Disruptive behaviors are most often the result of various stressors the student is experiencing, not all of which relate to academics. Instances of social, academic, personal/family, and mental health stressors are the most common catalysts for disruptive behaviors. Recognizing early signs of student distress allows the instructor to reach out to the student with appropriate resources, ideally preventing both classroom disruptions and factors that might hinder the student’s success.
Promoting Student Well-being:
Social support and a sense of larger community promote well-being, and are the best insurance against stress and self-harm. Students overwhelmingly state that they want to be part of a supportive community, and that they want to get to know and work with their professors. To cultivate a welcoming environment for all students and healthy faculty/student relationships, instructors should promote the use of office hours, and get to know students whenever possible, encourage the use of both academic and personal support offices, and be flexible should students present foreseeable issues in a proactive manner.
Clear Expectations and Communication:
Communicating clear expectations at the outset of the class is imperative for minimizing disruptive behavior. An excellent way to communicate your expectations regarding student behavior is to include them in the class syllabus as well as reiterate it to them on the first day of instruction. See Syllabus Statements for an example of a syllabus Behavior Statement.
Quick activities that ask students to read, engage with, and report out the contents of the syllabus, rather than just reading it independently or hearing someone else read it, can make class policies stick. Working together to co-construct ground rules or class agreements is a way to build consensus and buy-in around student behavior expectations.
Help Students Understand and Manage Stress:
When people perceive that a situation, event, or problem exceeds their resources or abilities, their body reacts automatically with the “fight or flight” response. If this response persists over time or results from a sudden significant change, it can lead to imbalance and health problems such as heart palpitations, insomnia, eating disorders, fatigue, panic disorders, and feelings of hopelessness or depression.
Instructors can help normalize this stress response when talking with a student who shows signs of heightened stress by listening to understand and acknowledging how the student is feeling. If students better understand that stress is not uncommon among their college peers, they are more likely to seek support and get help. Additionally, there are many resources available to students to help them learn how to manage stress in healthy ways. See support resources located in the Network of Support section. Giving students appropriate referrals allows you to maintain professional boundaries while respecting the student/instructor relationship.