6 Weapons of Influence Inside the Classroom

Have you ever made a decision only to ask yourself.. Why did I do that?  Everyone does this at one time or another.  The question is:  Why does this process occur?

We all believe that we are logical creatures that are driven by reason.  However, this is not always the case.

In 1984, Arizona State University professor Robert Cialdini wrote one of the most powerful books ever conceived.  This book called: Influence has been one of the best resources for marketing execs looking to sell products.

In Influence Cialdini identified 6 principles that persuade our decision-making.  These are: Reciprocity, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.

How does this apply to the classroom?  Simply put, it applies to almost every interaction that we have in life and the classroom is no exception.  Most days it takes influence to get the students motivated to work to their potential and follow directions. I am not going to focus on all these today, but rather on the one most relevant for teachers.

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“Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment” (Cialdini, 2009, p 52).

Classroom Application

The key to getting students to complete necessary tasks is to have students commit publicly to small actions. For instance if a student is being defiant, have him comply with a simple task and move up the compliance ladder.

Teacher: Johnny, all you have to do is take out your pen…  Good…  Now turn to page 75…  Excellent!  Read me just the first sentence on page 75…  You did such a great job reading why don’t you read the rest of the paragraph…

Get the picture?  The teacher is having the student comply with simple tasks that build on each other. This is similar the Zeigarnik Effect: “Once people start doing something, they tend to want to finish it (Dean, 2011).”  Which Larry Ferlazzo wrote about in 8 Things Skilled Teachers Think, Do and Say.

Another great way to use this is to have the students commit to learning, cooperation, or self reflection and then remind them that they have done so.


Teacher: Johnny, what did you tell me this morning before class?

Johnny: That I was prepared to learn today.

Teacher: And is this an example of what you said earlier about being prepared to learn?

Johnny: No, but..

Teacher: But you told me you were prepared to learn today. Now please turn to page 75.

Johnny: Okay.

Phil Jackson, in his book Eleven Rings, describes how he took a page out of Vince Lombardi’s book and had them publicly commit.

Jackson had players stand along the baseline and ask, “If you wish to accept the game I embrace and follow my coaching,” Jackson told them, “as a sign of your commitment, step across that line.”

Not a bad idea to start on the first day of school because you can always remind them of that commitment.

As I wrote in an earlier post, 3 Reasons the Tribe Does Not Follow , rituals can create consistency and commitment.  If the ritual has been followed before, it is more likely going to be followed again.

This ritual can be the beginning of the period everyone grabs a warm-up and begins work before anything else is said once entering the classroom.  Get them to do it the first day, and they will psychologically commit in the following days if you tell them that is the class routine.


  • Establish a routine that is consistent
  • Remind students that they made a commitment
  • If a student is defiant, move up the compliance ladder

David Palank is a teacher and principal at San Miguel School. A school dedicated to transforming lives and making private school education affordable for those who would not be able to afford it.  He believes that solutions in education can be found in many sources and not just educational research.


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