How Do You Handle Disruptive Behavior In Your Classroom?




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Is your class disruptive? Do you have a disruptive student in your classroom? Or do you have difficulties in dealing with disruptive behavior in your classroom?

If you find yourself in the above situations, you probably will be looking for effective strategies to help deal with this deadly problem in your classroom.

There is a consensus among teachers that disruptive behavior is a major problem in the classroom. This behavior needs to be curtailed by the teacher in order to promote a conducive classroom environment for teaching and learning to take place. But how can you do that?

In dealing with disruptive behavior in your classroom, I recommend you follow the procedure below:

  1. Understand the nature of disruptive behavior
  2. Determine whether the behavior is internalizing or externalizing.
  3. Identify your classroom management philosophy and strategies.
  4. Use strategies that are in line with your philosophy.

Understanding Disruptive Behavior

Disruptive behavior has been a major learning and teaching barrier in the classroom. This reduces the amount of spent on teaching and learning. Thus, both teachers and students channel their energy and time into tackling disruptive behavior instead of learning.

It is difficult to simply define disruptive behavior among students. This is because it consists of lots of different terms and concepts. It can also be caused by several factors. But here, I consider disruptive behavior to be any behavior that impedes teaching and learning in the classroom.  

Students’ misbehavior is still a matter of concern to teachers and school authorities. Reports suggest that it continues to rise in recent times. Your ability to be effective is highly dependent on how you deal with the tendencies of disruptive behavior in your classroom.

It is therefore imperative for you to understand the nature of disruptive behavior if you want to be successful. Thus, you have to understand the following;

1. Its causes: There are several factors that lead to students putting up disruptive behavior in the classroom. The main underlying causes of behaviors that are disruptive are; physical, emotional/mental, school/teacher, and external environmental factors.

First, some of the physical factors that can cause student misbehavior are illness, injury, substance consumption, etc. So, you have to try your best to limit the effects of these factors on the behavior of students if you notice it.

Second, the emotional/mental factors that account for student misbehavior are loneliness, aggression, and some mental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder (CD), etc. In the case of most of these, you need to conduct experts for help in dealing with them.

Third, sometimes the actions and/or inactions of teachers and the school environment promotes misbehavior in the classroom. Example, ineffective instruction skills, poor planning, large size classrooms, poor/lack of disciplinary policies and many others encourage students to put up disruptive behaviors.

Last, external issues bothering the students may lead them to act inappropriately in the classroom. Some of these factors are family issues such as divorce, criminal parents, poor parenting, poverty. Also, different cultures sometimes are the causes of disruptive behavior. This is because students may see behavior as absolutely normal meanwhile it is inappropriate at the context. That is why it is essential to clearly distinguish what is appropriate or not appropriate in your class.

2. Its forms: Disruptive behavior can occur in the form of the following general ways. Thus, it can be; individual behavior by the student, behavior by groups of students together, and behavior when interacting with the teacher.

First, most often teachers experience individual students putting up behaviors that are inappropriate in the classroom. For instance, coming to class late, leaving class early, speaking out inappropriately, reading materials unrelated to the subject, etc. These behaviors are carried out by students individually.

Second, there are other instances where a group of students misbehaves together. For example, chatting with other students, cheating in exams, passing notes, etc. If you are not able to control these behaviors, all the students will join in the process.

Finally, disruptive behavior also may occur when students are communicating or interacting with the teacher. This often takes the form of disrespect, challenging the teacher, defying teachers demands, etc. If you don’t check these misbehaviors from your students, all the students will adopt similar attitudes when dealing with you.

3. Its effects: It is very important for you to understand the danger of disruptive behavior in your classroom. This is because it impacts negatively on the peaceful environment of your classroom. It, thus, impedes teaching and learning in your classroom. Also, it reduces your satisfaction and comfort when teaching.

4. Teachers’ perception: What are the perceptions of teachers about why students disrupt in the classroom? There is evidence in the literature that some teachers thought that the students believe that they only have to perform passive roles in the learning processes.

Also, the students of today expect to be entertained during the learning processes. This has been one of the major causes of inappropriate behavior in the classroom according to teachers.

