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6 Tips to Manage Disruptive Students

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January 02, 2024


Disruptions – A Problem Without an Easy Solution

Disruptive students are one of teachers’ biggest frustrations in the classroom. They make it difficult for both students and teachers to focus on the business of learning. Teachers wonder how they can make students start behaving and stop disrupting. Sadly, they can’t.

We want to make kids be good, after all, that is what is best for them (and us!). Boy, do we try to make them be good, trying all kinds of things that don’t provide us with a real solution. Instead, read on to learn what works and what doesn’t, and try out these strategies in your classroom.

Strategies We Know Don’t Work With Disruptive Students

Punishment: We threaten, “If you don’t stop that right now then you don’t get any recess!” (which, as you know is more of a punishment for the teacher than the student anyway). The problem with punishment is that it just makes everyone feel bad, but doesn’t actually change anything.

Negative Attention: Of course, we aren’t purposely giving kids negative attention. Yet, when we nag them to stop, constantly reprimand them, yell, and focus on that student we give them what they crave – attention.

Bribe: When nagging and punishing don’t work, we turn to bribery. We promise parties, candy, treats, extra recess, and more if kids will just stop whatever annoying thing they are doing. Again, this doesn’t work, for a variety of reasons. Primarily this is because it externalizes motivation, keeping the burden of the student’s behavior on the teacher, not the student.

Jessica Minahand and Nancy Rappaport, authors of The Behavior Code, remind us that:

Behavior is communication. Behavior has a function. Behavior occurs in patterns,”…“The only behavior teachers can control is their own.

So, if none of this works, why do we do it? Well, because we don’t know what else to do. Sometimes, we do it because it feels good at the moment when we’re frustrated or angry. Or, we do it because someone else told us it would work.

What to do Instead

So, what should we do? It’s important to remember that we can only control ourselves. As much as want to control our students, a child remote hasn’t been invented yet. The good news is that by controlling ourselves, we drastically increase our influence on others.

  1. Stay Calm & Connected: Be aware of your own emotions, reactions, and feelings. Tommaso Lana of Edutopia, suggests mapping the classroom. Visualize the places you spend the most time, the traffic patterns you follow, and, perhaps most importantly the feelings you associate with each area.
  2. Self-Awareness: Be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions to student misbehavior. Sometimes, we internalize student behavior to mean something about us. Perhaps you fear you aren’t an effective teacher and when a student isn’t listening that reinforces your belief. Controlling thoughts, feelings, and reactions starts with awareness and raising your EQ.
  3. Look for Patterns: Though you don’t control student’s behavior, your own behavior may be contributing to negative behavior patterns in the classroom. When you change your own patterns it often encourages the others involved in the pattern to change too.
  4. Observe: Once you’ve spent time mapping your classroom and gaining awareness of what causes you to react, take time to sit back and quietly observe. This may seem counterintuitive. At first, you might feel like to you need a straitjacket to stay seated and not interfere. Try observing from many different angles. You’ll gain a new perspective and the ability to keep from living off knee-jerk reactions. Lana advises teachers:

“During this experiment, you shouldn’t leave your observation post and really must remain silent. The goal is to create a situation in which you expressly avoid whatever negative attention you usually give —verbal or physical—and comprehend your students’ needs more fully.”

Act on Your Observations

  1. Consequences: Often we use the word consequences interchangeably with punishment, but they are not the same. Sometimes, we need to let the natural consequences do the teaching. Set rules for your classroom and put the burden of choice on the students. Students should know what will happen if they are disruptive. Not just because you are doling out random threats in an attempt to convince them to behave, but because it is part of a greater management system.
    Consequences are well-thought-out negative or positive results of behavior, while punishment is reactive. It is important to consistently and calmly enforce the rules of the classroom.
  2. Accept your students’ choice: We want so badly for our students to make good choices! We try so hard to encourage good choices that it can be classified as manipulation. Lay out the consequences and allow them to do the teaching, rather than trying to punish kids into being good.

Self-Control Leads to Classroom Control

Eliminating disruptions from the classroom is a process that takes time. While we can’t control our students, we can influence them. Learning self-control and learning from their consequences is something that will help them throughout their lives, not just for the few short months they are in our classrooms.

By: Amy Curletto

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

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