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Dealing With Disruptive Behavior In & Out Of The Classroom. Dr. Brian Van Brunt Director of Counseling WKU [email protected] Laura Bennett, M.Ed Student Conduct Officer at Harper [email protected] Introduction. Setting Expectations & Mindset. Solution Focused.

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Dealing with disruptive behavior in out of the classroom

Dealing With Disruptive Behavior In & Out Of The Classroom

Dr. Brian Van Brunt

Director of Counseling WKU

[email protected]


Setting Expectations & Mindset

Solution Focused

Difficult Conversations

Making a Plan



  • Welcome to the second of a three part series addressing student behavior in and out of the classroom:

    • (1) Dangerous

    • Disruptive

    • Distracting/Annoying

  • Through a series of case scenarios and practical advice, we will share with you useful tools needed to identify, intervene and manage disruptive student behaviors.

Disruptive Physical Behaviors:

Student misuse of technology in the classroom, such as watching loud videos on a laptop or cell phone ringing repeatedly

Body odor or passing gas that significantly affects the learning environment

Use of alcohol or other substances

Getting up frequently or kicking others’ desks


Disruptive Communications:

Frequent interruption of professor while talking and asking of non-relevant, off-topic questions, after told directly to stop

Repeated crosstalk or carrying on side conversations while the professor is speaking

Yelling at classmates or instructor

Emotional outbursts or other extreme communications in the waiting room of a campus office that significantly affects others


Dangerous Behavior Examples

Physical assault such as pushing, shoving or punching

Throwing objects or slamming doors

Storming out of the classroom or office when upset

Direct communicated threat to professor, staff or another student such as: “I am going to kick your ass” or “If you say that again, I will end you.”

Distracting/Annoying Behavior Examples

Student has a grating personality

Student is not prepared or motivated for class

Student tells odd or strange jokes much below his developmental age

Monopolization of staff time, lack of empathy or respect for others


Setting Expectations & Mindset

  • Kris

  • During class, Kris kicks the desk of the student in front of him. He also gets up frequently and leaves class for 10-15 minutes at a time, and when he returns he often has a candy bar or other snack which he unwraps noisily.

  • The student who sat in front of Kris approached the instructor, and the instructor suggests that he sit elsewhere. When he sits across the classroom, the instructor noticed that Kris also moved and sat behind him.

Setting Expectations & Mindset

  • As the instructor--what bothers you most?

    • Overall rude behavior

    • The fact that your suggestion didn’t work and Kris repeated the behavior

    • The fact that Kris is disrupting class through small means

    • That you can’t just kick Kris out of class

    • That the student didn’t talk to Kris himself

Setting Expectations & Mindset

  • Proactive Steps

    • Set expectations for the classroom or office.

    • Publish and discuss expectations.

    • Include a discussion about what happens if someone violates the expectations.

      • A conversation in private

      • Being called out on obvious behaviors

    • Discuss how students will interact with each other as well as the instructor/staff.

Setting Expectations & Mindset

  • Explain your reason behind the rules.

  • Remind students throughout the early weeks of the semester, because they WILL push the boundaries.

Setting Expectations & Mindset

Be at your Best

  • We know when responding to a crisis it is essential to control biology as well as our thoughts.

  • John Byrne’s Aggression Management system describes the biological changes (rapid heart rate, increased breathing, adrenaline, increase blood pressure) that accompany the escalation phase.

  • If we control our biology through cycle breathing, we can regain our ability to calmly be more creative and in control of our thoughts.

Breathe in slowly to the count of 1…2…3…4…

Hold your breath to the count of 1…2…

Breathe out slowly to the count of 1…2…3…4…

Hold your breath to the count of 1…2…


Solution Focused

  • Sally

  • Sally is a sophomore student government leader who seemed a little off during the first meeting. As the advisor, you talked with her and she said she was just feeling under the weather.

  • The next day, she comes into the Student Activities Office in between classes. She smells like marijuana but appears to be fine.

