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Difficult Students, DisruptiveStudents and Students inDistress: Tools for Maintaining a SuccessfulLearning EnvironmentPresented by Paul Rakowski and Larry LoftenAdapted in part from Ohio State University
Definitions (basic)Disruptive Students Students whosebehavior makesteaching and learningdifficult for others inthe classDistressed students Students who areexperiencing emotionaland/or psychologicalproblems that areinterfering with their abilityto learnDifficult Students Suggestions forbest wording nowbeing accepted
Goals for this Session• Faculty will:• Gain a clear understanding of their role as stewards of thelearning environment• Begin to Recognize signs and symptoms of various mentalhealth concerns• Gain an understanding of how to assist students in distressand access resources on campus including:• Counseling Center• Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment Team• Community Standards/Conduct Process• Peers and Colleagues• Learn basic skills for how to de-escalate a situation
Your Role• Often the first to recognize that a student needshelp• Important to have knowledge of campus andcommunity resources for referral• Responsibility to maintain appropriate learningenvironment
Disruptive Behavior –What is it?• Habitual interference with classroomenvironment• Persistent and unreasonable demands for timeand attention both in and out of the classroom• Intimidating or harassing another personthrough words and/or actions• Refusal to comply with faculty or staff direction• Threats of physical violence
• Cultural differences• Most disagreements or differences of opinion• Situational frustration• Needing extra time or attention for a specialreasonDisruptive Behavior –What isn’t it?
Other Behaviors• Often not disruptive but may be an indicatorthat there other issues at play• Potential warning signs/indicators Marked changes in behavior/attitude Depression and Lethargy Hyperactivity Deterioration of Personal Hygiene References to suicide/homicide Strange or bizarre behavior
Disruptive Behavior• Takes many forms, varying in severity…Being late,reading thepaper, sleepingPhysicalviolenceMaking noise,repeatedlyinterruptingPersonal insults,harassmentPassing notes,answering cellphone, texting
Causes of Disruptive Behavior• Underlying psychological or mental healthconcerns• Confusion about class expectations and/ormaterial• Difficult transition to college norms• Lack of or underdeveloped social skills
Signs of Stress/Distress• Depression - noted changes in dress/demeanor, sadness,crying, lack of energy, sleeping in class, withdrawal from others,infrequent class attendance, poor academic performance,procrastination.• Agitation – nervousness, hurried speech, erratic hand gesturesor non-verbal communication, aggressive behavior.• Anxiety – excessive worry, procrastination, hyper-vigilance,irritably, overly dependent. Physical signs include panic attacks,hyperventilation, excessive perspiration, stomach upset,gastrointestinal distress.• Aggression – Explosive and/or aggressive outbursts, violenceor threats of violence toward others, over-reactivity, hostilitytoward others without provocation, harsh judgments towardothers without reasonable foundation, disrespect toward others,particularly authority figures.
Signs of Stress/Distress• Violence – Extremely aggressive behavior, yelling, harmfulphysical contact, harmful threats or actions toward self orothers, erratic behavior.• Delusions, Poor contact with reality – Difficulty distinguishingfantasy from reality, confused thinking, seeing/hearing/tastingodd things, descriptions of hearing internal voices, illogicalspeech, bizarre behavior.• Substance Abuse – Physical signs of intoxication, slurredspeech, hyperactivity, excessive perspiration, depressed mood.• Suicidal Expression – Expressed plan of suicide, talk of notwanting to be alive, talk of feelings that no one cares, expressedfeelings of hopelessness/alienation/isolation, history of alcoholor substance abuse.
