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Strategies to Discourage Disruptive Behavior


While there are some specific tactics for dealing with disruptive students, faculty may prevent some of this behavior from occurring by creating a positive classroom environment at the outset. You may already have put into practice some of these strategies
  •    Be engaged with your students as individuals; learn names and refer directly to comments they have made (“As Mary pointed out earlier…”)  
  •  Demonstrate through your actions that you are willing to listen to their views respectfully and that you are committed to their learning.
  • Role model the behavior you require of your students (e.g., being on time, treating students of differing opinions with respect).
  • Use structures that encourage students to get to know each other.  It’s worth giving up some content time because this creates community and reins in outliers.
  •  Let them see who you are.  Tell them about your background and let them see your passion for the subject.  Consider sharing enough information so they realize you have a life outside the classroom.  It’s harder to be uncivil to someone you see as a real person.
  • Provide a syllabus that accurately and fully communicates class requirements and schedule.  Clearly communicate deviations from the syllabus. Many student complaints arise from syllabi that create misunderstandings about course expectations.  
  •  Consider what your limits of acceptable conduct are regarding lateness, sleeping in class, use of cell phones, alarm watches, eating in class, unrelated talking in class, etc. You have a right to set forth what is acceptable or unacceptable in your classroom. Enforce your guidelines in a consistent and equitable way.
  • Communicate your expectations for appropriate behavior or “ground rules.” You can focus on factors that make a good learning environment and also more specifically on student behavior.  This can be done on the syllabus, in a student driven conversation, or through a separate handout.  Feel free to reference existing policies on student conduct.
  •  Set the tone and classroom expectations early in the class.  It is hard to impose new rules after the class is underway, but you can always ease up on rules that have already been established. 
  • Use active learning techniques to fend off inattentiveness.  Gerald Amada, author of Coping with Misconduct in the College Classroom says, “Perhaps the best antidote for all forms of disruptive behavior is for instructors to teach interestingly.”   
  •  Seek feedback from students at mid-semester or earlier to see how things are going.  This can be an informal mid-term evaluation or something more thorough.   Make sure you respond – and do so in a non-defensive way.  Be honest if something not working; change it or explain why it is persisting.
  • Help students see the see the value of course.  Be excited and help them see the value of the knowledge/skills they are developing even if outside their major.  Take time to explain, perhaps repeatedly, why you have the requirements that you do.   (For example, short papers in my classes).
  •  Avoid grade surprises.  Make sure that students understand the grading system and that they have sufficient feedback so that the final grade is not a shock.   If you count participation, make sure you let them know how they are doing in this area as the semester goes along.
  • Be careful about creating too much informality within the classroom environment.