Dr. Renee Thompson: How to Stop Bad Student Behavior from Hijacking a Positive Classroom Environment

Dr. Renee Thompson: How to Stop Bad Student Behavior from Hijacking a Positive Classroom Environment

This post is part of a series of posts on nurse bullying and conflict in the workplace written by Dr. Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, CMSRN. Dr. Thompson is one of the top professional development and anti-bullying thought leaders in nursing.

Bad student behavior. It’s an often unanticipated classroom issue that can ruin a respectful, and positive classroom dynamic. But because working habits form in the classroom, if those bad behaviors go unaddressed, they can carry over into the workplace to create bad working environments as well.

A good instructor always strives to conduct each class with integrity, so what do you do if a student acts disrespectfully, either to you or to fellow students, to uphold the positive classroom dynamic? While 56 percent of instructors report ignoring the issue, doing so in the long run will do more harm than good. What you ignore, you condone.

So if addressing the behavior is the right thing to do, what’s the best way to handle it?

Name it, don’t ignore it

As an instructor to a group of undergrad nursing students, I was put in the position to make a call to ignore a behavior, or take steps to stop it. On one evening before class, I was discussing assignments with a group of students when one student interrupted our discussion:

“Mrs. Thompson…Mrs. Thompson, where do I put this CRAP?” Amanda asked, holding up her papers.

Out of respect for the discussion with my group, I stayed focused on the person talking until she finished her thought.

Again, “Mrs. Thompson, Mrs. Thompson! Where do I put this CRAP?” she interrupted, still holding up her papers.

I had a choice to make. Not only was Amanda being inconsiderate to her fellow students with her interruptions, but she was acting equally disrespectful in her use of foul language in the classroom.

I chose to address it.

“Amanda, your papers go here,” as I pointed to the desk, “and I’d like to speak to you after class.”

“Sure. No Problem,” she said. I don’t think she had a clue.

When class ended that evening, I met with Amanda. This is what I said:

“Amanda, referring to your paperwork as CRAP disrespects me, your peers, and your school.”

Her expression let me know that my naming her behavior was the right move. “Can I count on you to be more respectful in class?” She agreed.

Amanda, going forward, recognized the importance of respect for her work and for those around her. On occasion, she misstepped with a derogatory comment, but in her new awareness, she caught it and quickly apologized.

Bad classroom behavior is nothing to be ignored. When we turn a blind eye to bad behavior, we are in every sense, condoning it. When we name the behaviors, we take a necessary and positive step toward greater awareness that helps form healthy dynamics in the classroom and helps set the tone for respect in the workplace too.

Thanks so much for reading. Take care and stay connected. 


Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author, award-winning nurse blogger, and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate workplace bullying. To find out more about Renee, please visit her website. American Sentinel University friends and family can get 25% off Renee’s great anti-bullying products – simply enter in the code: AMSENT16.

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