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Steven R. Van Hook

Dealing with Disruptive Students
Control classroom disruptions and create learning experiences.
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 by Steven R. Van Hook, PhD

Steven R. Van Hook, PhDMany experienced teachers may have found that all it takes is one disruptive student to derail a class and drain the joy right out of teaching.

Of course, disruption in a classroom is not necessarily a bad thing. Some would argue that disruptive people are essential to the creative process -- they stir things up, they shake the box, they push thinking to the edges. And such creativity is essential to learning and growth.

Still, there’s a line crossed where disruption becomes destruction, and that we can’t allow as effective educators. 

A few primary tips for dealing with classroom disruptions are:

Address problems while they’re small: recognize the trouble signs, such as incrementally escalating conflicts.

Work as a control rod: absorb the radioactivity in a classroom when necessary.

Seek ways to turn conflict into learning: assign a research project, perhaps having them work in a team.

Help the students feel connected: "I hear you" can be three very powerful words.

Set limits: once people know where the walls are, they'll often stop pushing. Know when to lower the boom. We have a duty to protect the learning environment of our students.

Turn to your support team: mentors, department heads, deans.  

In the video clip below, I share a presentation from a seminar on dealing with disruptive students prepared for online instructors, but the concepts apply to teachers on-ground as well. 

The presentation proposes three levels of intervention with disruptive students, including the educator mode, the counselor mode, and the corrective mode.

Dealing with Disruptive Students  

Steven R. Van Hook has been an educator for colleges and 
universities in the United States and abroad for more than a 
decade, teaching in traditional, online, and hybrid classrooms, 
and developing more than a dozen different courses.  

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