Effective Ways of Dealing with Disruptive Students
1. Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to ignorance (V. Ruggerio)—most of the time students are not trying to be malicious and often are not aware that they are being disruptive. A simple request for them to return to the task at hand is all that is needed.
2. More traditionally aged college students exhibit behaviors that were acceptable in high school or at least went uncorrected. They are often surprised that college teachers are bothered by these behaviors. Help explain that the college learning environment expects more adult like behavior.
3. See all conflicts as an opportunity to educate the student(s) involved.
4. If at all possible deal with any significant issues of disruption or disagreement in private (your office with the door open, after class or in the hall way). Dealing with an issue in front of others can unwittingly, bring others into the discussion. You don’t need others taking sides.
5. Use I statements to address the concern …this way you are owning the problem and giving the student an easy opportunity to save face and get back on task. I statements avoid the issuance of consequences. “I would appreciate it if you would not talk when I am talking…”
6. Stay calm– at all cost stay calm—if necessary declare a cooling off period. Delay speaking with the student until you are calm.
7. Put yourself in the student’s shoes—try to see what their motivation is, what would cause them to be disruptive, or have this problem or issue.
8. Listen carefully—ask clarifying questions that help to define the issue. “I want to make certain that I understand what you are saying is this what you mean?”
9. Think win-win. Ask the students how they would resolve the issue—this will give them some ownership. Also ask how they would handle the situation if they were the instructor.
10. Make certain that your position is clearly defensible. Just because “you say so” is not always a good reason.
11. Avoid the introduction of side issues. Keep bringing the student back to the issue at hand. Other issues can be dealt with at another time.
12. Write down the issue/concern/problem. This can bring clarity to the issue and help focus you and the student on the issue.
13. Write down the solution/agreement. Get a signature that the student agrees to the solution.
14. Be as consistent as you can in how you handle each individual occurrence. This includes how you handle even small disruptions in class. Students really take note of inconsistencies in this area.
15. Offer the student the option of taking the issue to the next level. Tell him/her who to talk to and where they can find them. If the rule or policy in question is a university rule or policy say so—indicate you are not in a position to alter these.
16. Keep notes on the conversation(s) that you have with the student. This will help to protect you and make it clear to the students that you want an accurate record of the interaction(s) you have with them.