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How to stop disruptive classroom behaviors

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

Disruptive behavior in the classroom is a teacher’s nightmare. It wreaks havoc and puts a damper on classroom learning, never mind all the extra time it takes up. This kind of behavior might seem like a mystery to solve, but it’s not. There are strategies you can use to deal with it and avoid situations that could lead to disruptive classroom behavior in the future.

Solving the problem of out-of-control classroom behavior

Classroom management is one of the most challenging parts of teaching. If you can’t manage your class, nothing else matters. The best way to manage your class is to understand your students and what motivates them. You can’t expect to control your class if you don’t know what motivates them.

When a child misbehaves in a classroom, a teacher cannot simply ignore it. The behavior must be addressed and corrected.

There are several parts to the process of correcting disruptive classroom behavior:

Identify the problem. When a student is acting out, keep a record of it. Do not let the behavior slide because you think that there is nothing you can do. Make sure that you have a paper trail, as it can be useful later on in identifying what triggers the behavior.

Solve the problem now. Once you identify the problem, take immediate action to solve it for that day's class session. Identify the trigger for future sessions and prevent similar problems from occurring again in class.

How do you deal with an "out-of-control" child who continues to disrupt your classroom?

The first step is always prevention. Once something has happened that requires consequences or discipline, then all you've done is come up with an answer to how to deal with this student's behavior after it happens. And you can do better than that.

Preventing disruptive classroom behavior

Take care of yourself. You can't help students if you aren't feeling well or if you're under the weather. Get enough rest, eat right, stay hydrated and get medical attention if needed.

I'm not advocating that you shouldn't be teaching on your "off" day; however, there is a difference between continuing to teach and taking care of yourself physically and emotionally.

If you need to take a personal day, do so—it's better than having a horrible classroom experience and ruining your day and the rest of your week because of it.

It is also important to take care of your mental health. If you find your mood dips in the evenings or that you are experiencing more stress than usual, then it is worth looking at what may be causing this distress. As educators, our jobs are stressful enough without adding unnecessary stressors.

Fortunately, outlets are available to help educators deal with stress. These include:

  • taking a walk outside or getting some fresh air;

  • playing with a pet;

  • listening to music;

  • reading a book;

  • watching a funny movie;

  • talking with friends and family;

  • meditating and exercising.

Prepare for the worst. Make a list of behaviors that might occur in your class and select two or three steps you can take in response to each one. This will allow you to respond calmly and consistently as you encounter the behavior, rather than allowing it to disrupt your teaching.

You'll also want to be sure that you have an "exit plan" in place. If a disruption persists, what will you do? Where will you go? Who will you call?

There are no easy answers when a misbehaving student is distracting others from learning, but by planning ahead and taking a few simple steps, you can help keep things under control.

A lot of teachers will tell you that the number one thing they stress to new teachers is to make a plan for handling classroom behavior problems. Some common ones are:

  • Students who talk over you

  • Students who won't put their phones away

  • Students who won't pay attention

  • Students who don't follow directions

  • Students who are disrespectful toward other students

  • Students who show disrespect toward you as the teacher

Plan ahead. Lay out your class schedule and get ready for every lesson by reviewing your plan and any materials that might be helpful. You might even practice certain lessons with students ahead of time to make sure everyone knows what they're expected to do.

After you've planned, review your expectations for each lesson with students. Describe how they should behave, what they should do if they don't understand something or if they need help, and how you want them to respond when you ask questions.

During the class period, take periodic breaks; give students a chance to refresh themselves so they can keep their focus as they go through the work.

Try to incorporate movement into every lesson whenever possible, whether it's having students walk around the room or do jumping jacks in place while waiting for others in line at the washroom. Also pay attention to distractions in the classroom.

Students who are disruptive in class can be a challenge for teachers. They may talk out of turn, move around the room, or even fight with their classmates. A student's behavior might disrupt the entire class, which can make it hard to teach.

If you have disruptive students in your class, let them know why their actions are disruptive. Students who don't realize they're being disruptive will continue to be just that — disruptive.

Don't let disruptions get to be too much. Ask for help from a teacher you trust. When a student is disrupting your class, ask another teacher for help dealing with them before it gets out of control.

Be proactive. Be proactive in your own classroom. Encourage students to tell you when they see a problem. At the same time, watch for early signs of potential issues. If a child is having a hard time in class, ask if there's a problem with attention or behavior.

If you notice a pattern developing, talk to the student and his parents about it before it escalates into a full-blown problem. This might be the moment when you suggest getting extra help from your school counselor or using an educational software program at home.

The best way to avoid trouble in the classroom is to nip it in the bud when it's still small. If you notice behavior at home or in the neighborhood that might indicate problems at school, talk it over with the student and his parents.

