What should teachers understand about effective classroom behavior management?
Page 1: Effects of Disruptive Behavior
Just like Ms. Rollison, many beginning teachers are thrilled to meet their students and eager to implement everything they have learned and trained to do. Although typically nervous about the first day of school, most new teachers are confident in their ability to deliver academic instruction and have high expectations for their students. Despite this optimism (or perhaps because of it), some first-year teachers might not be fully prepared to deal with disruptive behavior—any action or verbalization that interferes with classroom instruction and impedes other students’ ability to learn. Disruptive behaviors include minor infractions like talking out of turn or being out of one’s seat without permission, as well as more serious ones like defiance, verbal threats, or acting out.
For Your Information
Although the terms “disruptive behavior” and “challenging behavior” are often used interchangeably, not all challenging behaviors are disruptive. In other words, not all challenging behaviors interfere with the delivery of instruction or impact other students’ learning. Consider a student who doesn’t start independent work when requested or one who is frequently off-task. Although the teacher may find these behaviors challenging, they are not typically disruptive.
Consider what happened to Michael Rosenberg, a researcher and expert in behavioral interventions, on his first morning as a teacher. Although it’s been a while since Michael was a first-year teacher, in the time since not much has changed regarding teachers’ expectations and the challenges of managing disruptive behaviors.
Michael Rosenberg, PhD
Professor, Special Education, SUNY New Paltz
Professor Emeritus, Johns Hopkins University
Effectively managing disruptive classroom behavior is a challenge for both beginning and experienced teachers alike. In fact, teachers consistently report that disruptive behavior is one of the most difficult parts of their job. Not only is it one of the areas in which teachers most often request assistance, it is a common reason for job dissatisfaction, teacher turnover, and even exiting the profession altogether.
Although most disruptive classroom behaviors are minor, if not addressed correctly and consistently, even small disruptions can persist and become worse. Still, whether minor or more serious, disruptive behavior has negative impacts, including:
For Your Information
Students who engage in disruptive behavior frequently or consistently may experience even more negative outcomes. These students may be excluded from the classroom (e.g., sent to the office, suspended, expelled), which means they miss important instructional and social opportunities. This often leads to students falling further behind their peers.
- Lost instructional time (up to 50%, according to some sources)
- Lowered academic achievement for the disruptive student and fellow classmates
- Decreased student engagement and motivation
- Teacher stress and frustration
- Teacher turnover
The good news is that these results can be minimized or avoided. On the following pages, we will lead you through a number of proactive practices to help effectively prevent and manage disruptive classroom behavior.
- For decades, parents and teachers have indicated that discipline and behavior management in schools are a major concern.
(PDK International, 2019; Rose & Gallup, 2000; Scott, 2017)
- Many teachers believe they lack the skills to manage a classroom and feel unprepared to address disruptive behavior in a productive evidence-based manner.
(Flower et al., 2019; Griffith & Tyner, 2019; Oliver & Reschly, 2007)
- Teachers who lack sufficient training in classroom management experience high levels of stress when dealing with student misbehavior, a factor that contributes to many leaving the profession (i.e., teacher attrition).
(Aloe et al., 2014; Scott, 2017; Stevenson, VanLone, & Barber, 2020)
Returning to School
As students return to the classroom after more than a year of virtual or hybrid learning, teachers can expect a greater frequency and intensity of disruptive behaviors than is typical following summer break. This is true for all ages, although the reasons may vary.
- Younger students — After participating in virtual instruction alone in front of a screen, these students may not have adequately learned the skills necessary for navigating in-person group settings.
- Older students — These students may engage in disruptive behaviors that reflect the anxiety and excitement around returning to complex social situations with peers and teachers.
Also, keep in mind that many students may be experiencing grief and trauma related to the ongoing effects of the pandemic on their home and family circumstances (e.g., death of a loved one, food insecurity, parental unemployment, divorce). Younger students may not be capable of communicating their feelings, and older students may not want to share. Some disruptive behaviors may be a reflection of these circumstances.
For more on student grief and trauma, view the following resources:
Throughout this module, you will find Returning to School boxes with tips to help you address this possible increase in challenging behavior.