Challenging Ideas about Disaffection

3. Managing disruptive behaviour

<< 2. Understanding Difficult Pupils

It can be useful to think through how disruptive behaviour can and should be defined. Broad understandings might implicate any conduct that interferes with classroom effectiveness but this statement raises deeper questions about what counts as an effective classroom. In an inclusive setting pupils’ needs may vary widely and it is important not to build expectations around imagined categories of ideal learners. Certain behaviours are clearly problematic and require action to address them, but thinking about where the boundaries of tolerance should lie and why this is the case can help in establishing and maintaining fair and effective discipline in the classroom.

Use of self

Teaching is a practice founded on interpersonal dynamics. Reflexively drawing on aspects of yourself (body language, tone, warmth, personal experience, humour, empathy) while seeking out and building on the positive qualities of difficult pupils can be an effective strategy in dealing with disruptive behaviour. Specific suggestions include:

Coping with classroom pressures

Disruptive behaviour in the classroom can be stressful, wearing and debilitating for school staff and can provoke overwhelming emotional reactions. Feelings of intense anger, frustration and even despair are to some extent inevitable as hazards of the job.

Dealing with aggressive, defiant, contemptuous behaviours can feel like an assault on a teacher’s very person and sense of efficacy. Disruptive pupils can stir up feelings in adults that can be really difficult to manage. I think the challenge for teachers is how to contain these feelings and the impulse towards reactive, judgemental and punitive responses. I think that in many cases children are acting out difficulties that they are unable to articulate at all or at least in the more immediate context of their disruptive behaviour.  For a challenging child to experience that a teacher can withstand their behaviour and not reject and judge them as they might expect and as others may have done in the past can open the way for trust and communication to develop.  I am not suggesting that discipline should be abandoned or that teachers should become therapists to their pupils. But Somehow the felt assault on the person of the teacher and the emotions that are stirred up need to be contained and depersonalised (Steve Benson, Systemic psychotherapist)

Practical measures

There are a vast range of written and online resources devoted to the art of tackling disruptive behaviour in the classroom (see below for a list). Here are a few key suggestions:
Tom Bennett behaviour expert

<< 2. Understanding Difficult Pupils