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teacher on laptop managing challenging behavior from students in an online classroom

Teaching in traditional classrooms can present its own set of challenges, but what about dealing with and managing challenging behavior in the online classroom?

Some of the strategies that teachers learn to use for the physical classroom setting may not always transfer to online classes.  

Therefore, online classroom strategies need to be considered so that you can manage even the most difficult students with ease and comfort.

The different online classroom strategies 

While they are different, challenging behaviors certainly do exist in online classes!

Online learning can present lots of challenges that seem out of control for the teacher in a virtual setting. 

Here are a few of the challenging behaviors that you might find in your online classroom:

  1. Distracting students interfering with the learning of others.
  2. Students trying to use online tools to bully others.
  3. Students multitasking and not participating.
  4. Behavior issues in the form of disrespect or disturbance.
  5. Off-task students because of technological issues.

Sometimes a lot of the challenging behaviors you might see in your online classes are due to trauma and the unfortunate emotional and mental health issues from your students.

Understanding how trauma affects your students and how to become a trauma-informed teacher is recommended, as you implement positive intervention strategies in your classes. 

The goal is to create an online classroom that is a safe place for all students to communicate and share openly.

What you put in place, how you understand your students and the approach you take in dealing with challenging behaviors will help you manage them. 

Let’s look at some practical tips for managing challenging behaviors in the online classroom.

  1. Create a positive online classroom environment 
  2. Set clear expectations 
  3. Create routines and systems 
  4. Constantly engage your students 
  5. Be prepared 
  6. Plan for the challenging behaviors before they happen

1. Create a positive online classroom environment

This seems to be an obvious one but might seem more difficult in practice.

Creating a positive online classroom means that you are focused on trust and building a connection with your students so that they understand that you care about them.

My guess is that you didn’t get into teaching for the money. 

Let’s be honest, there are more lucrative professions out there! 

I would gamble that you got into teaching because you care about students, learning, and making an impact.

Did you know that showing you care takes intention and is not always assumed by students? 

That’s right. Trust is built upon a two-way relationship and, as the teacher, you are able to build that in your online classroom.

To create a positive online classroom environment, try the following:

  • Smile and remain positive
  • Ask them questions about their life
  • Get them talking and sharing with others
  • Reinforce positive behavior more than challenging behaviors

Trust is built and not always assumed, so sometimes we have to work a little harder to gain it.

2. Set clear expectations

You might be familiar with how to set expectations in your physical classroom, but many teachers are not familiar with how to do this in a virtual environment.

It works in a similar way! 

Make sure that your students understand your expectations when it comes to appropriate online behavior.

Create clear and understandable guidelines with consequences that all students agree to before you start your online classes.  

You could even create a short presentation that outlines these in a fun way for your students.

Involving your students in the creation of these expectations is our preferred method. It gives your students an investment in the rules and they can feel that they are an integral part of them because they helped create them.

3. Create routines and systems

Most people, including students and teachers, enjoy a bit of consistency and routine in their lives. 

When it comes to learning, it’s no different. We want to know what to expect in a classroom or online environment.

Consider your answers to these questions:

  1. How will you start your classroom each time?
  2. How do students enter your classroom (ie: password, link, code, etc…)
  3. What happens when a student needs to leave the camera?
  4. How do students ask questions?
  5. What is the policy for submitting work?
  6. What is your routine during class for breaks or transitions?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you in setting clear and understandable routines and systems for your students.

Why is this really important, you ask? When students know what to expect, they come to class feeling safe with a clear understanding of your expectations. 

This saves them embarrassment or lack of control over a situation.

4. Constantly engage your students

No one likes a boring class or lecture. 

The online classroom has the potential to be boring if you don’t understand and utilize the tools you have at your fingertips.

However, an online class can be incredibly engaging for your students if you take the time to find out what is available online to engage your students.

Teaching from worksheets, PowerPoint slides and long lectures might turn your students away from the lesson and onto more exciting things that they can easily access in seconds.

Here are some easy ways to bring more engagement into your online classroom:

  • Start your class with an interactive question that gets them talking.
  • Deliver your lessons using apps like Nearpod which allow students to login and interact with the lesson as well.
  • Use videos, where possible, to add to your lesson and break up the monotony of just listening to you speak.
  • Allow students to take control and use tools that facilitate sharing and contribution.
  • If using an application like Zoom to teach from, use breakout rooms for discussions, the whiteboard for interactive sharing and quizzes and polls for quick assessments.
  • Allow students to make suggestions for your classes because, most likely, they have ideas for how to make the online classroom fun as well!

Bring energy and fun to your online classes. 

Find out what ‘fun’ really is for your students and see if you can level up your lessons with their help!

5. Be prepared

Believe it or not, preparation is probably one of the most important strategies to reduce challenging online classroom behavior. 

Most of the challenging behaviors that occur in online classes happen because of a lack of preparation. 

We’re not just talking about proper lesson planning, but also knowledge of the technology, tools, and a basic understanding of managing students on an online platform.

When you know how the technology works and you are confident to use it, your classes will run smoother.  

Your own ability to troubleshoot and problem solve will alleviate many issues!

Make sure you get to know the ins and outs of the software and you are able to teach students how to use the resources you are asking them to use.

6. Plan for managing challenging behaviors before they happen

While any number of possible challenging behaviors might show up in your online classroom, planning for them will help put out the fires as soon as, or even before, they occur. 

Here are 2 scenarios of possible challenging behaviors and what you can do to correct the issues.

Scenario 1: A student is off-task and not involved in your class

If you have taught in any classroom before, you had students who were off-task or simply uninterested in your lesson. And so, how are you going to handle off-task students in your online classroom?

There are lots of reasons why a student might be off-task. 

These could be influences out of your control, but let’s talk about what you can do so that you can have a plan for that student.

First, consider trying to involve that student in the lesson more. 

Call on them to contribute and help them to feel a part of your classroom by asking them how you could make your lessons more engaging for them. Usually, they will have great ideas!

I can guarantee you that if you take the time to understand what a student is needing, they will become more engaged.

Scenario 2: A student is disrupting the other students’ learning 

Some students might find it humorous to contribute inappropriately and disrupt others. There are lots of things that students can do online, or with their cameras, to disrupt others, including you, the teacher.

Find out what your school’s policy is on disrupting other students in the online classroom and make sure that you are aware of procedures to take. 

You should always speak to the student in private, away from the others, so that you can find out what’s going on.  

Sometimes just listening and speaking to a student can solve a lot of issues going forward.

Plan, practice & show patience

While we, as teachers, may never always be completely prepared for all the challenging behaviors in our online classrooms, the 3 P’s can help you out.

Make sure you plan for the possibilities of what might occur. 

Secondly, practice troubleshooting issues that could happen and, finally, show patience for your students who may come to your online classes with outside stressors, beyond your understanding.

When we create a supportive and structured classroom, particularly online, we can help students, not only learn but thrive and be successful!

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