Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Survive a Defiant Student

Anyone recognize this? It is the tell-tale body language of a defiant student. It may just be that I am getting older, and perhaps more aware, or is it that we have seen an uptick in defiant student behavior? You'll hear the seasoned vets tell you that kids are "different" than they used to be. Parents do not help like they used to 10, 15, 20 years ago. You get the picture, right?  Teachers struggle daily with defiant students who do not seem to want to work with them, or comply with directions or instructions. I'm going to devote some time helping teachers understand and cope with defiance, because I think our schools would be a much better place to be! Remember, in order for there to be a conflict, there must always involve two parties! That means that when a student is in conflict there's another student involved, or a teacher.

Understanding Defiant Behavior
  •  Students may act out in order to mask limited academic or social skills.
  • Students can become defiant or confrontational if they lack the necessary skill to ask for help,or have not been modeled or taught how to approach conflict. Often another's words and actions are not read properly by the defiant student. 
  • Confrontational behavior has paid off for them in the past, or has been rewarded by giving them power or authority
  • Generally "ambiguous" behavior has been seen a provocation, and the student receives a reprimand which is unnecessary. Take the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" as an example. They're usually the ones in trouble. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Top tips to start building a proactive vs. reactive classroom:
  • Always, I mean always remain outwardly calm. The student must not be aware that they are provoking you. This incites them, and encourages the power struggle to continue. Maintain a professional perspective when approaching the student.
  • Approach the student privately and use a quiet voice. Other students in the class should not be privy to your conversation with a defiant student. If they are, rest assured, the student will try to "save face" and will say or do things to make it look as if you are not in charge.
  • Establish eye contact, and begin by stating the student's name and what they need to do. For example, "John, you need to start the math assignment now." Make the request, and allow for a reasonable amount of time for the student to respond to the request. (5-20 seconds). Seriously, time yourself! I will bet you do not wait very long for them to comply with your request.
Okay, I waited 5-20 seconds. They still didn't do what I asked them to do. Now what? (P.S. I'm not surprised!)
  • Repeat the exact same request again, "John, please start the math assignment now." and wait a reasonable amount of time (5-20 seconds) for them to comply. Again, time yourself! If the student fails to comply with your request and you've asked in a professional, non-threatening manner, impart a 2-part choice. "John, you can start the math assignment now and receive a positive note home or receive a referral to the principal for failing to begin your math assignment as I've asked you to twice now. It is your choice." Wait again...(you'll receive your angel's wings for this level of patience)
  • Impose your selected negative consequence and ignore all student complaints or comments designed at engaging you in a power struggle. Offer them one last "face-saving" out. Tell the student calmly, "is there anything I can do to help you, or anything I can do to earn your cooperation?" 
I hope this helps all of your wonderful teachers out there! You have the hardest job, and this is an area of discipline I know we all struggle with. Is there any insight you have to offer on defiant behavior? I'd love to hear from you! 

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