Faculty and staff resources

Guide to Working with Disruptive and Distressed Students

 

Setting behavioral expectations in the classroom

Note all classroom behavior expectations in the syllabus, and review these requirements during the first class meeting.

Include your expectations on the following:

  • Cell phone usage
  • Laptop/tablet usage
  • Food/drink in the classroom
  • Late arrivals/early departures
  • Getting up and leaving during class
  • Class participation (policy on free discussion or raising one's hand to be called upon)

Indicate the specific consequences of disruptive behavior.  Examples may include the following:

  • Class participation points will be deducted from your grade.
  • You will be asked to leave the classroom for the remainder of the period.
  • Student conduct charges will being filed with the Dean of Students Office for violation of the Student Code of Conduct.

 

Managing dispruptive behavior in the classroom

Disruptive student behavior can interfere with access to an appropriate educational or work environment for other students, faculty or staff.  Even though other students in the class may be disturbed by the behavior of a disruptive individual, publicly embarrassing the student is counterintuitive and detrimental.  These situations are best handled with composure, insight, and empathy.

There are many options for responding to disruptive student behavior.  Don't wait for a problem to clear itself up.  The sooner it is addressed, the better.

The following are not University policies, but rather helpful suggestions to support WSU faculty and staff.

  • Avoid direct confrontation with a student in the classroom.  Rather, use a general word of caution in a positive manner.  For example, "We have too many conversations taking place.  Let's focus on today's topic."  Or, "please raise your hand if you have something to say."  Be calm, respectful, and nonthreatening.
  • In rare circumstances, you may find it necessary to speak to a student during the class regarding disruptive behavior.  Try to do so in a positive, courteous manner, indicating that you can meet after class to discuss the situation in private.  Frame the issue in a positive light.  This is important when talking to students privately, as well.
  • Casually walk toward the student or the general area where disruptive behavior is occurring.  Your presence in the area may be enough to curb the behavior.
  • Speak with the student privately during office hours or after class.  If you feel threatened by the student, keep your office door open or meet in a safer location.  Let someone know where and when you will be meeting.  If you are uncomfortable speaking with the student alone, ask a colleague or supervisor to be present.
    • Inform the student of the specific behavior(s) that need to change, and indicate your specific expectations for appropriate behavior.
    • Carefully and explicitly explain why you believe the behavior is disrupting the learning environment in your classroom.
    • Inform the student of the consequences of noncompliance.  For example, you may ask a student to leave a class each time there is a disruption or make a referral to the Dean of Students Office for a possible violation of the Student Code of Conduct.  Note:  Do not attempt to remove the disruptive student from the class by offering an administrative withdrawal. This is not an appropriate channel for addressing disruptive behavior and may have negative implications on the student's financial aid.
    • Allow the student the opportunity to respond and explain his/her behavior.  Do not insist you are right or contradict the student.  Instead, help the student understand that you see the situation from a different perspective.
    • Listen.  If you are able to listen and hear the student's frustrations, the person may calm down.  There may be personal problems or serious health concerns contributing to his/her behavior.  While this does not excuse the behavior, you may be able to refer the student to campus resources such as Counseling & Psychological Services, Student Disability Services or the Academic Success Center.
    • Reflect and empathize with the student's feelings and perspectives by using statements such as:
      • "I can see your frustration."
      • "I can see that you are upset by this."
      • "I would like to work with you in finding a resolution."
      • "I understand that this is very important to you."
    • Be direct, set boundaries, and do not tolerate abuse.  If necessary, use statements such as:
      • "Please stand back, you're too close."
      • "Our discussion would be more effective if we speak in calm voices."
      • "We can work together better if we remain calm, keep our voices low, and take things step by step."
    • After the meeting, document a detailed description of the events.  It is usually beneficial to provide the student with a follow-up email summarizing the meeting and outlining the expectations and consequences.  Follow through with the consequences if the agreed changes do not transpire.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • A positive, respectful approach is generally most effective and results in fewer incidents. 
  • Let students know what you can do--not what you cannot do.
  • Maintain a posture that is poised and non-threatening.
  • Maintain a tone of voice that is calm and matter of fact.
  • Maintain respectful eye contact.
  • If possible, avoid using gestures.
  • Avoid physical contact.
  • Leave an unobstructed exit.
  • Be aware of your feelings.
  • Remain as calm as possible.
  • Disruptive behaviors are sometimes a violation of the Student Code of Conduct.  To report an alleged violation of the Code, please visit click here

The WSU Faculty and Staff Resource Guide provides additional information on addressing disruptive behavior and referring students to appropriate campus resources.

Disruptive students may simply need straightforward notice that their behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop.  However, if you have interactions with a student in which you feel unsafe or that there is an imminent danger to any member of the community, you should immediately contact the WSU Police at 313-577-2222.