Handling Defiant Students

defiant students Defiant students are the most difficult students to manage in a classroom. If left unchecked they can be a destructive and potentially career ending influence.

You don't want managing defiant students to end your career.

These strategies will help you bring defiant students back in line.

Defiant Students


Defiant students

  • are non-compliant;
  • disrupt the teaching-learning paradigm of the classroom;
  • are usually poor achievers;
  • are difficult to motivate towards learning.

There is no easy answer to managing defiant students. The very reason students are defiant is completely out of your control. Teachers do not set the moral compass of students. We are, however, asked to manage students whose moral parameters are questionable at best. There are some strategies that quite often make defiant students more easy to manage in the classroom. These strategies in isolation do little. As a part of a comprehensive behaviour management plan, these processes may make a difference to the behaviours of a defiant student.

Defiant students often don’t get to experience civility.

Managing Defiant Students

Accord defiant students positive teacher recognition only when it is due. Defiant students often don’t get to experience civility. Students develop defiance for some reason. Teachers of defiant students should model civility. Actions like greeting the student daily at the classroom door pay dividends. Show the defiant student that, in spite of all the drama he/she causes in your classroom, civility and professionalism are givens.

Working with a defiant student to improve learning is a significant step in the right direction. Be prepared that such action may be complicated. Defiant students often do not value the classroom learning experience. This may be because their classroom experience is often negative.

Make learning a proactive experience for them and show that learning can be challenging but worthwhile.

Proactive redirection is part of good classroom management for all students, but more so for defiant students. Defiance raises its ugly head at all the inopportune moments.

Intervention needs to be positive and swift.

Anticipate compliance at all turns. Let the defiant student recognise that, when called upon, there is an undisputed understanding that they will comply. Never stand over them to watch that this occurs. Move on and expect that it will. But use the eyes in the back of your head to ensure compliance occurs., Punitive actions are the norm for defiant students. Most of their school life will have involved punishments and punitive actions.

The message that their behaviour interferes with their learning or the learning of others fails to hit the target.

Whenever dealing with defiant students make sure that they are fully aware that the goal of good behaviour is to improve the learning environment for the whole class – and that includes them. There is a need for a crisis management plan for defiant students. The plan should involve the admin team, the class teacher, guidance officers and if appropriate, the student.

It is hard to predict defiant episodes.

It 's hard to predict the circumstances that will initiate a defiance attack for some students. What is consistent is that the situation will be made worse if the teacher panics.

Remaining calm is the best option by far but the following processes might assist to reduce the student defiance from completely disrupting the class.

Allow the defiant students a time out protocol. 

For persistent trouble makers this might already be established.

Whether it is a corner of the room or another buddy classroom, give the student and the rest of the class some respite.

If it is part of the student’s management plan, and they have been involved in the plan from the outset, respite periods are normally accepted by most defiant students.

Some will argue that such a time out corner differentiates the student and highlights difference. I would argue, “So what?” If it good for the class not to have to tolerate the ranting of an aggressive or defiant student, then who cares?

Never question a student during a bout of defiance.

Give directions with short, simple and sharp commands and never more than one at a time.

"Keep your voice down."

"Move to the corner."

"Hands Down!"

All the better if directions can be given using non-verbals. The less interaction with a defiant student, the better.

Leave the questions for the debrief after the event.

Allow defiant students to explain the event without interruption.

Never give the student an audience, but allow the student a time to explain the situation in depth. Allowing the student to write down the events often takes the heat out of the episode. Some students would be happy to write down the events with or without predetermined structure. Others need a template as simple as numbered boxes.

The student at the centre of the conflict must be able to present the case and be accorded the principles of natural justice.

Once the case is put, the teacher is the final arbitrator and the student must accept the consequences.

Never allow argument or dissent.

Give the student a chance to make a case. Accord others as necessary. Don't make it a show. Ignore and never respond to argument.

In true “Judge Judy” style, present your ruling. Your ruling is final. Don't respond to dissent. Use non verbals as much as possible.

Defiant students are difficult in a classroom. A management plan is necessary to ensure that defiant students do not interfere with the teacher’s right to teach and the students’ right to learn.

Want more? Try the Behaviour Management for Relief Teachers online course to build your behaviour management repertoire to manage defiant students.