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From Chaos to Control: How to Handle Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom

Nothing will sink your battleship and enthusiasm for teaching more than having to deal with student behavior. I'm not talking about the day-to-day small corrections - I'm talking about noise that makes your eardrums feel like they're about to blow, student interactions that make you feel more like a referee than a teacher, and feeling like you would accomplish more talking to a brick wall than telling that one (or ten) students to complete their work/ not to touch each other/ speak respectfully/ etc.


I'm writing this in November, well past the honeymoon phase at the beginning of the year and entering holiday season. And if you haven’t noticed already - who am I kidding - the not-so-great behaviors in your room are ramping up. Just let me say this now - you are not a bad teacher, or incompetent, or unfit for the classroom if your head was about to explode from the insanity that ensued prior to Thanksgiving Break. Or the week of Halloween. Or anytime there is a full moon. Or the currently loading December, jingle all the way to the end of the semester.

Want to listen to this message instead of read? You can hear the audio version in my podcast or click the Mp3 below.

It’s not you. Once the kids are more comfortable with you, with each other, they will not only test you but let loose with everything they carry around emotionally each day - and that usually presents itself in many undesired, impulsive behaviors. 


If you need more resources on dealing with student behaviors, make sure to read these posts on statements and phrases to manage student behavior and establishing the structure behind any behavior management in the classroom - although its geared for back to school, there’s a lot you can implement at any time during the year, especially after you come back from a school break. You can reestablish control and structure - or, if you feel like you didn’t get off on the best start with behavior in your classroom, it’s not too late to get back on track. It takes a lot of resolve, but you can do it.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on teaching your students how you expect things to be in your room and how you expect them to treat you and one another. It’s a long haul until May or June (or maybe for some of you even July), so now is NOT the time to throw up your hands. 


I decided to end the year on how to handle disruptive behavior in the classroom because how you approach it is something you can control - maybe you can’t control how many assessments you’ll have to give your class at the end of the semester, but you can master how your classroom will run and what behaviors you won’t tolerate. Also, I know that an unruly class chock full of chaos can damper your joy for teaching. You can be the captain of the ship - no mutiny, my friends! It takes persistence, but if you want to be a teacher and DON’T want your class to make you feel like walking the plank, keep reading! 

So let’s get to it. I want to give you three things you can take action on as soon as your finished listening to this podcast that you can take back to your classroom when you return from your break.


Problem #1 - your class is loud. Really loud. This is one disruptive behavior in the classroom that I personally have to handle ASAP - because I need (as do my students) a calm learning environment.

When I say a loud classroom, this is as in the volume button on the remote is stuck on up. And they're not loudly discussing how much they love writing or multiplication facts - the conversations get more off topic and the amount of work getting completed is dwindling with every passing minute. 


My solution to this has been Voice Levels. This is something you have to teach your class, but it’s worth it. It goes like this: it’s basically a volume control remote that you hold (and no one can hide or lose). Voice level 0 - no talking. Voice Level 1 - whisper. Voice Level 2 - six inch voice in groups. You can decide the parameters, and you can decide what classroom activities should be what voice level - and you can change you mind at any time! You do need to teach your kids what each Voice Level sounds like, when they use them, how they transition to one voice level to another - but this is you taking command of the loud. And it’s worth it. When your ears aren’t pulsating from the noise, you’ll wish you did it sooner. If you want slides and posters to teach and reinforce Voice Levels in your classroom, I have them available in my TpT store, ready to go!


Problem #2 - You kids’ interactions with each other are OFF. THE. WALL. The disruptive classroom behaviors are taking your (and their) attention off of learning and putting the bulk of the energy on resolving peer-to-peer contact.

We’re talking impulsive. We’re talking demonstrating feelings in ways that are very distracting to the learning environment. We’re talking not giving a fluff about those Voice Levels you taught them and going off the chain with the noise volume - AGAIN. This is were you teach kids to STOP. You shut it down, make them think, removed from whatever they were doing, and they come back to what they were suppose to be doing - after they take a moment to STOP. This gives the kids that are affected by the behaviors a break (and a chance to work without distractions) and makes the offender(s) take a minute or two think about what they are doing and how it impacts their peers. 

The best way to STOP a student is silently. They’ve taken enough  of the time and energy that should be going into learning - it’s time to shut it down without drawing anymore attention to the issue at hand.


This can be with a hand signal or code word you teach your class, or it can be with handing the kid something physical, like a stop sign card. I’ve created color coded stop sign cards and slides - the code matches the issue, such as talking, off task actions... you’ll have to check it out! They’re color-coded as opposed to a traditional red stop sign so you don’t have to worry about the text on the card - just associate the color with what you want the student to stop. Again, you’ll have to teach and reinforce how the stop signs work - the goal is to turn off the undesired behaviors as quickly as possible so your class can refocus on learning.


Problem #3 - By this point in the year, you have repeat student offenders disrupting your classroom, and if you haven’t already, you need a means of documenting how you are handling the issues in your classroom and communicating it with home.

If you haven’t already, it’s never too late to start. Documenting, having students reflect, and sending communications home about behavior can end many unnecessary behaviors - it’s almost like once their cover is blown as to their behavior in the classroom, a lot of the minor things that students have been doing that make it more difficult to teach will cease.


How do you get this paper trail going? Student reflections - it doesn’t have to be very long, just long enough that they write down what they did, what happened, and how they plan to correct the behavior. Weekly reflections - again, no need to be long, just enough to check yes or no to statements and think about actions. For longstanding issues, a communication log that travels between home and school to give a quick, daily snapshot of what occurred that day. There are many ways to quickly capture the essence of what needs to be addressed without adding a lot to your already overflowing workload (student reflections put the work mainly on them). If you are looking for some easy to implement forms that you can you for documenting and communicating going into the holidays, here are my simple, no nonsense forms for behavior management that you can start using tomorrow to set your students on a better path to making better choices in your classroom.


That’s all for part one on student behaviors - next time I’m going to deep dive into group work and ways to get your students to work cooperatively without chaos. Until then, remember this: even when things are out of control, you are still in charge. It’s your classroom, your rules, your presence that sets the stage for how things are going to be and how students can expect things to go. No event or season can take that fact away from you. With guidance and reinforcement, you can maintain a classroom that, while not perfect, runs on high exceptions so that focus is on learning. 


It's never too late to create structure and order in your classroom environment. Get your FREE copy of  The Great 88: Rules, Routines, and Expectations to Go Over and Over? It's a free checklist of ALL the classroom management things you need for back to school season, during and after the holidays or any time your classroom needs a reset. Get your copy below!


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