Dealing with Bad Behavior in a Classroom Setting

Have you ever had a learner in one of your training sessions who is displaying bad behaviour?  It is rare in adult learning situations, however it can happen.  Sometimes you are dealing with “Type-A” personalities such as sales executives who feel they have nothing to learn, or perhaps a long tenured employee who questions your ability to teach a subject they know well. 

There are several small things that you can do while still maintaining respect for all your learners.  Making eye contact with the learner who is exhibiting poor behaviour can sometimes be a gentle reminder that it’s time to get focused on the training.  You can also walk toward that learner, shifting the attention of the class toward the general area where the learner is seated.  This can have the effect of making them much more aware of the rest of the class.  It will appear the class is looking at them when in fact they are simply listening to you.  They also become aware of your presence when they realize that they are now within ear shot of the instructor.

Years ago I took a course an Advanced Instructional Techniques from Langevin Learning Services, and the Course Leader Steve Flanagan taught us this technique for resolving situations in which learner behaviour is creating a problem for you or the class.  When you identify that someone is disruptive to your training, and you have exhausted other more subtle methods to handle the behaviour, take them aside during a break and privately go through the following...

I (Your feelings)...
When you (their behaviour)...
Because (affect on you or the class)...


For example if you had a student who was constantly late from breaks and interrupted the class in order to catch up on what they missed, you might say to them at the beginning of the next break:

“When you return late after breaks, I feel frustrated because the rest of the class is falling behind schedule.”

Steve suggested that constructing these “I-Statements” was beneficial because if you try to confront a learner displaying bad behaviour without planning what you might say, you can easily get trapped by emotion and blurt out something you may later regret saying.  Having the statement prepared in your head beforehand will save you getting into an emotional debate with them.  If the learner attempts to defend their behaviour, simply repeat the statement to add emphasis to what you already said.  In all likelihood the learner will realize what they have done wrong and apologize, allowing you to continue to train the rest of the class.