How to Deal with Disruptive Behavior - Real Teacher Accounts

Updated on
How to Deal with Disruptive Behavior - Real Teacher Accounts

“Behavior is communication. Behavior has a function. Behavior occurs in patterns,” Nancy Rappaport and Jessica Minahan write in “The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students.”

Negative attention, or punitive communication, is very common. Disruptive students may have an unconscious habit of defense when a familiar environment feels unsafe or unmanageable. It is understandable that educators would be frustrated because their work and teaching is being disrupted, but what is the best way to handle disruptive students?

“The only behavior teachers can control is their own” Rappaport and Minahan say.

Here are some points to note when dealing with disruptive or challenging students:

  • Take a deep breath and try to remain calm.
  • Try to set a positive tone, even if it means you need to take a few moments to compose yourself.
  • Make sure students understand that it’s their misbehavior you dislike, not them.
  • Give the misbehaving student a chance to respond.
  • Never blame or ridicule the student.
  • Avoid win-lose conflicts. Emphasize problem-solving instead of punishment.
  • Insist that students accept responsibility for their behavior.
  • Try to remain courteous in the face of hostility or anger.
  • Treat ALL students respectfully and politely.
  • Listen to the student.
  • Model the behavior you want from your students.
  • Be aware of cultural differences.
  • Discourage cliques and other antisocial behavior.
  • Avoid labeling students as “good” or “bad”.
  • Focus on rewarding and recognizing positive behaviors more than punishing misbehavior.
  • Where reprimands are necessary, state them quickly and without disrupting the class.
  • When it’s necessary to speak to a student about their inappropriate behavior, speak in private.

We have some awesome educators that have taken our course “Stopping Disruptive Behavior”. Here are some of their stories and advice on how they dealt with situations in their classroom.


“I work with students with Autism, therefore we have behavior problems throughout the whole day.  Most behavior incidents are taken care within the classroom, but there are some extreme cases where administrators need to get involved. There was an incident with a student that was throwing objects across the room and trying to hit other students.  After repeatedly trying to redirect his behavior, the student was not responding to me.  He was feeding off the negative attention and the environment was causing him to escalate.  I maintained calm and spoke to him in a non-threatening way trying to deescalate him.  I then proceeded to send him to the administrator so that there could be a different person talking to him with more authority, and also to keep the other students safe.  The administrator was cooperative, and calm.  She was supportive of the way I handled the situation and reminded the student that he needed to listen and respect me. The outcome of the incident was positive because the student was able to calm down.  He was able to go to a different environment away from the one that had set him off to disruptive behaviors.  It gave him a chance to take a break and calm down.  I feel that both the administrator and I remained calm and in control throughout this whole incident.”


“My school uses several methods to promote a positive approach to discipline. One is the method of defining functions for behaviors and trying to discover the why's behind the behaviors instead of just always punishing the behaviors. Teachers and administration collaborate together to do the best we can to eliminate or work through the causes of the behavior. We also use individualized behavior plans for chronic behavior cases that that will work for each individual student. My school tries to prevent disruptive behaviors by dedicating a portion of class time every week to teach cooperative behaviors through a social curriculum called GAT (Getting Along Together).  We teach platforms such as; friendships, gossiping, bullying, tolerance, including others, and honesty. We utilize "think it through sheets" for a student to use when they are angry, disruptive, or disrespectful. The student will go to a designated area in the classroom away from others and fill out a think it through sheet which allows them to write down their behaviors, the consequences of it, an alternative to their behavior that they could have chosen and what that outcome would have been. The hope is that this will prevent disruptive behaviors because in the future the student will stop and think about their actions before they act.”


“We had a day where we would give a lesson about kindness and every day, we would have a quick write about something kind they had done that day. We would call it a kindness chain. For our school, managing discipline starts in the classroom. Here we analyze where the problem is coming from and we give the students their first behavior interventions. We call parents and inform them about the behavior occurring in class and we have an active ISS room that is called the “Healing Room” were students that need to take a break go or if they are In school suspension.”


