Distressed and disruptive student behavior
Student stress, depression, and anxiety often manifest themselves as disruptive and distressed behaviors. Reducing stress, depression, and anxiety increases student engagement, ability to learn, and the mental health and well being of our communities. Our most distressed students are ambassadors with special sensitivities who can help us all, if we listen.
This web page contains information and resources for helping faculty identify and respond compassionately and effectively to students exhibiting distressed and disruptive behaviors.
PGCC: What to do, what not to do
The Care Team meets weekly to provide coordinated assistance and support to students in distress and/or students of concern, based on referrals. The team is composed of representatives from Student Affairs and Enrollment Services and The University Police Department, which are areas of campus that are generally involved in the holistic wellness of our students. The goals of the team are safety, well-being and student success. The team encourages all members of our campus community to adopt the perspective of, “see something, say something.”
Select this link for more information or to make a referral.
Where to refer for what
Use the table below to help connect students to the proper campus resources. If you are unsure where to start, personnel at any of the offices can help you route students to the proper place.
|Severe behaviors that pose an imminent threat to self or others||Campus Police - 911 (Note: Calling 911 from a cell phone will connect you to the University Police Department.)|
|Any mental health or behavioral issue, depression, anxiety, stress, persistent disruptive or distressed behaviors, academic challenges, relationship conflicts, etc.||Personal Growth & Counseling Center|
|Sexual discrimination, harassment & assault||Title IX Office|
|Disruptive or inappropriate behaviors||Student Conduct|
|Disruptive or inappropriate behaviors||Dean of Students (start with Student Conduct)|
|Physical illness||Campus Health Center|
|Any issues involving veterans||Veteran's Services|
|Academic challenges, requests for academic support||Cooperative Learning Center (CLC)|
|Academic challenges, requests for academic support, requests for special accommodations||Student Disabilities Resources (SDR)|
|Academic challenges, requests for academic support, ongoing absenteeism, failure to submit assignments, etc.||Student Success Center|
The Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) serves as the centralized campus team for discussion and coordinated action regarding reports of disruptive, problematic or concerning behavior or misconduct from co-workers, students, community members, friends, colleagues, etc. Upon receipt, the Team reviews the report, assesses the threat and determines the best referrals for support, intervention, warning/notification and response. Core members of the team include representatives from Title IX/DHR, Student Affairs, University Police, Human Resources, Health and Wellness, and Student Conduct.
Students will achieve high academic standards if they feel safe, valued, and supported.
By itself the classroom can be a stressful environment for students, particularly those for whom university culture is new and different from their home and community cultures. There are many things faculty can do to make the classroom a less stressful and more inviting and supportive environment. Here are some good resources:
- 4Faculty.org: Classroom Management
- Faculty Focus: Effective classroom management
- Learn 2 Study: Reducing Stress Among Students
- Michigan State University: Incivility in the Classroom
- Northern Illinois University Office of Ombudsman (podcast): Promoting Civility in the Classroom
- Oregon Counseling & Testing Center: Discouraging Disruptive Behavior
Better learning outcomes and higher rates of postsecondary completion will not occur through attention to curriculum and pedagogy alone. The learner matters in the learning, and attention must be paid to every learner’s readiness to learn. Colleges and universities cannot ensure high-quality learning—and therefore cannot achieve their mission, accomplish their goals, or serve their valuable social, economic, and civic purposes—without attending to the mental and behavioral health concerns of their students. We cannot effectively educate students or prepare them to be leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs without responding to the factors that affect their ability to learn. Recognizing and treating anxiety and depression, effectively managing stress and behavioral health problems, and improving the quality of the learning environment can all be expected to strengthen learning outcomes for students of any age and in any context.
Behavioral expectations in the educational setting
All Instructors are highly encouraged to articulate clear behavioral expectations for students in their respective course syllabi. To prevent disruptive behavior, the following should be reasonably expected of all students in the educational setting (from Bloomsburg University):
- Acting in a responsible and respectful manner
- Attending classes and paying attention. Students are responsible for any material presented in class. Students may expect the instructor to clarify material already taught but not to re-teach the material missed.
