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How To Handle Students With Disruptive Behaviors

Pop quiz! What’s the most important part of the school day? Is it reading? Long division? Learning to tell time?

Try none of the above. The answer? The most important part of the school day is social-emotional learning, which is bolstered by applied behavior analysis (ABA).

If you’re an education professional, you know that the priority for all teachers in the classroom should be building relationships.

If you aren’t prioritizing positive relationships with your students, you’re setting yourself (and them) up for failure. Students can’t reach learning targets if the learning environment is not stable.

This is why setting up rock-solid routines and expectations at the beginning of the year is crucial. Especially in a special education setting, students thrive when they are familiar with how they should be behaving.

Now, I know, I know. You’ve tried it all before. Sending kids to “time out”. Bribing them with stickers or “points,” and Calling home to their parents.

If you feel like you are at the end of your rope with behavior management, read on to discover applied behavior analysis strategies for preventing and actively managing disruptive behaviors. 

Set Clear Expectations

You just don’t understand. Why is this student constantly acting out and disrupting the class?

While it’s tempting to wonder if they’re doing it just to get the best of you, ask yourself if they truly understand what your expectations for acceptable classroom behavior are.

The most important step to managing behaviors in the classroom starts before any behaviors pop up.

Starting the school year by establishing clear expectations for students ensures that they all understand how they should behave in the classroom.

Setting expectations may entail more than just going over a laundry list of rules on the first day.

You can make this activity more engaging by having students help you write classroom norms or act out skits for what following these expectations would (or wouldn’t) look like.

Once the expectations are set, your work isn’t over.

Do monthly or quarterly “check-ins” to revisit the expectations and reflect on how well the class has been adhering to them. These “check-ins” will provide opportunities to remind students of the expectations and recommit themselves to expectations that may have been neglected.

Take 5

Teaching can feel like a race against the clock. Every lesson plan is jam-packed, and there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get through every activity.

It may seem counterintuitive, but giving students regularly scheduled breaks can help them be more productive in the long run.

When students are forced to sit still and focus longer than is developmentally appropriate, they are bound to get antsy, distracted, and disruptive.

Taking scheduled time to break up longer lessons or simply move their bodies can help students stay on-task for longer.

This tip is especially helpful for a student with ADHD and is often discussed as the Pomodoro Technique.

Feng Shui Your Room

Many disruptive student situations can be resolved with a simple reassigning of seats. While it may be simpler to allow students to choose their seats, this decision may hold more power than they’re aware of.

While not possible for the virtual classroom, you can increase focus by rearranging seating to suit various activities.

If you have a lot of whole-group discussions, a circle format may be best for you. Do a lot of group work or stations? Try grouped tables!

Additionally, consider having seating options for students who need to be alone to focus. 

Flexible seating can be a way to differentiate the classroom environment for various students’ needs. This same philosophy applies to limiting distractions and technology in the classroom. 

Focus on Positive Reinforcement

Instead of spending your day calling out negative behaviors that you see from students and attempting to correct them, try to shift your strategy to focus on positivity.

When you see students becoming disruptive, shift the narrative by praising the behavior of students who are doing what they should be doing.

This keeps the classroom climate light while also reminding students of the expectations. The University of Missouri’s 5-year study showed that positive reinforcement techniques improved academic and social outcomes.

You might use phrases like “thank you for sitting and waiting so patiently,” or “great job waiting for my instructions before starting your work.”

Start Every Day Fresh

It can be easy to feel locked into a personal battle with a student, especially if they seem to be the ones perpetrating disruptions each day.

But, it’s key to remember that at the end of the day, they’re just kids. Remember back to when you were a kid. Remember how terrifying it was when an adult told you off?

As the restorative justice philosophy emphasizes, you never want to damage your relationship with a student.

Even if today was a bad day and a student got on your nerves, make sure that they know that tomorrow is a fresh start.

By letting students know that you won’t carry over any resentment from today into tomorrow, you’re maintaining a positive relationship with them and allowing them to break out of the cycle of disruptive behavior.

Familiarize Yourself With Diverse Needs

Kids will be kids. That much is true. However, there may be a deeper reason behind why a student is being disruptive. 

They may have needs that are not being met. If that’s the case, it’s impossible to expect them to behave perfectly.

If relevant, always refer to their IEP or 504 plans and follow up with their case manager. If new accommodations are necessary, bring those up at their next IEP meeting. 

Use ABA to Manage Ongoing Behavior

When managing classroom behavior, there is never a dull moment. The key to managing various disruptions is to think of this process as a cycle.

You need to set up your classroom in a way that helps mitigate distractions. Focusing on routines, expectations, and positive relationships is your front-end work.

Then, get to work using ABA strategies daily.

Finally, if you do need to take your interventions to the next level, look into creating a behavior intervention plan. Schedule a demo today to preview behavior intervention plans made with research-backed strategies. 

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