  • A week later, Sally comes to meet with you to discuss an upcoming program. She trips on her way into your office, and a small bottle of vodka falls out of her purse.

Solution Focused

  • As the staff member, what bothers you most?

    • The fact that Sally would meet with you after she was drinking

    • That talking to students about their drug/alcohol issues isn’t in your job description

    • That Sally smokes pot

    • That Sally is a student leader and is making bad decisions

    • That you are worried about Sally, since she told you there is a history of alcoholism in her family

Solution Focused

  • Talk to the student alone (if safe)

  • Talk should be free of time pressure

  • Seek to understand, not to judge

  • Listen to his/her point of view

  • Discuss with neutral tone; no sarcasm

  • Build connection; working together

  • Find ‘teachable moments’ with students

Solution Focused

  • Acknowledge frustration

  • Use humor

  • Be friendly, yet direct

  • Be efficiency-oriented

  • Offer a pathway for action

  • Empathize and offer alternatives

  • Be future-oriented

7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)


Be Proactive

(create environment, choose response before problems start)


Begin with the End in Mind

(create cognitive mindset, what is the vision, what is the habit)


Put First Things First

(application of mindset, habit in action, short-term goals)

Stephen Covey: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People


Think Win-Win

(achievements depend on cooperation, working together)


Understand then be Understood

(diagnosis first, then prescribe)



(the whole is greater than the sum of its parts)


Sharpen the Saw:

(maintain and renew)

Difficult Conversations

  • Mark

  • Mark has excessive body odor, and this has been reported to you by an instructor and a computer lab staff member.

  • The instructor notes that two students had to leave class due to the smell, and the lab staff report that Mark hangs out in the computer lab most afternoons during the peak times, but no one can sit near him due to the smell.

  • Both individuals want you to keep Mark out of the classroom and the lab.

Difficult Conversations

  • As the conduct officer, what bothers you most?

    • The annoyance that faculty and staff want you to solve the problem

    • The discomfort of having to deal with body odor issues

    • Not knowing why Mark has body odor

    • The lack of support for the student

    • The idea that you are sensitive to body odor

Difficult Conversations

Do this:

  • Have a calm, cool & collected mindset

  • Share concerns without judgment & assumptions; neutral, ‘just the facts’

  • Listen to student, show respect

  • Align with the student toward success

  • Avoid sarcasm

  • Stay solution focused (what next?)

Difficult Conversations

Eight Steps

  • Describe the behavior & its impacts

  • Listen to the their perspective & response

  • Discuss appropriate behavior

  • Discuss resources to promote success

  • Reiterate or set parameters for future behaviors

Difficult Conversations

Eight Steps

  • Share consequences for non-compliance

  • Summarize the conversation

  • Inform of any follow up:

    • Document the conversation & plan

    • Decide who you will inform

    • Check in with the student, etc.

Making a Plan

  • Jack

  • Jack raised his voice in class a couple of times last week. When you noticed some female students seemed uncomfortable, you reminded everyone about the class guidelines and that seemed to work.

  • Today, Jack’s phone went off and the song “Pimpin’ All Over the World” played loudly during a quiz. He let it play for over a minute rather than turning it off.

  • After class, it was reported to you that Jack told the two women in his small group that he thought women shouldn’t go into business and instead should get MRS. Degrees.

Making a Plan

  • What bothers you most?

    • Jack’s sexist attitude

    • Jack’s phone disrupting class

    • Having to talk about sexual content with students

    • That Jack’s parents didn’t raise him better

    • That Jack didn’t get the hint the first time from your general class announcements

Making a Plan

  • William Glasser, founder of reality therapy, talks about the importance of creating plans and goals to ensure success.

  • He offers a system based on the Wants, Direction and Doing, Evaluation, Planning (WDEP).

Making a Plan

  • W = explore the student’s wants & needs: Look for the desires & direction the student wants to head in.

  • D = direction & doing: Faculty assess what the student is doing & the direction these behaviors are taking them.