- Coming to class on time and staying until dismissed. If a student has to enter class late, he or she should do so in a manner so as not to disrupt the class. Students should not leave a class once it has begun unless it is absolutely necessary. This applies to testing situations as well, until the student has completed the test.
- Respecting the right of others to speak uninterrupted. Students must allow others time to give their input and ask questions.
- Turning off unnecessary electronic devices before class begins. Students should ask permission of the instructor for any electronic devices used in the classroom, except those medically necessary (such as hearing aids, etc.).
- Focusing on class material during class time. Sleeping, talking to others, showing audible and visible signs of restlessness or boredom, doing work for another class, reading the newspaper, checking e-mail, and text messaging are unacceptable classroom behaviors.
- Waiting until the instructor has dismissed class to pack class materials so as not to miss important closing information
- Expressing disagreement civilly, when and if disagreement occurs
Disruptive vs. distressed behavior
The term "classroom disruption" means behavior a reasonable person would view as interfering with the conduct of a class. Examples of increasing seriousness include (from Oregon State University):
- making distracting noises
- persistently speaking without being recognized
- repeatedly interrupting
- resorting to physical threats or personal insults.
Faculty and staff can play an extremely important role in referring students for help. They are frequently in a position to first observe signs of distress and, although it's not always apparent, students typically hold faculty and staff in high regard. Signs that a student is distressed include:
- excessive class absences
- declining academic performance
- poor emotional control
- excessive moodiness
- sleeping and/or eating habits that change dramatically
- excessive concern about personal health
- persistent depression
- talking openly about suicide
- repeatedly engaging in risky behavior.
How should faculty respond to disruptive and distressed student behaviors? Appreciating the complexity of this question is the first step. One significant challenge is distinguishing "benign" disruptive behaviors (e.g. immaturity) from behaviors resulting from stress and anxiety. Another is that different faculty will have different emotional responses to the same student behaviors. Similarly, a response that might be very effective for one faculty member may not be effective for another. Such differences are not a matter of "better" or "worse" but simply reflect the reality that faculty-student interactions are highly relational and context dependent. The better faculty understand themselves and the many possible causes of disruptive and distressed student behaviors, the more likely faculty will respond appropriately and effectively.
It is also important for faculty to realize that most are NOT trained counselors and that -- despite their best intentions -- faculty can sometimes cause more harm that good if they respond inappropriately to particular situations. Nevertheless, there are general guidelines faculty can use to increase their effectiveness in responding to and reducing disruptive and distressed student behaviors.
- Coming to class late
- Eating in class
- Sleeping in class
- Creating excessive noise with papers, book bags, etc.
- Monopolizing class discussion
- Side-bar conversations
- Tangential comments/Side-tracking
- Bringing dogs/babies to class without instructor permission
- Leaving class early
- Passing notes/texting
- Checking Facebook/Twitter
- Ringing cellphone
- Poor personal hygiene (e.g., noticeably offensive body odor)
- Reflect on the nonverbal meaning of disruptive behavior that is exhibited by more than one student. Are several students communicating that the material is boring or irrelevant? If so, try using structured experiences (case studies, role plays, or simulations) to make the material more interesting and reflective of real life outside the classroom. Are multiple students having side conversation? If so, consider using more “pair & share” or small group discussions.
- If an individual student's behavior is irritating, but not particularly disruptive, consider talking with the student privately after class or during a break to remind him/her of your expectations for classroom behavior. Wait by the exit and ask the student to stand aside for a brief conversation. Try to avoid unnecessary public embarrassment.
- Consistent use of mild behaviors
- Taking a phone call during class
- Being or appearing under the influence of drugs/alcohol
- Continued disruptive comments
- Wearing headphones or earbuds
- If it is necessary to deal with a student's behavior during class, you should calmly whisper to the student that the behavior is disruptive and ask that they stop it. Example: “Your use of your cell phone is disrupting the class. Please end your conversation now and refrain from in-class phone calls in the future.”
