.” I’ll give an example. I think it’s really important to teach students how to take a test.


LINSIN: You want to just put yourself in their shoes, and you want to give them the tools to taking a math test, for example, and how to do that. You want to do it to a degree where you’re even going to show them how to get up out of their seat and carry their paper to turn it in. You’re going to put a little piece of tape down on the floor where they stop, and they have to look at it again and go through all their answers again. And then they’re going to turn around and go back to their desk and look at it for a second time. Right? And then they’re going to go up and they’re not going to cross that piece of tape, they’re not going to cross that line, unless they know for a fact it’s the very best they could ever do, right? It sounds like a ridiculous thing, but it changes them, it changes how they behave, and they go on to the next year, and their next teacher is like, “Oh my gosh. We have some students who are so far ahead of everyone else. Where did they learn how to do this? Where did they come from? Why are they telling me that I need to do this, this and this to be a better teacher?”

GONZALEZ: That’s exactly what you want us to teach. For some of these kids, all of that stuff is going to come natural, because they’re very detail-oriented kids who are always going to want to double check things and make sure they’re doing things the right way. For other kids, they’ve never even been exposed to that kind of thinking, so you’re teaching them how to treat all of the moments of their lives with a little more care than what they’re used to doing, and that transfers over to a lot of other areas.

LINSIN: Yeah, you’re teaching them how to be successful. The idea of classroom management, of my website, is not just to get through the day. Right? It’s to create an experience those students will remember for a lifetime, and it’s to make an impact on them that lasts for years down the line when they contact you 20 years later. When they don’t remember any of their elementary teachers except for you.

Should Teachers Use Token Economies or Public Behavior Charts?

GONZALEZ: This is why I want to send people to your website. I want to ask you two questions before we finish up, because this has been so great so far, but I’m hoping at the beginning of the school year, I know right now I’m going to have a lot of teachers listening, and they’ve already at least one of these two things in place. They’ve either got a reward system in place, some sort of a token economy or a sticker thing or whatever it is. And/or they’ve got some sort of a public behavior chart with the clipping up and clipping down or something where the kids move their dot to one spot or another. Tell me a little bit about your feelings about these extrinsic rewards and consequences for behaviors.

LINSIN: I think token economies are the absolute worst thing for kids.

GONZALEZ: All right. Tell me why.

LINSIN: Absolutely awful. And the research backs me up on this. Despite what you’ll hear, that it’s research-based, the fact is in the moment you can get a student to do something or a person to do something by rewarding them, but when you do that, you take the intrinsic value of doing that, whatever that is, you strip them of that, you take that away from them. If you have a token economy where you’re paying them for everything that they do, for behavior, for listening, and all those kinds of things, you’re taking the joy out of learning. You’re taking the joy out of being part of your class, out of building relationships, out of the joy of succeeding, of not being able to know how to do something or to be struggling with something and then to overcome that. You’re taking that away. You’re bribing them for their behavior. You’re paying them to do something that already has value.

GONZALEZ: So you’re substituting another false value for something and so then they don’t recognize the true value of it.

LINSIN: It cheapens the transaction. And some students, who are already intrinsically motivated, deep down inside they’ll say, “Please don’t do that to me.” And then when we do it for difficult students like through behavior contracts and stuff, we’re patting them on the head and say, “You know what? We know you can’t do it, so we’re going to trick you into doing it. We’re going to manipulate you into doing it.” They may smile. You gave them a fake certificate and a Jolly Rancher, and they may smile and everything, but deep, deep down it’s crushing to them. If you didn’t earn it, it means nothing, and they know it.

GONZALEZ: Well I hope that is going to give some teachers a little bit of pause as they are preparing these other systems and have them consider something that is a simpler system and replace something like that with just … I hate to say it, but better teaching.

LINSIN: There are a hundred more reasons why not to use token economies, I just touched on a few, or to use any rewards whatsoever. I don’t believe in using any of them. And praise for only things students are worthy of it. That creates a joy-filled classroom of mature students, hardworking students who love their teacher. Here’s the thing. It sort of builds on itself, it gives the teacher the freedom to be an inspiring teacher, right? And so it just gets stronger. Because the more the students like being there, and the more they want to behave, the more freedom the teacher has to really be a teacher. A lot of these teachers, they haven’t developed any skill for performance, any skill for drama or for storytelling, because they’re just yelling at the students, and they’re glaring at them, and they’re trying to control their classrooms.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. It’s all about coercion instead of … I’m on your chapter in “Happy Teacher Habits.” I just got started. And I just posted, actually a quote of yours, on Instagram about once you remove the rewards and consequences, that’s when the real performance can start to kick in, and you were doing the Kennedy Center analogy of you’re actually walking your students through this beautiful lobby and they’re wearing their fancy dresses, and it’s an event now, it’s not just forcing compliance out of them with cheap rewards.

LINSIN: I got goosebumps.

GONZALEZ: I’m telling you, man, that’s a great, great book. We could probably do nine more hours on all of this. And that’s the thing about whenever I go to your site, I find all of these threads to other articles that really get into the finer points of a lot of these. Before we started recording, you were saying that there are so many different directions to go, so my goal here is just to introduce people to your overall sort of theories and then send them over so they can find a lot more.

LINSIN: That would be awesome.

GONZALEZ: Thank you so much for giving me this time.

LINSIN: Anytime. Anytime. I’m happy to come back and talk about high school classroom management plans or whatever you want.

GONZALEZ: Good deal. Good, good. This has been really enjoyable. Thank you so much. You have a good rest of the day.

LINSIN: Thank you.



For links to all the resources mentioned in this episode, including all of Michael’s books, go to and click on Episode 48. To get weekly updates on all my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, and products, sign up for my mailing list at Thanks for listening, and have a great day. ♦