Five Reasons Why You Should Not Write Referrals

@MrBrettClark 10 Comments

Recently, as a member of my school's behavior team, I have been collecting data on referrals from written over the last month.  I've looked at the students, the teacher who wrote it, the time, location, and the reason for the referral.

It has really made me think about how I handled my classroom when I was still a classroom teacher and what is the purpose of writing a referral.  I can say that my position has changed as I have gotten older. I remember being the number one referral writer in my school my first year teaching.  I also know I was near the bottom my last year in the classroom.  Now, I'm no expert on classroom management but I feel like I was pretty successful.  I have just grown to believe that, except for violence or drugs, there is probably no need to ever write a referral or remove a student from your classroom.

Here's why:

  1. It tells the student that you've given up. As soon as you send students out of the classroom, you have told them that you can't handle them, don't want to handle them, and you're not going to handle them.  Nobody wants to feel like they've been given up on.  
  2. Kids can't learn if they are not in your room.  I remember asking many students where their schedule says they are suppose to be during my class.  They inevitably said, with a puzzled look on their face, "Your class Mr Clark."  I always told them that they were right.  There schedule didn't say the office, in-school suspension, or anywhere else.  They were meant to be in my class and we were going to work it out together.
  3. It makes it easier to send them out the next time.  Once you start sending a kids out of your room, it gets easier each time.  It's what happened to me my first year teaching.  Every day it got easier to send kids out for whatever reason.  Once you've crossed that path, where do you go from there?
  4. It doesn't help the student.  I don't know how else to say it other than that.  It just doesn't.  If writing a referral helped, then I would have been teacher of the year my first year teaching.  It is a temporary fix for a larger problem.  When students are having problems, they don't need less teacher interaction, they need more.
  5. It doesn't help the class.  We tend to tell ourselves that we are doing it for the good of the class but if we are honest with ourselves, then we would admit that it's really for us.  We just get tired of dealing with the situation and we are seeking relief for ourselves.  If anything, it weakens our role as the leader of the classroom. 
Now this does not mean that you have to be a pushover and let kids get away with murder.  You must deal with the issue and get it resolved by any means necessary.  If you don't, then both you and the students in the classroom will be destined to struggle.  Failing cannot be an option.  It can't be an option when it comes to learning and it can't be an option when it comes to behavior.


  1. AMEN! Data shows that these methods (referrals, OSS, ISS) doesn't help change behaviors. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is what? INSANITY! We need to be more sane and humane in how we approach these issues.

  2. Hey Brett,

    I really respect your honesty. It completely validates both the experiences I had when I was a first year teacher and lessons I learned during subsequent years. It's a tough but critical message all new teachers should learn. Thanks for sharing.


  3. If the referrals are not written, how can the school see common trends effecting the school. Patterns of misbehavior. Where professional development may be needed to be written. If there is no proper documentation how can we support. Should we not take test grade or assignment grades?

  4. sorry, but documentation is sometimes necessary. referrals are not to be abused, for sure, but they have their place in the intervention schema.

  5. Hey Pal,

    Do you remember writing this?

    SUCH a remarkable post.

    I'm thinking about it today in context of the South Carolina Cop Throws Student Across the Room incident.

    Just wanted you to know that I'm reading what you are writing today.

    Rock on,

  6. Sometimes you have no choice ...

  7. Easily said in the context of day to day minor infractions. But come to one of my co-taught class rooms when a student is physically threatening you the teacher and another student, swearing and brandishing a wire basket above their head, and then tell me that writing a referral with the intent of removing that student doesn't help them or my other students who came to learn. And no, incidents like this one don't happen once in a blue moon :) This is the typical mentality of A- teachers who conduct honors or higher level classes in relatively affluent districts, or B- board of education personnel who have been out of the class room for too long.

    1. It's funny, because your response is the number 1 type of response I get to this post or when I present on this topic at conference.

      Here's the truth: I've taught drug dealers, students on house arrest for armed robbery, students who first got arrested when they were 9 and are currently serving a life sentence for murder. I've never taught in an affluent district or school.

      It's true that I'm not in the classroom and I've lost touch, a little bit, with what it's like to be in the classroom on a daily basis. However, when I wrote this post, I was still a classroom teacher. I'm not saying I was perfect and I handled everything peferctly. As I stated in the post, there are intstinces of drugs or violence where you have no choice. However, the very high majority of the time, situations can be handled without a referral.

  8. I've never taught in an affluent district/school (although they have their major problems too), and I wholeheartedly agree with this post!