5. Students’ perception: How do students perceive disruptive behavior in the classroom? Some literature point fingers at the actions of the teacher as the causes of inappropriate behavior in the classroom. They specifically cited the teacher’s ability to manage conflicts as one of the major factors that lead to or exacerbate misbehavior among students.

This problem raises a strong concern about the lack of expertise among teachers on conflict management within their students. It also points out the demands that teachers must be trained extensively on how to manage their students and classrooms.

Is it Internalizing or Externalizing?

It is important to identify the disruptive behavior of your students as; Internalized or externalized. Disruptive behavior is internalized if it is introverted in nature. Examples of this behavior are; class withdrawal, Inattentiveness, etc. Students with these behaviors cause fewer problems in the classroom. Even to some teachers, these behaviors are not disruptive.

However, externalized disruptive behaviors are those that disturb the peace of the entire classroom. Students with these behaviors often break the rules of conduct in the environment. For instance, they can; intrude on others rights, talk to others and self during lessons, leave their seats often, and many others. These behaviors are detrimental to effective teaching and learning in the classroom and must, therefore, be checked.

Dealing with One-off Disruptive Behavior

How do you deal with the inappropriate behavior that occurs one-off in the classroom? I think the strategy depends on the nature of the behavior. Below are some misbehaviors and how to deal with them:

1. Constant chattering: This is one of the major if not the most disruptive behavior in the classroom of today. This often happens when you lose control of your classroom. You can take back your class through the following ways:

a. Begin to take control of your classroom. This is very important if you want to maintain or save your face. But how do you take charge of your classroom? There are so many suggestions and strategies to help you do that. What are your strategies? Remember these strategies should emanate from your classroom management philosophy.

Note that the strategies employed by the interventionists will vary widely from those used by the noninterventionists and the interactionalists. Hence, be sure to use strategies that are in line with your beliefs and values.

b. Utilize a game of silence in the classroom when your students start to chatter and don’t pay attention to you. What is the essence of a silence game? It is meant to let your students understand the value of maintaining silence. That will help them to pay attention to things that they otherwise don’t notice when they are in a noisy environment.

How then do you play a silence game? Teach your students to close their eyes and listen to all the things that happen around them for a minute. After a minute, tell them to open their eyes and tell you what they have heard happening around them. Some will tell you they haven’t heard anything but others will tell you they have heard noise from passers-by, sound from heaters and air conditioners, etc.

Continue to play this game with them for subsequent periods and increase the time from one minute to one and a half minutes. Most of them will be shocked by the kinds of things they hear. By the time you realize they will get used to maintaining silence in the classroom.

c. Make use of the “silence sign” strategy. This is a strategy used to cut the chatter and let your students remain in a still position, not talking, and not moving. You might see this to be difficult. Now let’s see how to do that. First, you need to print the word “Silence” on a hard and brightly-colored cardstock. Second, teach your students the four parts to the pause position:

  • Students stop talking.
  • Students put their eyes on the teacher.
  • No movement/ students put their feet together.
  • Students fold their arms in front of their chests.

Third, explain and demonstrate how it works to the students. Let them know that whenever they see you holding the silence sign, then they have to get into the pause position as stated in the four parts above. Practice that with them in regular lesson time and continue this till everyone is abreast with how it works.

Remember, at the chattering position, not all the students will see you when you hold up the silence sign. How do you deal with this? Start commending those who have seen you holding up the silence while speaking quietly, calmly, and softly. When you do this while mentioning the names of those in the pause position it will alert the talking students to resume the silence position too.

d. Plan to do effective teaching. This is very important as effective classroom management goes hand in hand with effective teaching. Planning your class will help you prepare activities that are fun for the students. Students like activities that are entertaining and therefore will pay much attention to you during your lesson. Having fun and entertaining activities will prevent your students from being bored.

But lessons can’t always be entertaining and fun. Under this circumstance, plan a backup activity to engage students who are quick to finish their activities. This will keep them busy and prevent them from starting a chat or conversations among themselves.

