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Student Conduct: Disruptive Classroom Behavior

What is Disruptive Classroom Behavior?

Disruptive behavior can prevent and instructor from teaching or students from learning. Disruptive behavior is often repeated and continuous, and may include:

  • Interfering with the ability of the instructor to conduct class or of others to learn.
  • Talking on the phone during class.
  • Late entrance or early leaving.
  • Monopolizing discussions.
  • Constant interruptions.
  • Talking out of turn.
  • Changing subjects.
  • Passing notes.

Preventative Strategies

The best way to handle classroom disruptions is to prevent them before they happen. Prevent disruptions with these tips:

  • Include behavior norms and expectations in your syllabi.
  • Discuss these norms and expectations on the first day of class.
  • Share responsibility with students by asking what the norms for classroom behavior should be, and adding their ideas to the list.
  • Get to know the student by name. Students are less likely to create disruptions if the professors knows who they are.
  • Model the behavior you expect from your students. For example, if you are sarcastic in class, then sarcasm will be seen as acceptable within the classroom.
  • Set the tone and expectations early in the class. It is hard to impose new rules after the class is underway, but you can always ease up on the rules that have already been established.
  • Request occasional, anonymous feedback from the students on how the class is going. This gives the students a sense of empowerment and allows you to discover if you are reaching the class.

How to deal with a Disruptive Student

Knowing how to deal with a disruptive student can defuse a situation quickly. The following are effective de-escalation strategies:

  • Stay calm and do not become defensive.
  • Be direct with the students and calmly ask them to stop.
  • Be positive rather than negative.
  • Act as early and quickly as possible to avoid losing control of the classroom, frustrating other students, or creating a hostile learning environment.
  • Stop and wait for the students to settle down before proceeding with the curriculum.
  • Adjust your teaching style by implementing group work if students are disrupting the traditional lecture. Call on students (both disruptive and otherwise) to come forward and lead discussion.
  • In serious situations, ask the student to leave the room and meet with you in your office during office hours.
  • Document everything.

Out-Of-Class Interventions

  • Note who the disruptive students are and speak to them after class or ask them to come to your office during office hours. Explain why/how you fine them disruptive, find out why they are acing that way, ask them what they would be comfortable doing. Tell them what you want to do.
  • Talk with your colleagues in your department – including the chair. How would they handle the situation? What do they see as normative? This provides ideas for handling the situation and lets your chairperson know what is happening early on, and what you are trying to deal with it.

Meeting with a Disruptive Student

As discussed above, sometimes a meeting during office hours is the best solution to handling disruption in the classroom.

  • Identify what it is the student is doing to disrupt the classroom.
  • Inform the student that their disruptive behavior does not fit your criteria for participation and that their grade will be lowered if it does not stop.
  • Stay calm and do not become defensive.
  • Be respectful and remove yourself and personal feelings from the incident.
  • Lead discussions that focus on the positive rather than the negative.
  • Make sure to clearly express your expectations for behavior.
  • Document everything.
  • Do not meet alone with the student if you have personal safety concerns. Consult with Security, use a conference phone where others will witness the meeting, consider having another person present with you in the room.

After the Meeting

Give the student a letter or memorandum containing:

  • A summary of the meeting.
  • A summary of the understandings and agreements made during the meeting.
  • A warning that further incidents may result in dismissing a student for the remainder of the class period.
  • The future expectations you have for the student; what acceptable behavior looks like, what is required and what are the consequences for not adhering to the agreement.

Persistent of More Serious Disruptive Classroom Behaviors

  • If behavior persists after an oral and written warning, submit a report to the Dean of Students.

For more serious incidents such as a classroom outburst, or an assault, the matter should be immediately reported to Security, or call 911.


Last Modified: 3/27/23 5:34 PM | Website Feedback