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Stop Defiant Student Behavior in the Classroom: 5 Necessary Steps

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

5 Ways to Stop Negative Students from Ruining Your Class

Whether you're a teacher or a coach, your job is to create an environment that allows students to grow. You want them to come away with knowledge and skills they can put into practice and use in their own situations. But some students can be negative and almost ruin your class.
In this article, we'll look at five things you need to do so students don't run you down in the classroom...

I know what it's like, trust me. Students can be defiant. Sometimes they don't want to listen to you for whatever reason (or no reason at all), and that's a struggle for any teacher when you're trying to present a lesson.

Negative students have a way of turning your classroom upside down with their defiant behavior. They might not be so difficult to deal with in isolation, but when mixed with other students, the effect is enough to make you step outside of your character.

Still, behavior is not just about what students do. It is about what we as teachers do and say as well. If you have trouble controlling your classroom, maybe a few changes in your behavior are what you need to make your classroom a safer place for all students.

Why Are Students Defiant?

Students can be defiant for many reasons, and a lot of it comes down to their perception of the situation. If they don't see that the work is important, or if they think you're asking them to do something stupid or pointless — even if that isn't the case — they'll push back.

When considering why students misbehave, it's rarely due to a "bad" kid. They are feeling something that they don't know how to handle or express in a healthy way.

You can see the behavior as an action or reaction to something, and then you can work with that student to figure out how they can address the feelings in a more positive and acceptable way.

Students who are often defiant will also tend to be more sensitive, which means the way you go about managing student behavior is important. A stern look might not be enough to get through to them, and if you push too hard, you could end up with even bigger problems than the ones you started with.

Prevent negative student behavior in the classroom from disrupting your teaching, or worse, causing other students' grades to drop. Here's five things you need to do to control it.

1. Control Your Class with a Strong Learning Culture

When there are behavior concerns, it is very difficult to teach the majority of your students who are on task. You don’t have time to correct off-task inappropriate behaviors with one student and then quickly turn around and support the needs of those that are behaving appropriately.

This interrupts the learning process and lowers motivation. Stop defiant student behavior in the classroom by controlling your class with a strong learning culture.

For students to learn, especially in a crowded classroom, it's critical for them to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present. In order for this to occur, there must be a sense of belonging within the classroom community. This is where a strong learning culture comes into play.

A strong learning culture is a classroom environment in which students are safe, actively taking part, and challenged through quality instruction.

Students need to learn good stewardship of their freedom to express their thoughts. They need to learn accountability for their opinions.

They should feel comfortable asking questions and answering questions without fear of rejection or ridicule. Students need to learn that you will challenge them, and they will make mistakes, but they will also succeed at times.

A Strong Learning Culture Can Help Restore Order When There Is Defiant Behavior in the Classroom

Students know that when you have a weak classroom culture and a lack of respect as the authority, they can get away with things. By acting out, they get the power to decide how much learning gets done.

Restoring order and control in a classroom is not easy because it takes time to build up, but there are ways to repair a weakened control environment and stop defiant student behavior before it spreads and farther. Here are a few tips:

Get Back in Control

When students feel that you're not in control, they will take advantage of it. You can't let them dictate how you behave or what goes on in your classroom. It's important to show them you're the one who's in charge, not them.

Use Proactive Strategies

You must be proactive in your teaching and establish strength from day one. You do this by giving clear expectations and procedures, by being consistent with discipline, and by refusing to accept poor behavior as normal. If students know you will not tolerate inappropriate behavior, they will be less likely to act out and more likely to follow the expected norms.

Give Students Choices

Giving students choices means giving them the power to make decisions about their own learning. This gives them a sense of ownership over their education; therefore, they are more likely to make responsible choices. If you allow students to choose projects, for example, it will be more engaging for them and give them the opportunity to work in groups and have some fun.

2. Build Rapport and Build Confidence in Your Students

The second step to stop defiant student behavior in the classroom is to build rapport with your students. It is critical that your students will respect you if they are going to follow your instructions.

There are many strategies you can use to help stop defiant student behavior in the classroom, but none of them will work if you don’t have the students on your side. Building rapport with students requires patience and a genuine interest in their lives. You’re not just a teacher, you’re a teacher who cares about their students.

Understand Your Students' Behavior

Students who are defiant, sometimes face real-life barriers that make it difficult for them to succeed in school. For example, students may deal with difficult family situations, such as divorce or abuse.

