Handling Distracting & Annoying Behavior In & Out of the Classroom

Dr. Brian Van Brunt
Laura Bennett, M.Ed
Director of Counseling WKU
Student Conduct Officer at Harper
[email protected]
[email protected]
Button Pushing!
Understanding Motivation
Customer Service
Caring Limit Setting
Creative Problem Solving
Welcome to the third of a three-part series addressing
student behavior in and out of the classroom:
(1) Dangerous
(2) Disruptive
(3) Distracting/Annoying
Through a series of case scenarios
and practical advice, we will share
with you useful tools needed to
identify, intervene and manage
annoying student behaviors.
Annoying Behaviors:
• Student is restless during community programs and
• Student monopolizes staff/faculty time
• Student shows up late for class and is unprepared for the
assignments being covered
• Student texts during class
• Student passes gas
• Student calls office continually,
won’t be redirected
Annoying Communications:
• Frequent asking of similar questions over and over again in
class, doesn’t listen and comprehend, tunes out of
• Interrupting others and talking
about unrelated things
• Student sends multiple emails
with poor grammar and selfish tone within seconds
• Challenges you publicly, threatens to sue you
Dangerous Behavior Examples
Physical assault such as pushing, shoving or punching
Throwing objects or slamming doors
Storming out of the classroom or office when upset
Direct communicated threat to professor, staff or another student
such as: “I am going to kick your ass.”
Disruptive Behavior Examples
• Student misuse of technology in the classroom.
• Yelling/fighting
• Poor personal hygiene/body odor that “significantly disrupts
learning environment”
• Sexual harassment
Button Pushing!
Michelle often talks to her friends in class and comes
unprepared for class discussions and quizzes.
She often participates in classroom discussion, but her
comments are off-topic and ill-informed.
She talks back to the instructor in class and in her office
and says, “I’m paying your salary. So you just stand up
there and teach. Don’t worry about what I’m doing. You
worry about yourself.”
Button Pushing!
As the instructor, what bothers you most?
1. Lack of being prepared for class
2. The way her behaviors can frustrate others in the
3. Rude communication with the professor
4. Wasted time on classroom management, taking away
from content instructional time
5. Lack of participation and then when she does
participate it is ill-informed and off-topic
6. The admissions department and the students they
seem to be admitting to your college
Button Pushing!
Where do we start?
• Identify the things students do that
• Push your buttons
• Get under your skin
• Make you see red
• Drive you to reactive, rather than preventative
• Keep you up at night
Button Pushing!
Where does this come from?
Why do we get upset?
• Differences from your college experiences
• Frustration that you behaved well, why can’t your
students do the same? (“In my day…”)
• Early family expectations around behavior, authority,
performance and respect
• Overworked, overstressed, overwhelmed
• Don’t bring your “A” game
• Sense of unfairness for other students
Button Pushing!
What do you do?
Take a deep breath, collect your thoughts
Don’t feel pressured to solve problem ‘on the fly’
Take each situation as a learning opportunity
Identify tendency to over-generalize or draw
assumptions without evidence
• Don’t expect perfection, 2 steps forward, 1 back
• Understand Change Theory*
Button Pushing!
Prochaska and DiClemente’s
Change Theory
Understanding Motivation
Kyle has a grating personality that tends to frustrate and
annoy those who spend time around him. He makes offcolor and immature jokes that often fall flat. He wears
clothing with writing all over it and he exhibits odd
behaviors such as tapping and kissing his gloves and
Few people can stand to spend time with Kyle. He drives
potential friends away, frustrates his professors with offtopic questions and has difficulty getting along with other
students in the dining hall and dormitory.
Understanding Motivation
As a staff member, what bothers you most?
1. The difficulty trying to change a student like Kyle who
is likely set in his ways
2. The fact that your suggestion didn’t work and Kyle
repeated the behavior
3. The teasing that likely is occurring from other students
4. Kyle distracting the instructor from his lesson plans
and taking learning opportunities away from the other
5. Kyle's parents sent him to college without the skills to
be successful
Understanding Motivation
Why is understanding motivation important?
• When we know why, we can better tailor and adjust
our interventions to be more effective to address the
problem at hand
• When we assume motivation that isn’t accurate, we
run the risk of using an intervention that doesn’t
• Keep in mind: Understanding motivation doesn’t
mean not addressing the situation!
Understanding Motivation
Why does Kyle behave this way?
1. He may have a developmental disorder like
Asperger’s and has little control over how he
approaches other students
2. He may have a history of being picked on, teased
and bullied, he tried to cope by making friends
3. He may come from a small, introverted family and
doesn’t have much experience in social settings
4. He may be self-centered, narcissistic and entitled
Understanding Motivation
How does this impact our intervention?
