‘Disruptive’ students – some practical points

1. Include course and behaviour norms and expectations for students and teachers in course and module handbooks. This is obviously easier to achieve if staff are prepared to agree AND ENFORCE a consistent ‘policy’ across a programme or department. Potentially disruptive students may play on mixed and inconsistent messages.
2. Discuss these norms and expectations with students at induction and/or the start of modules. Share control and responsibility with them, obtaining agreement about the norms for classroom behaviour. If they have additional suggestions/norms, discuss them, and, if agreed add them to your list. This list could form part of a formal learning contract.
3. Use role modelling and ‘impression management’ – eg, if you don’t want students to be late and under-prepared, be on time and well-prepared yourself. Dressing and acting ‘professionally’ can be used to reinforce status and behaviour norms – if desired, though this may appear to emphasise the power disparities that exist in the classroom.
4. Prevention is easier than cure: detachment and boredom are significant causes of disruptive behaviour. Consider building greater variation of learning styles and a wider range of activities into learning and teaching, in an attempt to engage all students.
5. If disruptive behaviour does occur, see if you can change what you are doing – eg, divide students into groups for some work, or create an activity. Get the disruptive students to take some responsibility for how the class goes – eg to act as rapporteurs or lead discussion.
6. Don’t ignore continuing disruption, deal with it firmly but calmly when it arises. Don’t take it personally, and don’t make it personal.
7. Unless you have concerns about your personal security or safety, don’t walk out on a class, you will still shave to go back and deal with the problem next time
8. Speak to disruptive students outside of class. Explain why you find them disruptive, try to find out why they are acting that way, ask them what they would prefer to be doing. See if you can agree a way forward together.
9. Disruption that constitutes bullying or victimization of a faculty member or student is unacceptable in any circumstances and should be addressed as a disciplinary matter.

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