They may act out to get attention or because they have no control over any other part of their lives. Other times, students are acting out because of a learning disability or medical condition that makes it hard for them to succeed in the classroom.

The best way to find out why a student is acting out is to ask. A good teacher should always try to see the situation from the student's perspective; only then can you truly understand why your students are behaving the way they are and what you can do to help them learn and succeed.

Build Rapport With Your Students

Once you know the reasons behind your students' behavior, it's time to build rapport and create a safe environment where they will feel comfortable sharing their feelings, frustrations, and questions with you. The most important thing is to show your students that you care about them.

Instead of looking purely at negative behavior, teachers should identify positive attributes and behaviors in their students. A good teacher will find something positive about each child every day, which shows that he cares.

As a teacher, you are not only a coach, but also an educator. You can build rapport with your students by doing the following:

  • Treat the student with respect and encourage them to treat you with respect

  • Accept the student's ideas and opinions

  • Show that you are interested in your students' lives and listen to them when they speak

  • Remember important details such as birthdays, events, and other important information

3. Use Student-Friendly Language To Build Relationships and Trust

When building any relationship, you build the foundation on trust and respect. This holds true in your classroom with your students as well.

There are many steps you can take to stop defiant student behavior in the classroom. One of these is using a student-friendly language that builds relationships and trust.

You and I probably agree that building relationships with students is one of the best tools for promoting positive student behavior. However, it's not always easy to build these relationships when students are not willing to engage.

So, how do you build positive relationships with your students, especially those who display defiant behavior?

The key is to use student-friendly language. This begins with active listening and simple, positive statements. When students feel they are being heard and understood, they will be more willing to listen and open to working with you.

This takes take time and practice, but once you establish a foundation of trust and understanding, you will see an increase in student compliance.

"How can we stop defiant student behavior in the classroom?" This is a question I've heard often from teachers.

Most of these teachers are excellent, quality educators. And they're definitely frustrated when students act out in class. But after a few minutes of listening to them, I usually realize that they're using the wrong strategies to change their disruptive students' behaviors.

The first thing we need to do is understand our students' perspective. We need to realize that they didn't wake up one morning and decide to be mean, rude, disrespectful, and nasty.

Nor did they wake up one morning and decide to be so obstinate and uncooperative — calling out in class, throwing papers on the floor, refusing to do work, or ignoring requests from the teacher.

It may be that the student is acting out of frustration because of a lack of understanding himself. Or perhaps, a lack of understanding of others.

At first glance, it might seem difficult to empathize with a student’s behavior. But before we judge or punish, we have to understand the motivation behind their behavior. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and see the world through their eyes.

In the classroom, I've discovered that a lot of my students over the years acted out because they didn’t want to be seen as “weak” or “stupid.” They put on a tough exterior because they were afraid of being bullied or teased by other students.

I could also more deeply understand my students when I learned about trauma-informed teaching. It taught me how trauma can affect a child’s learning and behavior and how we can help them heal at school.

One of the key elements to stopping defiant student behavior is to understand its motivation and use this information to establish trust and increase compliance.

Once you have established positive relationships with students, it is important that you continue to communicate expectations using student-friendly language.

This allows the student to think about your perspective without feeling that you are attacking them. Once students understand their actions could make a much better impact on others, they will be more likely to change their actions.

4. Use more positive techniques to control the classroom

A growing number of educators say their jobs are almost entirely about controlling student behavior, not teaching. This can be a distressing reality for teachers who want to cultivate positive relationships with their students and create an atmosphere where learning can flourish.

Part of the problem is that future educators and leaving teacher training programs without the skills they need to deal with disruptive behavior. Once teachers enter the classroom, they struggle to cope with defiant student behavior. Often, they get ineffective (and sometimes, no) support from administrators or parents.

In an ideal world, teachers would not need to intervene in student behavior. Students would come to class, take responsibility for their own learning, and leave with a sense of accomplishment from a job well done. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many students.

Here are five things you should implement immediately to stop defiant student behavior in the classroom:

Choose Your Battles Wisely

Try to remember that your students are testing you — they're looking for a reaction from you. That's why it's important not to give in to every little thing they do — if you let them win, things will only get worse.

