Faculty Resources

Addressing Disruptive Student Behavior

Proactive and reactive methods offer a comprehensive approach for working with students who exhibit disruptive behavior. When considering options for addressing negative student behavior in the classroom, remember:

  • Each student is a unique individual with distinct experiences, values, and needs. 
  • All students are responsible for their own educational enrichment. Ultimately, the student must take ownership for what they intend to learn during their collegiate experience.
  • The greater environment plays a role in shaping a student’s behavior. From the setup of the desks and chairs in the classroom to the student’s living arrangements in a residence hall across campus, the college environment can alter a student’s experience and behavior. 

Before the Semester Begins

Know the policies of the NIU Student Code of Conduct regarding appropriate behavior inside and outside the classroom. Outline the significance of these policies in the course syllabus (See Student Code of Conduct § 3.4 Academic Misconduct).

Including behavioral policies in your syllabus holds students accountable and immediately establishes guidelines for appropriate student behavior. List what students should do as opposed to what students should not do. This is effective when engaging in private conversations with students who have had in-classroom behavioral issues. Include a statement inviting students to discuss disability-related accommodations.

 First Week of Class

Ask students to identify what it means to be an adult in an academic environment. Establish expectations with students and what the students should expect from the instructor, and how the class will function as a group.

Establish a verbal and non-verbal cue to indicate that inappropriate behavior is occurring. Both verbal and non-verbal cues should be subtle but clear to retain the dignity of the student while immediately addressing the negative behavior. The goal is to encourage the student to develop a self-monitoring system for improving behavior.If a student proactively shares that they may be disruptive in class due to disability, share examples of attentiveness and active listening, positive contributions to class discussion, and healthy interactions with peers.

Throughout the Semester

Utilize a team approach to address disruptive student behavior. If  the behavior is a result of a disability, consult the DRC. Develop a personal development plan with the disruptive student. Encourage the student to share his or her own perceptions of what could be improved. Facilitate the student’s personal consideration of alternative behaviors.

Support the ideas of the student, as the student is more likely to take ownership for their behaviors if the student has found the solution.

Speak with the student in a neutral environment, outside the classroom. A student may feel intimidated by the classroom or office environment and as a result, the student may not be as receptive to discussions regarding her or his behavior.

Assume that the student is not being intentionally or maliciously disruptive. In many cases, students are unaware that their behavior is negatively impacting the educational environment. Documentation of negative student behavior may be helpful. Include the date and time of incident, a detailed description of the disruptive behavior, your response, the conclusion of the incident, and any follow-up that is planned.


Amada, G. & Smith, M.C. (1999). Coping with misconduct in the college classroom: A practical model. Asheville, NC: College Administration Publications, Inc.

Brown, B. (2009). Coping with disruptive students in the classroom. James Madison University Counseling & Student Development Center. Retrieved from www.jmu.edu/counselingctr/Resources/fac_disruptive_students.html

Dealing with Disruptive Students. (2006). Academic Leader, 22(4), 7-8.

Hernandez, T. J., & Fister, D. L. (2001). Dealing with disruptive and emotional college students: A systems model. Journal of College Counseling, 4(1), 49.

Laura and behavior issues: A case study in accommodating a learning disability. (2004). University of Washington Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology. Retrieved from www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/Rights/Casestudies/