Learning Environment Tips and Tricks

7 Strategies for Deescalating Disruptive Students

Having a set of strategies in place before disruptive behavior occurs can be a real life (and sanity) saver in the heat of the moment.

Take a peak in any classroom, and you’d be hard pressed to find one where everything goes as planned 100% of the time. The hiccups that throw off this percentage can be due to schedules, testing, teachable moments, technology glitches, and sometimes they can be due to in-class disruptions caused by students. While we can’t control internet connections, district mandates, and the occasional fire drill, we can have plans in place for dealing with student disruptions.

Overreacting to the moment in the moment can be just what a disruptive student is trying to achieve. Studies show that disruptions are often a cry for attention, and teachers need to control how those attentions are delivered. Dealing with disruptive students can be a challenge for teachers at any stage of their careers, so having plans in place for addressing issues and working with disruptive students to minimize the impact on the overall classroom climate is a must. All eyes are on the teacher to see how things will be handled, and these 7 strategies will keep the learning center stage.

  1. Stick with It – If it can be handled in the classroom, keep the student there. Being sent to the hallway or office may be the win for a disruptive student. Make it clear that you want them in your class and are willing to personally address issues to keep them there. This effort can go a long way for making a connection with a disruptive kid and deterring future negative behaviors. Knowing they’ve found someone that won’t give up on them can be a game changer.
  2. Non-verbals – If a pattern of disruptive or distracting behaviors are occurring with a student, develop a non-verbal signal to help them control the impulse. Whether it’s walking by and tapping their desk when off-task behavior begins or making eye contact and signing the word stop or another pre-determined non-verbal cue, this personalized and non-publicized redirection can help get them back on track.
  3. Choices – From toddler to teen and beyond, having a choice in the matter can quickly deescalate a disruptive situation. When questionable behavior hits your radar, giving a choice for the next step(s) can help a student maintain a feeling of control while offering a chance to hit the reset button.
  4. Common Connections – Find a common hobby or interest to talk about with the student. This is good advice for making connections with all students, disruptive and non-disruptive. If you can’t find a common connection to a sports team, author, show, game, music, etc., find something they enjoy and express an interest in having them share it with you. These positive exchanges can lead to positive changes in temperament and behaviors.
  5. Statements vs. Questions – When directions are given in the form of a question (i.e., Can you get back to your seat?), they can receive a response of no. When directions are stated (i.e., It’s time to head back to your seat.), there is no question as to whether or not they are to be followed.
  6. Highlight the Good – If a student is using disruptive behavior to garner attention, turn the tables and be sure to always highlight their good behavior. When the good receives these positive accolades, the bad can start to taper.
  7. Permanent Past – It’s imperative to pull a Frozen when it comes to personal feelings about disruptive situations, and Let It Go. Holding a grudge has no place in the classroom and is detrimental to building the relationship needed to deter future disruptive behaviors. Make every day a fresh start and always make the effort to positively interact with students in the classroom, hallways, etc.

There isn’t a surefire formula for working with disruptive students. Being positive, consistent, and personable can go a long way toward lessening the frequency of such attention-seeking situations. These 7 strategies allow teachers to have a plan in place for deterring and/or deescalating disruptions and allow everyone to keep the focus on learning.


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