Do’s and Don’tsNo One Wins a War Between EgosThe Depressed StudentApproximately 20.9 million Americans suffer from a mood disorder in a given year. www.nimh.nih.govDO DON’T• Let the student know you arewilling to help.• Provide your full attention when astudent is expressing his/herfeelings.• Use your referral list and expressyou are willing to assist in helping astudent obtain a referral• Say things like “Don’t worry” or“it could be worse.”• Be afraid to use the word suicide orbe afraid to ask if a student hasthoughts of suicide.• Ignore the problem.• Be afraid to use referrals
Do’s and Don’tsNo One Wins a War Between EgosThe Suicidal StudentMore than 90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder. www.nimh.nih.govDO DON’T• Take any threats or talk of suicideseriously• Listen empathically, but rememberyou are not a therapist• Provide referrals, offer to walk thestudent to the, Counseling Centeror Health Center• Minimize the seriousness of thesituation or say things like “Youwill feel better tomorrow”• Be afraid to ask if the student needsmedical assistance• Get in over your head withpromises or willingness to help• Be afraid to call 911
Do’s and Don’tsNo One Wins a War Between EgosThe Agitated/Anxious StudentApproximately 40 million American adults have a diagnosable anxiety disorder in a given year.www.nimh.nih.govDO DON’T• Allow them to discuss theirfeelings/frustrations• Remain calm and offer re-assurance• Be clear about instructions• Become triggered or over-reactiveor argumentative• Convey complicated instructions• Ignore or patronize
Do’s and Don’tsNo One Wins a War Between EgosThe Aggressive/Violent StudentIf you are between the ages of 12 and 24 you face the highest risk of being a victim of violence.www.apahelpcenter.orgDO DON’T• Remain calm• Calmly acknowledge the person’sanger/frustration, “I can see youare very upset, I will try to assist youas best I can”• Remember you have the right tocall for help• Stay in open areas• Ignore warning signs of violence,e.g. yelling/screaming, clenchedfists, statements like “I’m warningyou”• Become hostile yourself• Threaten, taunt, ignore or cornerthe person, or get into an arguingmatch• Be afraid to call 911• EVER TOUCH THE PERSON
Do’s and Don’tsNo One Wins a War Between EgosStudents Abusing SubstancesApproximately 12.8 million Americans use illegal drugs on a consistent basis. http://www.ncjrs.govDO DON’T• Share your observations andconcerns with the person• Remember your referral list• Seek assistance from campus policein cases of intoxication orinappropriate behavior• Remember substance abuse is oftena symptom of other serious mentalor emotional disorders• Ignore the problem• Pass judgment or criticize• Criticize, lecture or offer anecdotalstories about the dangers ofsubstance abuse• Enable the person’s behavior bycovering for him/her out ofsympathy• Be manipulated into believing thereis not a problem
Do’s and Don’tsNo One Wins a War Between EgosThe Delusional/Psychotic StudentApproximately 2.4 million American adults suffer from schizophrenia in a given year. www.nimh.nih.govDO DON’T• Express compassion but do notoffer support outside ofprofessional boundaries• Maintain a gentle but firm andsteady tone of voice• Call for help if you feel you are indanger• Be specific about what you areasking of a student or whatbehavior is expected• Challenge or agree with illogicalbeliefs• Panic• Make fun of or belittle illogicalbeliefs• Play along with the bizarrebehavior• Offer to be the student’s friend• Joke with the student or attempt tobe funny to de-escalate thesituation
Tips on Communication• Listen to students and show interest when they are expressingconcerns or needing assistance. It is true that we are all busy, but sometimespausing to address a student with your full attention will mitigate future problems for both thestudent and you.• Use friendly, open ended questions. “What can I do for you?” “How can I help?”“What other resources have you looked into?”• Reflect back what you heard when a students express concerns orasks questions. “So I am hearing you say…”, “Am I correct in understanding…”, “Helpme see if I understand”.• Be aware of the non-verbal messages you are sending. Use direct eyecontact, be aware of your posture and hand gestures. Communicate with an open posture.• Remove objects from between you and the student wheneverpossible. Sitting across from a student with a desk or table between you can often beintimidating. If you do not wish to demonstrate a position of authority, try to remove any barriers.• Remember you can model good communication skills. Learningeffective interpersonal communication skills is a developmental endeavor. One does not justbecome a good communicator over night. You can help in the learning process by setting agood example.•
Tips on Communication• Be aware and respectful of how you address students. Referring tostudents as “kids” or using other derogatory or demeaning descriptors is not only offensive andinappropriate; it can also lead students to feel alienated or inferior.• Remember a University is a learning environment. Learning new skills isnot confined to the classroom. Students learn valuable lessons on how to effectivelycommunicate by interacting with you and others on campus. Though what you have to teachmay not be considered “academic” in nature, the skills you model will impact a student’s futureinteractions with the world.• Use “I” statements. When working through conflict or a situation of miscommunication,using “I” statements will prevent the potential of engaging in the “Blame Game”. “I feel like I amnot making myself clear” sounds much better than “You are not listening to me”.• Be gracious. And remember most of the time, students exhibit signs of distress when theyare scared or feel helpless. Showing compassion for their fears while maintaining a professionalhelpful demeanor will alleviate most anxiety.• Smile. Remember, a smile goes a long way. A genuine smile goes even further.