1. (Asperger’s): Soft referral to ADA, social skills
training, counseling, accommodations
2. (Bullied): Counseling support, awareness of teasing
in classroom, connect to support clubs,
3. (Introverted): Create opportunities for success,
encourage positive social connection
4. (Self-centered): Firmer limit setting and setting
Understanding Motivation
How doesn’t this impact our intervention?
1. Conversation with student still needed
2. Feedback needs to be provided
3. A plan of action and resources to promote success
need to be offered
4. Articulation of consequences of non-compliance
still need to be communicated
Customer Service
Once a semester, Susan calls the financial aid office looking
for answers about financial aid. Her phone messages and
demeanor are rambling, and the staff rarely understand
Only one staff member seems to be able to effectively
redirect her. The others find her behavior odd and refuse
to deal with her.
When Susan can’t resolve her issues, her mother gets
involved. Susan’s mother is even more difficult to deal
with, as she tends to escalate the situation.
Customer Service
As the office staff, what bothers you most?
1. Annoyed that this seems to happen every semester
2. Frustrated to deal with both Susan and her mom
3. Frustrated that only one person is able to redirect
her/assist her
4. Annoyed that Susan is still in school
5. Aggravated that Susan doesn’t take
responsibility for her own behavior
Customer Service
What are the basic tenets of customer
• Make an attempt to understand the reasons behind
the concerning behavior.
• Seek to be educational in conversations
• Offer kindness and respect
• Treat student how you want to be treated in a similar
• Help the student solve the
problems or get information
Customer Service
What are some limitations?
• While it can be challenging and difficult to have these
conversations, it is important to set limits with
students if their behavior is of concern
• Customer service in higher education does not
translate to “the customer is always right.” You have
rights in the workplace, and your campus has
processes for addressing certain things
• Everything we do has a developmentally focused
educational component
Customer Service
Narrative Therapy: Reframing
• Narrative therapy introduces the concepts of helping
students see their stories from a different perspective
• The story doesn’t change, but how they think about it
is shifted
Customer Service
Narrative Therapy: Reframing
• A student comes back to
school later in life and
struggles with his
workload and computer
skills. He doesn’t think he
has the skills to make it.
• Many don’t have the
courage to complete
school later in life. With a
little extra work, they can
be successful.
Customer Service
• Helping students understand failure, difficulty and
challenge as part of their journey in college is essential
• Too often, students see failure as final and a sign of
weakness, rather than a lesson
• J.K. Rowling said at a Harvard 2008 commencement
address, “It is impossible to live without failing at
Customer Service
• Encourage students to not dwell on failure
• See challenges as something to learn from
• Be connected to those who support positive choices, not
negative ones
• Expect challenges to occur; perfection isn’t a goal
• Talk to parents and others about past failures
• Assess where the student’s
energy is going; focus on successes
and build from those
Caring Limit Setting
Jonathan comes to the Dean of Students’ office on a daily
basis. After he had an issue that he received help with, he
finds that the office staff are helpful and supportive.
Jonathan doesn’t have a lot of friends and feels like the
Dean of Students’ staff listen to him. He often spends 45
minutes at a time talking to the reception staff. He makes
appointments with the Dean every few days and doesn’t
usually have much substance to discuss, at least according
to the Dean.
No one wants to hurt his feelings, but they are frustrated.
Caring Limit Setting
What bothers you most?
Jonathan is nice, but annoying
Having to be the bad guy
“Clingy” students
Discomfort about approaching the conversation
Not sure what you can do because you don’t want to
refer to conduct
Caring Limit Setting
Why is limit setting important?
• People rise to the level of your expectations
• If you are a teacher, remember the student usually
has several teachers in a given semester
• We all have different pet peeves – if a student
doesn’t know what yours are, he/she can’t avoid
• You will sleep better
• If a student doesn’t know what he/she is doing
wrong, the behavior won’t change
Caring Limit Setting
How to set limits well
• Establish rapport using your strengths
• Be real in your approach, not on a pedestal
• Align yourself with the student, articulating why you
care and how this conversation promotes success
• Describe the behavior – use specific examples
• Describe the impacts of the behavior
• Listen to the student’s perspective and motivation
Caring Limit Setting
How to set limits well
Describe what appropriate behavior looks like
Offer resources and ways you can be supportive
Discuss a plan of action
Describe consequences for non-compliance
Summarize the conversation
Follow up in writing
Creative Problem Solving
Dino is late to almost every class. He explains he has
trouble getting up because he works the late shift at
the factory and tries to sleep before class.
Dino shares with the professor he is struggling to keep
up with the technology in class like checking email,
sending in papers as an attachment and using cut and
past on the online discussion forum.
Dino shares, “I was promised the school would work
with me on these kind of things. I’m not some 18 year
old kid who lives on Facebook. I have a family to keep
up with and a job. I need a little understanding and
some help.”