Don't Let It Become a Power Struggle

Don't let the situation escalate into a power struggle. This is something you have to avoid at all costs, because it will only escalate the issue and make things worse. Acknowledge the behavior and then move on without making a big deal out of it. How much this can help will surprise you!

Model the Behavior You Want to See

Children learn by watching what others do around them, including their teachers. If you want your students to behave properly, you need to model that behavior in front of them as often as possible.

Make Sure Your Expectations Are Clear

Before you even have a problem, make sure your expectations are clear. This includes things like how students are supposed to behave, what their responsibilities are, and so on. You should also have clear rewards for positive behaviors.

Create a Behavior Management System

Create a system that encourages kids to meet certain goals or behave well in class. This will encourage them to behave appropriately and follow your rules rather than rebel against them.


Try this:

Create a "basket" for your classroom. It can be a box, or a basket from your local dollar store, but the point is that it should be something that can hold pieces of paper. In this basket, put slips of paper with positive actions on them.

When a student is misbehaving, have them draw a slip from the basket and read what it says. It could be something as simple as "stand up and stretch for 30 seconds", or "trade seats with another student", or even "help the teacher with some cleanup".

The goal of this strategy is not to punish students and make them miserable, but to give them a way to engage in the positive behaviors they need to succeed in school.


We can make a difference by changing our behavior in the classroom right now.

Although these recommendations come from my experience, I've also had many pleasant conversations with teachers and administrators who've used similar techniques to great success.

You probably have, too, so keep these tips handy along with the other helpful tips that have worked in your own classroom!

5. Set Boundaries and Enforce Consequences for Out-of-Bounds Behavior

Setting boundaries is a crucial part of classroom management. Boundaries are rules that dictate appropriate student behavior in the classroom. Set boundaries because they provide a framework for acceptable behaviors, which supports a positive classroom environment.

Boundaries can apply to any aspect of the classroom, including:

  • Individual student behavior

  • Classroom environment

  • School-wide expectations

These boundaries set expectations and help students understand what’s expected of them on any given day. They also ensure consistency across classrooms and throughout the school. Communicate expectations clearly so students know what to expect from themselves and others.

Many teachers report that a lack of discipline is the number one challenge they face in the classroom.

It’s not that teachers don’t know how to discipline their students. It’s that they are hesitant to enforce consequences because they don’t want to be seen as mean or hated by their students.

This hesitancy is understandable and doesn’t make them terrible teachers. However, it’s essential to set clear boundaries and enforce consequences for out-of-bounds behavior if you wish to have a peaceful classroom where all students can learn.

Whether or not you realize it, your students can sense when you’re feeling unsure of yourself. The best thing you can do is to think through and plan out ahead of time how you will react in specific situations.

If a student calls you out of your name, for example, how will you respond? Will you remain calm and professional? Or will your feelings get the better of you?

You want to be the teacher who can stay in control of your emotions at all times. This can be hard (I know from experience), but with practice, it gets easier.

In addition to staying calm in emotionally charged situations, another important part of setting boundaries is being consistent with what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.

This will vary based on the age group that you work with, but there are some basic guidelines that apply no matter what. For example:

  • Students should treat each other with respect at all times.

  • No bullying or cyberbullying allowed.

  • Students must address the teacher as Mr./Ms. So-and-so (or whatever your preference may be).

  • Students should always speak in an appropriate tone of voice (not yelling).

It takes a lot of time and patience to become a teacher. It takes an even greater amount of time and patience to become an effective teacher. No matter how long you’ve been teaching, there is always room for improvement.

We need to reexamine our methods and practices as educators consistently. And ask ourselves the question, “Is this the best way?”

Classroom management is a very important part of the equation for any teacher who wants to be effective in the classroom. While it can be challenging, having a great classroom management plan can make dealing with difficult behaviors much easier.

The classroom is a place where people learn, grow, and help each other out. You want positive energy from your students, but sometimes you'll get the opposite.

So how do you handle a defiant student in the classroom? It starts with developing an understanding of why the behavior is occurring. Be sure to look at it from the point of view of the student and offer the proper support to make that change.

Once you identify what's causing the problem, you can develop strategies to make sure your classroom is a safe place where everyone has a voice, and everyone feels comfortable learning.

Student behavior problems are frustrating and challenging, but they don't have to defeat you. By taking some steps we've outlined here, you'll give yourself the best chance at bringing those behaviors under control.

Your classroom can be a great place to teach and to learn! Keep up the great work!


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