We’ve all encountered this situation in the classroom: A student is acting out, bothering their classmates, or wandering around the room after they’ve been told to sit still. The student’s teacher is exasperated and decides that punishing the student is the only recourse.
This is an example of a reactive response to disruptive student behavior. If the teacher’s only option is to punish this student, then this campus is operating with a reactive mindset toward behavior management, not a proactive one.
What’s the difference between reactive and proactive responses to disruptive student behavior?
According to Melissa Williams of Classcraft, “[w]hile reactive classroom management involves taking things as they come, proactive classroom management is the fine art of anticipating certain issues and having solid contingency plans in place.”
In other words, a reactive mindset means that campus personnel—principals, administrators, and teachers—respond to a student after they have behaved disruptively. This method responds to the negative behavior.
Alternatively, proactive tools identify issues behind disruptive behavior. Ideal proactive behavior management helps struggling students before their underlying problems manifest into disruptive behavior.
Transforming your school from reactive to proactive is an essential step in promoting mental wellness over punishment. Here are various ways to get ahead of disruptive student behavior before it starts.
Disruptive Student Behavior Influences Your Campus Climate
According to recent reports, disruptive student behavior is a significant factor in many educational settings. Nearly one in four students experience bullying, while more than 40% of school leaders have been subjected to violence from out-of-control students. Children who don’t know how to solve social problems often turn to bullying because they lack other ways to express themselves.
If students, administrators, and teachers fear for their wellbeing at school, your campus climate will suffer.
Why Disruptive Student Behavior Could Be a Cry for Help
Children aren’t disruptive because they are inherently “bad” or “immoral.” Instead, children act out because they have seen what this behavior will “get” them or because they don’t know how to communicate in more reasonable ways, explains Joel L. Young, MD.
In the previous example, for instance, the disruptive student may be facing mental health issues. Children typically behave disruptively for one of three reasons: they like the consequences of the bad behavior, they want to convey a message, or they don’t know how to share their emotions productively.
All children may act out, but those with potential mental health issues have a notable marker: “Children react to their environments and may behave differently in different locations. But generally speaking, a hallmark of a diagnosis is that the behavior is fairly consistent regardless of the circumstances,” Young notes.
So, if a child is acting out in school, at home, in activities, and in other contexts, it’s likely time to connect that child with a counselor. This isn’t something to wait on; the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that one in five young people in the United States has a mental health issue.
The Importance of Giving Students Ways to Find Help
Despite the prevalence of mental issues in children, only half of those suffering actually receive treatment for their issues, states NAMI. The organization suggests that school is the missing link between mentally ill students and effective treatment: “Our schools can play an important role in identifying the early warning signs of an emerging mental health condition and in linking students with effective services and supports.”
The organization recommends training faculty and staff on the warning signs of mental health conditions and how to offer students support for their mental health struggles.
Creating a Proactive School
It may be simpler to offer mental health services to students after they’ve started acting out in class. But instead of responding to disruptive behavior, you should create support for students before their negative behavior begins.
How can you create a more proactive campus?
It’s all about planning. Calhoun School District recommends these steps for proactive strategies in the classroom:
- Communicate expectations for student behavior.
- Discuss rewards and consequences for following or ignoring these expectations.
- Determine how frequently behavior needs to be monitored. In low-disruptive environments, the recommendation is 45 minutes; in high-disruptive environments, it’s every 15 minutes.
- Consider how behavior should be monitored. If a student needs to ask for help, what tools can they use?
- Determine how behavior management intervals should be timed.
- Create a class-wide management system. The best ones combine proactive and reactive solutions for better behavior management: “Class-wide systems can facilitate win-win interactions between teacher and the students.”
A Proactive Campus-Wide Management Tool
Educator Impact’s Pulse app can provide a management system that’s both proactive and reactive in monitoring student wellbeing. Every week, students are asked to respond to Pulse about how they’re feeling, so they have a proactive tool to use before giving in to the impulse to act out. They’re also given the opportunity to reach out for help from a trusted individual in the school, another reactive choice.
At the same time, teachers and staff can point students to this option to communicate with a trusted adult after they misbehave, giving authority figures a reactive way to respond to student misbehavior other than punishment.
More than a third of students would prefer to seek mental health help from a teacher or school counselor, rather than family or friends. This is why Pulse is such a vital tool for creating a more proactive and positive campus climate. Students are regularly asked about their mental health, and they can reach out directly to trusted campus contacts instead of acting out. Pulse serves as a communication tool for students that is much more effective than disruptive behavior.
Here at Educator Impact, we give school leaders the tools to gather actionable insights that help them proactively improve student wellbeing, engagement, and practices. To see how we can help you understand the overall and individual wellbeing of students without adding a new layer to your already overwhelmed workflow, contact us for a free consultation today!