2. Students’ Conflicts: Conflict is a major aspect of every society. It may not always be bad if it is resolved appropriately. So as a teacher, you ought to have or develop your conflict resolution skills. It is an inevitable part of your classroom. You can deal with conflicts through the following ways:

Have a conflict resolution plan in your classroom since conflict is an unavoidable part of life. In your plan, state clearly the steps to be followed when conflict erupts. These steps should include;

  • First, set up a peace table which will be used to calm down students and resolve conflicts among them. Let students cool down.
  • Second, issue appointment cards to parties to the conflict. This will tell them a specific time that’s appropriate for you to meet and discuss the conflict.
  • Third, let parties share their feelings about the conflict. In doing this, tell them not to use the “You” statements. This is because those statements are accusatory and will likely cause parties to become upset. They should rather use “I need” statements.

For instance, Sam and Keyf are members of your grade 4 class. The two quarreled over a pen with each claiming ownership of the pen. Now, you called them so that they can solve the conflict in front of you. Sam started his narration by pointing to Keyf saying “you took the pen from my bag, I saw you”. These are the kind of statements you should teach the students not to use during conflict resolution. Rather, Sam can tell Keyf “I need you to tell me where you got the pen from”. This statement is appropriate because it is not accusing Keyf.

  • Discuss the actions that could have been done by each party to avoid the conflict. What could they have done to avoid the problem? How would those actions have affected the other parties?
  • Look for solutions to the problem. Now, what plan will they put in place to avoid further confrontations and conflicts? The plan should be signed by each party in addition to you. Make sure everyone agrees with the resolution and the issues under the plan.
  1. Talking Back: This is one of the disruptive behaviors that are frequently exhibited by students who are disrespectful. You have to stop this behavior before other students are infested with it. You can do that through the following:
    1. Book an appointment with the students. Tell the students you want to meet them after the class session. During your meeting, inform and teach the student a courteous way of requesting and speaking. Teach them to role-play how to ask for what they want in a respectful manner. Print “appointment card” on cardstock and use it when requesting students to meet you after regular sessions.
    2. Use assertive/power talks to help you get the students to listen to you for the first time. Use the following steps:
  • The tone of your voice should be neutral but carried out in a firm manner.
  • You should have close eye contact with the student when delivering the message. Don’t forget to maintain a close space when talking to him/her. But don’t go too close as it will be threatening to the students. You can even squat just to be at the same level as him/her.
  • You should use gestures to add more strength to the message you intend to carry across.
  • Don’t forget to use students’ name to your advantage. This can help you to grab the attention of your students in the classroom.
  • Speak with confidence. Remember the more you are confident in your speech the more your students will listen to you. This is not an easy strategy as it needs lots of practice.
  1. The power struggle with strong-willed students: Remember strong-willed students are everywhere, even in your classroom. Therefore, you have to prepare for your struggles with them. These students are used to hold out long to get what they want. They even go to the extent of arguing with you just to get their way. I have got many of these students in the many classes I handle. It is a very difficult situation to find yourself. But determination you can get there. Look at the following strategies to help you deal with this type of students:
    1. Strong-willed students are used to getting whatever they want at any particular time. So, you must teach them to understand that they can’t continue to get what they want all the time.

Therefore, no matter how long they hold out with you don’t give in. Else if you do that you are sending a signal to him/her that s/he can try that for at least three times.

Note you are not just there to teach the students, you are also there to groom them to be responsible adults in society. With this, they have got to know that they can’t get whatever they want at all times.

  1. Delay tactics with positive alternatives. With this, you delay in giving your students what they want with positive alternatives that will make them forget what they wanted. This, it makes the emotions of the student cool down. By delaying you allow them to cool down and then you present them with other positive alternatives.

Example, on one sunny day in the spring semester one of my classes insisted I send them to the school field for outdoor activities. I said no but ask them to choose between watching a film or going to the ICT class to prepare a project.

They welcomed this idea and whole-heartedly chose to prepare a project at the ICT class. With this, they thought they won the struggle but they are going to do what they want within the limits I established.


From the above, you can realize that disruptive behavior impedes the success of teaching and learning in the classroom. It is extremely important for you to control these behaviors to ensure your students get full benefits of your lessons. It is imperative to note that the strategies you use to solve these problems should be in line with your beliefs.  

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