Separating Classroom Disruptions from Concerning Behaviors

While some classroom disruptions can be signs of a student in distress, many are simply acts of ignorance or disrespect that do not indicate a higher level of concern. Common examples include arriving late to class, inappropriate comments or questions, and interrupting the lecture or discussion. By sharing your concerns with the student in a private setting, you’ll have an opportunity to assess whether the student would benefit from additional support.


A Basic Agenda for Confronting Disruptive Behavior:

In most cases, disruptive classroom behavior can be addressed through a simple conversation with the student involved. We recommend the following this 4 step approach to resolving most issues.

  1. Ask the student to speak with you privately.  This can occur during or after class but it is best to do so at a time when it will be least disruptive to the rest of the class (during a break, during group work time, following class).  In most cases, we recommend speaking with the student during or immediately following the same class in which the behavior occurred. This should happen in a private location – one where others will not overhear you. This is done to prevent embarrassment or the perception that you are belittling the individual involved.  In extreme cases, ask the student to step outside for a minute while you provide the class with something to think about or work on.
  2. Objectively inform the student of the problem behavior.  It is best to express concern without judgment. An example might include: “I wanted to speak with you because I noticed during class that you [describe behavior].” For those that prefer a more blunt approach, try, “I need to give you some quick feedback about your performance in class.”  It’s important to focus on the behaviors and to avoid anything that might sound like a judgment of the student themselves – after all, we don’t know what is causing these behaviors. You might also use this time as an opportunity to share the impact of their behavior. An example, you might include, “When I see you [describe behavior], I find it very distracting. I think other students might be distracted as well and find it hard to focus on what is being shared.”
  3. Inform the student of your expectations for their behavior going forward.  This can done simply by reiterating that the behavior described cannot happen going forward. In most cases, however, it is best to frame this part of the conversation in terms of what you WANT the student to do. For example, “Going forward, it will be important for you to save some of your comments until we have an opportunity for group discussion.”
  4. Ask the student if they can abide by your expectations going forward. Often neglected, this last step is used to ensure that the student received the message and understands that you plan to hold the student accountable. It also offers the student an opportunity to object and share his or her own concerns. An example here might include, “Does what I’m sharing sound reasonable to you? Do you think you can continue in class without [describe behavior]?”


Questions to Ask Yourself After Interacting with the Student:

  1. How did the student react to the feedback?  Was the student accepting and understanding or were they defiant and irrational?  In most cases (nearly all), students will react by accepting the observations raised and providing an apology.  If not, it may indicate a larger issue that is likely impacting other aspects of the student’s experience. In these cases, we would recommend sharing your concerns with our office to a) see if there have been other instances, b) brainstorm methods for reinforcing your expectations.
  2. Did the student over-react to your feedback by becoming overly-emotional? If so, the student might be struggling personally and need additional guidance or support to manage their stress. Examples of “over-reacting” might include crying outbursts, deep physical reactions, panic attacks, etc.
  3. Did the student share a personal issue/problem as a way to explain the issues involved? If so, then the student’s behavior might be a sign that the student is struggling to cope with the problem by themself. Often the stress of a personal issue may impact a student’s ability to focus or might cause the student to act out in some way.
  4. Were the student’s thoughts logical and connected or were they disjointed or confused? If the student had trouble keeping their thoughts together, seemed unfocused or distracted or if the student appeared confused, these might be signs of a greater issue for which additional support might be necessary.