Classroom Management Strategies for Working with Difficult Students

Sleeping during class. Spotty attendance. Cell phone misuse. Provocative clothing. Combative behavior. These are just some of the classroom management challenges faculty may see on a regular basis. What’s the best way to respond?

“So much of classroom management strategies relate to the effort that we put into it,” says Brian Van Brunt, EdD., director of counseling and testing at Western Kentucky University. “It’s what the professor comes into the classroom feeling, whether they’re going to be successful with their interactions with students and reach a common goal, or whether they’re rushed, distracted, or not really very interested at all in connecting with the students and moving forward.”

In the online seminar Classroom Management 101: Working with Difficult Students, Van Brunt and Jason Ebberling, associate dean of student affairs at Menlo College, used role playing to illustrate how best to respond to students are who are disruptive, lack motivation or expect special treatment.

Classroom Management Techniques for Responding to Difficult Students
Using principles of Motivational Enhancement Therapy, Van Brunt and Ebberling outlined strategies college faculty can use to acknowledge the problem and then work with the student to develop a plan to correct it.

Express Empathy – Avoid communications that imply a superior/inferior relationship between the professor and the student. Respect the student’s freedom of choice and self-direction.
Develop Discrepancy – Change occurs when college students perceive a discrepancy between where they are and where they want to be. It may be necessary to develop such discrepancy by raising student’s awareness of the adverse personal consequences of their negative behavior.

Avoid Argumentation – Arguing with students typically only makes them more resistant. Instead, employ other strategies to help them see the consequences of their negative behavior, and to begin devaluing the perceived positive aspects of their negative choices.

Roll with Resistance – Do not meet resistance head-on, but rather “roll with” the momentum – with a goal of shifting student perceptions in the process. Solutions are usually evoked from the student rather than provided by the professor

Support Self-Efficacy – According to Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is the belief that one can perform a particular behavior or accomplish a particular task. So the student really needs to be persuaded that it’s possible for him or her to change their problematic behavior. If they believe that they can change their behavior, then they’re more likely to move forward through the change process.

Three Tips for Working with Difficult Students
Van Brunt and Ebberling urged faculty to keep the following in mind when working with disruptive students:

1. Set rules for classroom behavior early. When discussed in class and included as part of the syllabus, these rules provides a base point for future confrontations with students. Allow students to have input into developing a set of classroom standards and manners.

2. Work as a team. Don’t feel you have to go it alone when it comes to working with difficult students. You can refer at-risk students to counseling services, or you can seek guidance from counseling on how to best approach a situation.

3. Remember the professor always wins. In the end, when all is said and done, you retain the ultimate ability to grade your student and control your classroom. Most schools respect a professor’s right to ask students to leave the classroom if they are disruptive.