Making a Plan

  • E = evaluation: Evaluate the student’s behavior. Is it taking them closer to their wants & needs?

  • P = planning & commitment: Help student formulate realistic plans & make a commitment to carry them out.

Making a Plan

  • Simple: broken into small, easy pieces

  • Attainable: realistic & accomplished

  • Measurable: assessed & evaluated

  • Immediate: short-term goals

Making a Plan

  • Controlled by the planner: ensure buy-in

  • Consistently practiced: repeat = habit

  • Committed to: buy-in & investment

Making a Plan

  • Ensure clear expectations

  • Ensure a definition of success

  • Develop a follow-up process

  • Address both the specific behaviors, as well as the overall theme

  • Plan may involve a conduct referral and a management strategy


  • Jack (Part 2)

    • Jack was referred to student conduct and received sanctions for his behavior, but was allowed to remain in class. This seems to have worked.

    • After receiving his first midterm back and getting a D, Jack wants to argue his grade with you during class. You offer to meet with him after class, but he storms off.

    • The next day, Jack comes to your department office and yells/curses at the assistant, calling her a “f*%@$ing [email protected]%*” and saying that you ruined his life and he plans to sue you.


  • What bothers you most?

    • The escalation in behavior

    • That the conduct process apparently didn’t teach him a lesson

    • That he is yelling at a staff member and now your dean/chair may think you can’t handle your students

    • That he wants to sue you

    • That Jack yelled in front of other students


  • When situations escalate…

  • Keep healthy perspective about low-level disruption that you can manage and significant disruption that warrants interim action and/or conduct referrals.

  • Talk to deans/supervisors ahead of time to know the extent of your authority.

  • Disruption is still disruption – even the second time.

  • Adequate documentation helps to ensure the process can address the disruption.


  • Create record of behavior & intervention

  • Provides clarity to you and the student

  • Allows you to maintain perspective

  • Keeps you in an objective mindset

  • Gives closure

  • Prevents the issue from going on all semester and frustrating you


  • Objective, fact based

  • Write as if the student will read it

  • FERPA – protected

  • You don’t want a student to feel SOLD out. Stay away from:

  • Speculation & Stereotypes

  • Opinions & Labels

  • Diagnoses


About the Person

  • Name

  • School ID Number (if available)

  • Relationship (current student, former student, parent, etc)



  • Observable

  • Actions

  • Words

  • Tone of Voice

  • Body Language

  • Frequency

  • Duration



  • When

  • Where

  • Describe unique factors of the situation



  • Witnesses

  • Times of incidents

  • Prior interactions with the student

  • Anything else objective that is related



  • Impact to the environment

  • Measure of disruption

  • Impact to your ability to do your job


Follow Up/Response

  • How did you or others intervene?

  • How did the student respond?

  • Who else has been notified?

  • Know what constitutions significant disruption.

  • Use the syllabus and have a discussion to clarify what you expect.

  • Use students’ names. Develop a relationship.

  • Do not assume the A student is not dangerous, and the failing student won’t comply.

  • Talk to your chair and your dean.

  • Call student affairs staff to consult on behavioral issues.

  • Don’t assume the problem will go away or the student will withdraw.

  • Don’t let situations build. Address the lowest level issue before it escalates.

  • Know what constitutes significant disruption.

  • Post office expectations.

  • Discuss “what if” situations and have plans in place.

  • Provide phone scripts and suggested responses, especially to student employees.

  • Learn how to balance providing good customer service while not being yelled at.

  • Utilize your office’s strengths, and don’t be afraid to tag team difficult issues.

  • Ask your BIT for training or guidance about referrals.

  • Create ways to track and store information.

  • Things to do when working with disruptive students

    • Listen and align yourself with the individual.

    • Don’t take it personally.

    • Address and approach issues individually as well as systemically.

    • Be futuristic and solution oriented.

    • Address the behavior, maintain a relationship with the person.

    • Know the campus conduct process.

    • Document incidents to maintain adequate records.


Brian Van Brunt Laura Bennett

[email protected]