The Ultimate Teacher's Guide to Discipline Referrals

Is It Time to Make a Referral?

Woman talking sternly to a student

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Classroom management and student discipline make up a significant portion of an educator's daily duties in terms of time and importance. Just as doing these effectively can boost your all-around success, doing them ineffectively can derail your whole day. Teachers who have a good handle on management and discipline find themselves spending more time teaching and less time managing than those that do not.

When improperly handled, discipline infractions distract the class, throw lessons off schedule, and negatively impact teacher-student relationships. Don't let your classroom feel these effects. Instead, aim to be a strong teacher that resolves issues quickly and appropriately with minimal disruption. Learn how to be a strong teacher that uses discipline referrals properly below.

Managing Discipline Referrals in the Classroom

Teachers must be careful that they do not make mountains out of molehills when students are out of line. Be sure that you are managing and evaluating a situation appropriately. If a situation warrants a discipline referral, send the student to the office. Never send a student to the office simply because you "need a break" or "don't want to deal with it". 

When to Make Referrals

As a general rule of thumb, use discipline referrals as a last resort. Students must be held accountable for their actions and there is absolutely nothing wrong with making use of a system that's there to help you, but complete reliance on the principal for handling disciplinary issues is indicative of ineffective classroom management on your part.

Of course, this works both ways. Teachers that never send students to the office aren't taking full advantage of resources available to them and might be spreading themselves too thin. You should never refrain from making necessary discipline referrals because you're afraid of what your principal will think, as long as you've evaluated the situation and determined that a referral is the right call. Most administrators understand what teachers deal with and are happy to help with reasonable discipline referrals.

Referral Guides

Many school administrators alleviate the stress on teachers to make the right decision by creating black and white guides to referrals; this makes everyone's lives easier by eliminating time-consuming guesswork. A guide like this should indicate what offenses should be dealt with in the classroom and what offenses warrant discipline referrals. If you are a teacher that feels like your school could benefit from this type of structured guide, mention it to your principal.

Handling Minor Disciplinary Offenses

The following offenses should generally be handled by teachers within the classroom. In most cases, retraining offending students in rules and procedures, then following through with established consequences, is sufficient to minimize reoccurrences. Because these offenses are fairly minor, a student should not be sent to the office for violating a single one.

However, recurring and/or unaddressed minor issues can become major quickly, so it's important that you do all you can to restore order as soon as possible. As a teacher, your role is to exhaust an array of classroom management and discipline techniques—including contacting families, enforcing logical consequences, etc.—before referring a student to the office. In most cases, these management and discipline techniques are enough to get a student back on track.

Common minor offenses include:

  • Possession of gum, candy, toys, and other prohibited items
  • Passing notes
  • Failure to follow procedures
  • Cheating on non-graded assignments (once)
  • Failure to bring appropriate materials to class
  • Petty conflict between students
  • Minimally disruptive behavior
  • Insubordination
  • Tardiness to class (first two occurrences)
  • Use of electronic devices for non-educational purposes (i.e. texting, social media, etc.)

Handling Major Disciplinary Offenses

The following offenses should result in an automatic referral to the office for discipline no matter what. These are dangerous, illegal, and highly disruptive behaviors that not only prevent others from learning and feeling safe in school but can lead to the expulsion of offending students.

Common major offenses include:

  • Blatant disrespect towards the teacher
  • Bullying another student
  • Cheating on a quiz, test, or exam
  • Missing detention twice after parent contact
  • Theft
  • Leaving class without permission
  • Obscene language or gesture
  • Fighting
  • Obscene pictures or literature
  • Vandalism
  • Smoking and/or possession of smoking materials or tobacco
  • Possession, consumption, sale, or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Possession of fireworks, matches, lighter, or another caustic device
  • Verbal abuse of adults or students
  • Repeated defiance/insubordination
  • Threats by word or deed

Many students never have serious discipline problems. These lists should serve as guidelines for what to do when a policy has been violated. As always, use fair and appropriate judgment in the exercise of any discipline. The goal of your disciplinary actions should be to prevent inappropriate behavior from occurring again.

Administrators will have the flexibility to respond differently to various situations. The frequency, intensity, and duration of misconduct influence possible consequences.