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Best Practices for Managing Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom


Effective prevention

Establishing norms helps prevent disruptive behavior and allows you to react effectively in the moment. In addition to using your syllabus to set academic expectations, you can also utilize it to create classroom behavioral expectations. What constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior may vary widely depending on the nature and size of the class, the comfort level of the faculty member and the content of the course. Faculty have found it helpful to:

  • Outline both productive and disruptive types of behavior.
  • Outline the process by which disruptive behavior will be addressed.
  • Outline consequences for ongoing disruptive behavior.
  • Verbally address classroom expectations regarding behavior on the first day of class. It can be especially effective to talk about the type of behavior you want to see, as well as that which is disruptive.
  • Model the type of behavior expected from the class.

How to respond to a disruption, in the moment

Your direct intervention will work for a majority of situations; however, some behavioral issues will be more complex and/or ongoing and may require additional consultation and follow up. Depending on the situation, you may want to contact the Office of Student Conduct, Student Counseling Services, or the Department of Public Safety for additional support.

It is important to remember that if the disruption causes immediate concern for personal safety, do not hesitate to call the Department of Public Safety at (567) 661-7575.

What to do

Stay calm and listen to student concerns – identifying the catalyst for disruption can help you address the situation in the moment or in a later meeting.

  • Be steady, consistent and firm.
  • Acknowledge the feelings of the individual.
  • Remember that disruptive behavior is often caused by stress or frustration.
  • Address the disruption individually, directly and as soon as is appropriate.
  • Ask the student to see you after class to address the disruption so you can explore the causes of the incident and discuss appropriate behavior.
  • Be specific about the behavior that is disruptive and set limits.
  • If necessary, you have the option to remove the student from that class session if the student does not comply with your actions. If the student does not leave after being asked to do so, call the DPS for assistance. If you ask student to leave class, please submit an Incident Report to make the Office of Student Conduct aware of the situation.
  • Pay attention to warning signs that the situation is nearing escalation toward violence.
  • Be aware of your own limitations – operate within your own scope of comfort.

What to avoid

  • Do not allow the behavior to continue.
  • Avoid making it a class issue – address only the student who is causing the disruption.
  • Avoid an argument or shouting match.
  • Do not blame or ridicule the student or use sarcasm.
  • Do not touch the student.

Suggestions for intervening in a disruption

  • Keep your focus on the student. Rather than say, “Class, we all know that talking during lecture is disruptive,” say, “Jane, your talking during class is disrupting the lecture and I need to ask you to stop.”
  • Be clear about the behavior. If the student is talking out of turn, tell them. Rather than ask, “Do you have a question?” say, “Jane, now is not the time for discussion. There will be an opportunity for questions and debate at the end of the lecture.”
  • Nip the situation in the bud, referring to the syllabus regarding expectation and behavior. “Jane, you will note that in the syllabus, talking during lecture is considered disruptive behavior. If I need to ask you to stop talking again, I will need to ask you to leave.”
  • Distress is often the cause of a disruption. It is important to recognize the stress while still addressing the behavior. Rather than say, “John, you are clearly emotional right now and you need to stop arguing,” say, “John, I can see that this topic has you upset; however, we need to bring this debate to a close.”
  • If you need to ask the student to leave, do so clearly and directly. Rather than say, “Get out! Go! Get out of here!” say, “John, your behavior has exceeded what is acceptable for this class and it is time for you to leave. I will be in contact with you via email to discuss future class sessions.” At this point, it is a good idea to pause class until the student exits the room.

What to do following a disruption

While many disruptions are minor and can be managed in the moment, it can be beneficial both to document the incident and follow up with the student. Documenting what you experienced and the steps you took will be helpful if you need to pursue a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. Clear communication with the student helps to set expectations and prevent further disruption. The following are suggestions to consider, following an incident:

  • Document the details about the incident, including the time/date/location, the behavior of the student, the actions you took and how the situation was resolved in the moment.
  • For minor disruptions, an email can serve as both a tool to remedy behavior and to document the incident. In the email, you should include the observed behavior, your expectations for class and how they differ from the observed behavior, and the consequences of continued disruption.
  • In some cases, a meeting with the student may be required to discuss the behavior in more depth, explore appropriate solutions and set clear guidelines and consequences. You are welcome to contact the Office of Student Conduct ahead of time to discuss how to handle such meetings.
  • If the disruption is more egregious or a behavior is ongoing, you should submit an Incident Report to alert the Office of Student Conduct about potential violations of the Student Code of Conduct.
  • If you have questions or additional support is necessary, please contact the Office of Student Conduct: (567) 661-7159, studentconduct@owens.edu.