“I have taught or supported students with emotional disabilities for more than twelve years.  Depending on the student, and what disruptive behavior is being exhibited, I vary my strategy. Although students generally follow a typical pattern of escalation, many students with severe mental health needs do not.  They struggle with being present in reality, engaging with auditory and visuals that the rest of us see and hear, and many of them struggle to distance themselves from debilitating trauma. For most of my students, I spend the majority of my time working toward preventing behaviors.My first line of defense is a well-organized classroom with no clutter and nothing out of place to begin the day.I spontaneously leave my students notes, sometimes individually and sometimes on the board.  I greet everyone by name and with a bright happy good morning! I also write quick notes, sometimes I have them premade on stickies with positives or simple restatement of behaviors I would like to see.I always address behaviors. I change their activity if they become frustrated or are unable to continue working with their current peers.  I stick to a general schedule, but never solidify it because things change in seconds on a behavior support classroom.I spend a lot of time learning about my students, their families, likes and dislikes.  I play with my students at recess and always sit with my students at lunch to build relationships.  Transitions are also a time of great difficulty, so I provide support during those times with my engaging presence!  I am also there to monitor and look for subtle changes in behavior and to limit negative interactions.”


“Some of the most successful tools to use to stop disruptive behavior include getting to know my students on a more personal level. Make them feel like I care about them as an individual (likes, dislikes, what drives them, etc.), as well as respect them. I think this goes a long way to prevent disruptive behaviors from happening because most students will feel as though they have let me down or disappointed me. When disruptive behavior does occur, it is vital to be respectful, concise, and reasonable with the corrections I make to the disruptive behavior vs blowing up and getting upset with the student. Getting students to take ownership of the actions/behaviors is a extremely powerful tool.”


“A successful classroom is built around a teacher who is organized and has rules and routines that have been taught and practiced. Students thrive with routines and structure, especially those with special needs, whom I get to work a lot more with. One mindset that was talked about in this course [Stopping Disruptive Behavior] is to talk to and treat your students who misbehave, just like you would the students that don’t. It is easy to get the wrong mindset stuck in your head when it comes to students who misbehave frequently. This will help to build a relationship with students if they feel like they are all treated as equals.”


“The discipline policies at my school that are most effective are conferring with parents, reflecting with students and beginning the COST process (Coordination of Services Team). Conferring with parents is often effective because it shows the child that the teacher and parents are in communication. If the conference is successful, the parents and teacher feel like they're on the same team with a common goal in mind.”


“I was frustrated by the response of the administration when dealing with discipline issues. So, I started holding my own detention in my class at lunch or nutrition. The student would sit there with nothing to do in dead time, getting angrier and hating me for the discipline. It was not working, and I saw a minimal effect on decreasing the behaviors. I wanted to understand more of why the behaviors were occurring, so I started to question the students about the incidents. Then I started to question them about the feelings they were experiencing, and this led to a dialogue with the student. The questioning turned into more of a conversation, which the students responded more to than punishment. I noticed when a student is being punished, they are in a negative, angry state of mind where they just want to fight and are unable to listen. When they are in a less angry state of mind, students are more open to listening and learning. My detention turned into cleaning the class with me and talking about the incident and coming up with solutions together. This doesn't work with all students; however, it works well with many of them. I teach at a middle school and some students are starved for attention, negative or positive they just want to have someone pay attention to them.”


“One incident that comes to mind is when a student became angry and proceeded to walk over to another student and attempt to slam her head onto the desk. He threw chairs and other classroom supplies at me when I tried to intervene. My first instinct was to protect the students, so I immediately got between him and the rest of the group. I asked the rest of the class to go into the hallway while I called the director. The director called the parents immediately and spoke to them. We also held a student study team meeting with the special education team, school psychologist, and parents. The parents were required to stay with the student during the school day for two weeks every single day. I definitely felt satisfied with this outcome, as I felt my school was supportive and proactive. The student has struggled since this incident, however has not acted in a violent way such as this since. Because he has not done something this extreme since, I feel he did learn from this experience.” 

We invite you to comment below how you have dealt with disruptions in your classroom or how you plan on dealing with them in the future. -CE Credits Online


Published on Updated on