Creative Problem Solving
As the instructor, what bothers you most?
1. Dino is trying to do too much and should take some
time off of school
2. He expects you to solve his problems for him
3. Dino hasn’t taken any initiative on his own to seek out
technology help or tutoring
4. You don’t have time to deal with Dino and his
problems while keeping up with all of your other
5. Dino is older and should have gotten this information
Creative Problem Solving
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory
• Pre‐contemplation: At this stage, the student is
unaware that there is a problem and hasn’t thought
much about change
• Dino: Dino may have been at this stage before the
semester started when he thought about going back
to school with a family, job and technology
Creative Problem Solving
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory
• Pre‐contemplation Contemplation
• Do not provide information (flyers/brochures)
• Do not offer advice or direct feedback for change
• Engage in open-ended questions; clarify mixed
messages (Columbo)
• Encourage student to explore and talk about
their attitudes and beliefs without assumptions
• Be a supportive listener, don’t offer answers or
pressure to change
Creative Problem Solving
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory
• Contemplation: The student has thought about
change and is getting ready for movement in the
near future. The student realizes their current
behavior is not in their best interest, but is not yet
ready to begin their plan to change
• Dino: Dino may realize now that things are not
going well. He has been falling behind in his work
(online forum) and he is aware the instructor is not
happy with his attendance problems
Creative Problem Solving
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory
• Contemplation  Preparation for Action
• Provide passive information (flyers/brochures)
• Suggest “next-step” resources
• Continue to engage in open-ended questions
• Talk about fears and worries they have about
changing their behavior
• Be a supportive listener
• Encourage and inspire hope for change
Creative Problem Solving
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory
• Preparation for Action: In this stage, the student is
aware of a problem and is ready to actively create
goals to address the problems in his life.
• Dino: Dino might be at the cusp of this stage. He
might be willing to try some new ideas (tutoring,
technology help, talking to someone in counseling
about his stress, meeting with other non-trad
students). Be careful about jumping too quickly to
this stage of change.
Creative Problem Solving
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory
• Preparation for Action  Action
• Encourage and support
• Expect obstacles and roadblocks
• Be supportive in ways that encourage good
choices and success as they begin to change
• Talk about fears and worries they have about
being successful
• Redefine failure
• Encourage and inspire hope for change
Creative Problem Solving
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory
• Action: This stage of change is where the student
puts their plans into action in order to change
• Dino: Assuming Dino is ready for change and
begins to access tutoring, learn some new
technology and better manage his stress; it is still
likely he will struggle with making all of these
changes successfully the first time out
Creative Problem Solving
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory
• Action  Maintenance and Relapse Prevention
• Encourage and support
• Have realistic understand of “two steps forward,
one step back”
• Help analyze what worked and what didn’t
• Be creative about ways to adjust plan
• Encourage to try, try again
• Itsy-Bitsy spider
Creative Problem Solving
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory
• Maintenance and Relapse Prevention: Here the
goal is to continue successful plans and repeat
those action steps that work, while adjusting things
that don’t.
• Dino: The plan for Dino to improve attendance,
learn how to use the discussion board and better
manage his stress has worked and is either being
maintained or slipping. The student is likely getting
positive and negative feedback from others.
Dino’s Stage of Change
Our Member’s Motivational Task
Raise doubt; increase their perception of risk and
problems with current behavior
Help student head towards change out of their current
ambivalence; help them identify risk for not changing;
strengthen self-efficacy for changing current behavior
Preparation for
Help the student identify and select the best initial course
of action; reinforce movement in this direction
Maintenance &
Help the student take steps towards change; provide
encouragement and praise
Teach student relapse prevention skills
• Read your Student Code of Conduct and base syllabus
language/office expectations off that
• Meet with your Student Conduct staff and discuss the
campus thresholds for formally reporting annoying vs.
disruptive behaviors
• Develop a detailed syllabus and spend time talking
through it
• Address behaviors in the moment
• Develop relationships with students so that the first
conversation isn’t a “bad one”
• Learn how to describe behaviors objectively and be
consistent in your approach
• Keep good documentation
• Invest time in solutions, not in complaining
• Give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable, not to be
Things to do when working with annoying students
– Listen and align with the student to promote success
– Address the behavior, but support the person
– Don’t assume students “know better” based on their
gender, age, grades, or any other quality
– Address low-level behaviors before they become a
– Don’t assume you can pass off an issue to your conduct
staff or BIT – usually you are the best one to address the
behavior through a conversation with the student
A Final Thought
– Students have a right to be odd
– Students rise to the level of your expectations…
– Or they may make your next decision an easy one
Brian Van Brunt
[email protected]
Laura Bennett
[email protected]

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