Tips for the ClassroomSetting the Tone for a Productive and Respectful Learning Environment• Articulate clear classroom expectations in thesyllabus, and review during the first class• Develop agreements as a class during the firstsession• Respond to problems quickly and consistently• Look to non-disruptive students for cues: is theclass following material?
Addressing Disruptive Behavior• Do not wait for patterns to form. Addressconcerns immediately• Correct innocent mistakes and minor firstoffenses gently• Give a general word of caution to class• If possible, speak with the student after class• When necessary, correct the studentcourteously and indicate that further discussioncan occur after class• Documentation and Warnings
Addressing Disruptive Behavior• Consult your Department Chair or othercolleagues for guidance and suggestions• In the face of persistent disruption, you may askthe student to leave class for the remainder ofthe period. In instances where a student isasked to leave the class make sure todocument the time, date and circumstance andinform the Department Chair.• If there is threat of violence or other unlawfulbehavior, call Campus Police 303-556-5000 (6-5000)
Resources and Referrals• When considering a referral for a student, it is very important toremember that students may be hesitant to the idea ofassistance. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached tomental health counseling or even academic skills assistancewhich prevents many students from taking advantage of themany different resources our campus offers. The UC DenverStudent and Community Counseling Center offers more thanjust mental/emotional health counseling. The following is a shortlist of the many services the center provides: Individual, Couples, and Family Counseling Groups on various topics including, “How to Quit Smoking”, “How ReduceStress”, “How to Maintain a Relationship” etc. Tips on reducing test anxiety and how to study better Learning disability assessment
When to Consult with CommunityStandards?• After initial attempts to address the behaviorhave failed• You know that you cannot handle the behavior• You believe personality differences will interferewith your ability to resolve the situation• You are unsure how to proceed
How to Make a Report or Referral toCommunity Standards?• Submit the “Student of Concern” form athttps://cudenver-jams.symplicity.com/care_report/• Document the situation in writing, including yourattempts to resolve it Dates, times and locations What was said and by whom• Call 303-556-3682 for assistance
What to Expect• Our response will vary greatly depending on: Nature and Severity of the behaviors and concerns Actions and attempts made by faculty/staff to addressconcerns Determination of Code of Conduct Violation• Our response may include: Summary Suspension or other immediate actionwhere there is an immediate threat Conduct hearing and/or mediated conversation withstudent and faculty Consultation and guidance Referral to Chair or Dean for Academic ReviewOur goal is to resolve issues informally wheneverpossible.
Food For Thought• Encourage faculty and instructors to documentincidents and concerns in writing Second and third hand reports can present numerouschallenges• Reports should address concerns directly – if there is aconcern it needs to be expressed as a concern Objectivity is essential in documenting classroomdisruption• The report should be very factual and void of personalopinions and feelings• Detail, detail, detail. The more details included in thereport that easier it is to make an informed decision.
Food For Thought• Encourage faculty and staff to read andunderstand the Code of Conduct Some concerns in the classroom do not necessarily fitinto this code and may need to be evaluated in morethan one context• One common example of this is in creative expressionthat may touch on disturbing or violent subject matter– How are expectations about what is acceptable and limitationsabout such expression communicated to students?– Is there a policy or statement in the syllabus?– Who should review this content and using what scale?
On the Horizon• B.E.T.A. Team – 303-817-2813 New Resource to help support faculty and staffworking with disruptive and distressed students• Members from counseling, faculty, HR, StudentLife, Disability Services, Legal, etc.• Updated Code of Conduct and new ClassroomBehavior Policies Policies and procedures are being updated andexpanded to address current issues and realities• Training Workshops for Faculty addressing classroom disruptions, emergency preparednessand mental health referrals
Contacts and ResourcesCommunity Standards and WellnessLarry Loften - 303-556-3682Dean of StudentsSamantha Ortiz - 303-556-3399Auraria Campus Police303-556-5000Counseling Center303-556-4372Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment TeamFaculty and Staff Resources Onlinehttp://thunder1.cudenver.edu//campussafety/facultystaff.htmlhttp://thunder1.cudenver.edu/CFD/