- If the disruptive behavior continues during either the present or some future class, warn the student (perhaps in private) that such behavior may result in student disciplinary action. Example: “I've already warned you about talking when I am speaking to the class. If you disrupt the class again in this manner, you will be referred to the Office of Judicial Affairs.” Try to deliver the message in a matter-of-fact tone without becoming loud or angry.
- Keep a log of the date, time, and nature of all incidents of disruptive behavior and any meetings you have with the student. Document incidents and meetings immediately, while specifics and details are still fresh in your memory. Having a record of details associated with incidents of disruptive behavior in class could be helpful in the event that the intensity or frequency of the behavior increases.
- Keep your program director/department chair informed as needed. Ask for guidance and support from her/him and from colleagues. [Suggested addition: Consider asking department chair or colleague sit in on meeting.] If you are unsure about what response is warranted and/or appropriate, it is always best to consult with others.
- General idea: encourage faculty continue to seek support; go to faculty support team; etc.
- Refusal to stop moderate behaviors
- Verbal abuse
- Verbal threats
- Obscene gestures
- Sexual harassment
- Indecent exposure
- Physical intimidation
- Blocking an exit
- Physical assault
- Brandishing a weapon
- If the student continues the disruptive behavior despite being given a warning, the student should then be asked to leave the classroom. Following the class, the instructor should contact the Office of Judicial Affairs and provide pertinent information about the student's behavior. The Office of Judicial Affairs will determine if a charge will be placed against the student.
- If the student refuses to leave the classroom after being instructed to do so, s/he should be informed that this refusal is a separate instance of disruptive behavior subject to additional penalties.
- If the student continues to refuse to leave the classroom, the instructor may choose to adjourn class for a brief break and ask the student to remain behind. Inform the student that they must leave the classroom immediately or be escorted away by campus police.
- Keep a log of the date, time, and nature of all incidents of disruptive behavior and any meetings you have with the student. Document incidents and meetings immediately, while specifics and details are still fresh in your memory. Keep your program director/department chair informed as the situation develops. Ask for guidance and support from her/him and from colleagues. [Suggested addition: Consider asking department chair or colleague sit in on meeting.][Contact PGCC in case student is being seen.]
- For severe forms of disruptive behavior, notify the appropriate campus authorities. These include your department chair, the Office of Judicial Affairs, and the University Police Department.
- The instructor may choose to bar the student from the course until the student meets with the student conduct administrator (or designee) and an appropriate course of action has been determined. In such a case, the student conduct administrator (or designee) will meet as soon as possible with the instructor and the student, together and/or separately.
Cases of known or suspected sexual harassment or assault involving CSUMB students comprise a special category because all university faculty and staff are required by law to report suspected cases to CSUMB's Title IX Office. It is important to note that faculty are NOT expected to evaluate whether a suspected case of sexual harassment or assault warrants Title IX action. Rather, faculty are only required to report suspected cases. The Title IX Officer will determine whether a response is required.
For more information, see CSUMB's Title IX Website
- Campus Violence Policy
- FAQs on Campus Violence
- Judicial Affairs
- Personal Growth and Counseling Center (PGCC)
- Student CARE Team
- Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania: Student Disruptive Behavior Policy
- Inside Higher Ed: Class Problem
- James Madison University: Coping with Disruptive Students in the Classroom
- Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability: Classroom Strategies for Teaching Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury
- Moravian College: Student Handbook
- Oregon State University: Disruptive Behavior
- Pellissippi Community College: Disruptive Behavior Guidelines
- University of West Georgia: Disruptive and distressed student behavior
- Virginia Tech University: Responding to Disruptive or Threatening Student Behavior: A Guide for Faculty
- Washington State Department of Veteran's Affairs: Veteran Guidelines and Best Practices in the Classroom