Minimizing disruptive behaviors to facilitate student learning

by Jack Caldwell, John Hawes, and L. Scott Philyaw, PhD

Effective classroom management is rarely part of our formal training as faculty members. Yet, we are still expected to respond to a variety of external pressures impacting campus climates across the nation. Whether a student is passively disinterested or actively disruptive, their behaviors can impact the learning experience of the entire class.

The following tips are intended as a starting point to facilitate further conversation and consideration. In addition, we invite you to consult the CFC Educational Development team for further guidance by calling our main number, 828-227-7340.

  1. Much disruptive behavior arises from students who feel alienated from the class. This can be minimized by creating a sense of community in the classroom. Know and use your students’ names. A professional classroom atmosphere also facilitates positive student learning.
  2. Model the behavior you expect from students.  For example, speak in a normal voice.  Listen to student’s questions and comments and respond respectfully.
  3. Have a contagious positive attitude.  Treat every day as a new opportunity for success in your classroom.  Don’t assume the worst of your students.
  4. Boredom can contribute to disruptions. If your lessons are unclear, disorganized, or not engaging, students may shift their attention elsewhere.
  5. Move around your classroom throughout the class period when you’re teaching and when students are doing group or individual work.  Students notice when you’re engaged with their progress.  Give hints and suggestions to students as they work on problems.
  6. Prepare students for critical feedback by helping them to expect it–such as when the instructor announces that for this activity they will be the devil’s advocate in responding to students’ comments.
  7. Not all disruptions are worthy of a response. If it is minor, ignore it. If needed, you might consider a nonverbal cue, such as a raised eyebrow, an inquisitive look, or walking toward the student. Alternatively, engage the student with questions about the topic at hand.
  8. If you have concerns about negative changes in a student’s behavior or performance—such as a formerly engaged student who seems to be increasingly disinterested in the class and their studies, consider using the Issue Alert system.
  9. Use appropriate interventions.  Do not embarrass students in front of their peers.  If you need to talk with a student about their behavior, do so in a way that is respectful and encourages more positive behavior.  Consider talking to the student privately.
  10. For more serious disruptions reiterate your expectations and consequences. Then follow through as warranted.
  11. If needed, separate the disruptive student(s) from others. Invite them into the hallway for a private conversation.
  12. If a student becomes a threat to themselves or others, your first priority is to keep the other students safe. If necessary, you may send another student to request assistance from a colleague or campus security.
  13. In all cases, remain calm. Do not show negative or angry emotions. Remaining in control of your reactions helps maintain your authority in the classroom.
  14. You should always document troublesome incidents and notify your department head.
  15. Be clear about classroom norms and your expectations of appropriate behavior in a university environment.