If you have a student who's disruptive in class, don't ignore the behavior. The more you ignore it, the more it will escalate. Try talking to the student and let him know that his behavior is distracting other students and making it hard for everyone to learn.

Students who misbehave in class do so because they're not getting something at home or something is wrong at school. The first step is to try to figure out what's causing the problem.

The next step is to talk with the parents about the issue. What are they doing at home? Are they able to help their children stay focused during class? Are there things about the child that teachers need to know, such as a certain way he learns best? If necessary, offer to help them find services for their child, such as a tutor or social worker.

Sometimes behavior problems are caused by frustration or misunderstanding. If so, you may be able to resolve the situation by offering extra help with a particular subject or giving the student more frequent feedback on his progress. It's important to listen to the student's side of the story, too, so you can figure out why he's frustrated or acting out.

Sometimes behavior problems are caused by underlying issues in families or communities, social problems or other factors beyond your control. In these cases, it's important to know when to step in with extra help.

If a situation is getting worse, consider consulting with school counselors, teachers, administrators or other professionals who might be able to offer specialized assistance.

Once behavioral problems rise above a certain level, schools may have to take action. You should know your school's policy for dealing with disruptive students and follow it consistently. That way you won't undermine your authority as a teacher by letting discipline problems slide for too long.

If you're like most teachers, you've already got more than enough to do. You can't spend every moment of every day correcting student behavior. But you also can't afford to ignore disruptions.

When students are acting out, they're not learning. And when they feel ignored or punished by you, they may lash out even more. It's a downward spiral that makes teaching even harder than it already is.

So what can you do?

Highlight positive behavior. Make a point of noting when students do something right, so they know that there are rewards for following the rules.

You face the difficult task of maintaining control of the classroom while still encouraging positive classroom behaviors in your students.

To help your students learn to control their behavior in the classroom, use positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior in class. Focus on specific behaviors instead of general ones.

For example, instead of saying "Thank you for working so quietly," you could give them positive feedback on their listening skills by saying "I noticed that everyone was listening so quietly when I was reading my story."

This gives them something specific to focus on and gives them an opportunity to improve their behavior without feeling ridiculed for not doing their best.

Give second chances. If you give students opportunities to correct their behavior before moving on, they're more likely to get back on task quickly. If you give up on them after only one misstep, they're more likely to give up on themselves and become even more disruptive.

Model good behavior for students. It's often easier to model good behavior than it is to correct inappropriate behavior, but good modeling takes practice and self-awareness.

As a classroom teacher, you're responsible for making your class run smoothly and providing a safe environment for learning. Here are some ways you can model good behavior.

Model good manners. If you want students to call on each other and wait for responses before talking themselves, you need to do the same. When students ask for your opinion on a topic, listen carefully and respond thoughtfully. This will show them how it's done.

Set clear limits. If you don't want students interrupting each other or arguing, you need to set limits. Tell them that it's okay for them to disagree with each other as long as they're following the rules of discussion.

Make examples of "bad behavior" concrete. If you catch someone breaking the rules, say something like, "When Ted started talking when I hadn't finished speaking, I had trouble thinking about my next point."

Whatever the issue is, focus on how it impacted your ability to teach or learn – not on what a bad person someone is.

This is especially important if students haven't had much experience with grownups who set limits and stick with them. It shows students how they should behave when working with peers.

Getting the results you want in your classroom

As with everything else in life, you must model the behavior you expect. If you want your students to be productive and respectful of one another, then your behavior must reflect this expectation.

If you want your students to be focused on the task at hand, then you must focus on the task at hand. You can't be doing all kinds of other things while you are trying to teach —texting friends, checking email, etc.

Have expectations for each lesson, know how long it will take, and don't let students veer off topic. Be prepared for what will happen if they do — make sure that you have alternative plans in place if something unexpected happens or if the lesson takes longer than usual.

Classroom management is the one thing that every teacher needs to succeed. It is possible to create a classroom environment where students are well-behaved and learning is taking place.

Key to creating this atmosphere are effective classroom rules, effective classroom management strategies, and effective teaching strategies. When these are combined with an instructional style that takes student learning styles into account, you will have created a classroom environment where students are engaged in the learning process.

Teaching is one of the most important professions in the world. As an educator, your goal is to help students learn and develop into productive members of society. When students are disruptive or disrespectful, they are not engaged in the learning process.

It’s your job as teacher to see that this doesn’t happen, and to take action when it does.

By combining problem-solving strategies with techniques to keep students engaged in learning, you can create a classroom atmosphere where learning is meaningful and effective for everyone involved.


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