Monday, July 9, 2012

Managing Disruptive Behavior in Adult Learners

So what do you do when your best classroom management prevention efforts fall short and you come face-to-face with in- your-face resistant or provocative behavior from adults in a training/teaching situation? Following are four strategies to deal respectively yet directly with these situations and keep the training or teaching on track.
  1. Breathe and live the mantra - EVERYTHING is curriculum: When behavior like the above is happening, it isn't just you and the person exhibiting the behavior, it is everyone in the room who is holding their breath, attention riveted, to find out how you will respond. Whatever you do, it needs to model the curriculum or at least the principles embedded in the curriculum you are teaching. It doesn't matter what you teach, surely embedded in most content are elements of prudence, wisdom, discernment, taking a higher road, creativity, humor, reframing, coaching, problem solving, trouble shooting, barrier removing, relationship, self-esteem, self-efficacy and teamwork. How you respond to provocative behavior is a teachable moment on wide-screen, surround sound, living color. It is the perfect moment to practice what you teach. Think through the principles that drive or support your content and plan ways to respond to provocative, resistant or challenging behavior that are real-life illustrations of the principles and practices of your content in action.

  2. Create opportunities for a better choice and saving face. Everyone melts down sometime, either because it is the last straw in a bad day or because they don't have the skills to meet their needs in less provocative ways. Find a way to call a "do over," make an offer with your limit attached and then create space for the other person to pull themselves together. If you can create a way they can save face, they will generally realize their first reaction wasn't the best and they will tend to soften if you support them in saving face and setting the stage for a turn around that looks like it resulted from their reconsideration rather than a strong arm tactic by you. You can do this by saying (after you state your need or expectation) "Take a few minutes and let me know what you'd like to do."

  3. Balance face - saving offers with staying in charge of your classroom or training room.Often, provocative behavior directed at you comes from someone everyone else has grown weary of enduring and they WANT you to end their suffering and protect their learning experience. It is a delicate balance but you must take charge so that one or two outspoken folks aren't holding the rest of the group or the learning process hostage. Often this can be accomplished by validating feelings and needs while setting limits on behavior.

  4. Practice good self-care and spend time with colleagues who can support you. Validating feelings and needs while setting limits on behavior takes finesse, lots of practice, along with opportunities to debrief with mentors and colleagues who've had similar experiences and who can coach you. Spending time with others in a Community of Practice can refresh you, give you new strategies for recurring problems, and help you better manage disruptive, provocative behavior that allows you to model in practice what you teach.

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