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Stop Defiance in Your Classroom in 4 Simple Steps

Stop Defiance

Defying my orders, the student plumped down in the corner—conducting a sit-in. My first test had come. Shock engulfed me. Panic followed.

So I phoned a friend. An assistant principal took the line.

"You need to tell him he has two minutes to make a decision: get up and go back to his desk, or stay seated, and I will come down there to get him."

A minute in, the student realized the cost. He reoccupied his desk.

Handling defiance is one of the most challenging tasks we face as teachers. But with the right plan in place, we can control such acts with wisdom and diligence.

What to Do with a Defiant Student

Here are a few things I've learned about managing noncompliance in my classroom:

1. Remove a defiant student's audience.

I learned in Classroom Management 101 that the essential first step is to remove the audience.

If possible, send the student out into the hallway. The stakes rise when a student knows all eyes are on them.

Without the attention, the student is less likely to continue their defiance.

You can still do your best to remove the audience even when a student refuses to leave the classroom. If a student anchors himself in the corner, delay the situation for a short time.

Encourage the rest of your class to continue working. Once they are focused, calmly approach the defiant student. Don't yell. You'll bring back the audience.

Whisper in the student's ear, "You have one minute to do what I am asking you to do, or you can stay put, and I call for a principal to come get you."

Presenting the order as a choice works well for some students. Give them a time limit to make their decision. Time, as you know, is precious, so make it reasonable. If they refuse to obey, make the call. Don't delay.

2. Have a plan and execute it.

Chances are if you have a student who is willing to test you once, they'll try again—unless they know you're prepared and mean business.

Once you've removed the audience, make sure the student knows that you will not tolerate defiance in your classroom.

Then let them know your next move. I later talked one-on-one with the student who ignored my orders. I let him know his mom's cell phone would light up with my name on it after school.

I also told him and his parents that the next time he blatantly disregarded my orders, he would receive a discipline referral.

A few weeks later, he conducted another sit-in. He went home with a referral.

3. Contact parents and share your plan with them.

Communicating with parents is key when dealing with a defiant student. Take the time to notify parents of the situation.

Reflect and take notes of the student’s behavior before you call or email a guardian. You’ll be able to relay what happened with precision.

Most parents will want to join in and help deter future defiance from their child.

They'll appreciate your effort to reach out and keep them informed. Plus, parents may have seen similar behavior from their child at home. They may give you some insight into what may be causing some of their student's noncompliance in class.

And while nothing can excuse the child's behavior, any information you receive from a guardian may help you better assess and correct future defiance.

4. Communicate with students and let them know you care.

Turns out, the student ignoring my orders had a ton on his mind. Recent events clouded his thoughts. After talking to his parents, I realized he needed me in his corner.

His defiance was a call for help. Sure, some students disobey out of spite. But teachers must attempt to communicate with a noncompliant student no matter what.

Ignoring a student who is ignoring you is a missed opportunity.

Let your defiant student know you hear them. Give them your time. Remind them they have people at school who love and care for them. Ask if they would like to speak with someone beside you.

Maybe they’ll open up to a counselor or a principal. You can later check in with those people.

Always have the student’s best interest at heart, and show that you notice them.

Ignoring a student who is ignoring you is a missed opportunity. 

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At recess, I spent time playing catch with the student who was acting out. We talked about his basketball team, his favorite cartoons, his favorite music—anything and everything that brought a smile to his face.

His attitude brightened. He stood taller. Instead of turning his back on me when he didn’t get his way, he began doing what I asked.

He knew I cared. So he cared. And he started minding my instructions.

There are many ways to communicate with your defiant students. You can eat lunch with them, write them a hand-written letter, or talk to them at recess.

Pay attention to them. Instead of plumping down in a corner, a student who feels your love and care might dive right into your lesson.

regain control of your classroom

Classroom Management 101 was so helpful for me in learning how to deal with defiant students - and so many other classroom issues.

This online course will guide you step-by-step through the process of developing & implementing a strong classroom management plan.

And not only that - it will give you the skills you need to start the school year RIGHT so you can avoid so many potential problems and teach effectively all year.

Find out more about Classroom Management 101.

classroom management strategies

Taking this course really gave me the confidence to put changes in place that have benefited me and my students from Day One. And I can honestly say that confidence has carried over into my daily classroom management, and my students have responded. The respect level is definitely higher than in past year.

Lynnette S. , High School French Teacher

Classroom Management 101 offers a lot of great practical tips for how to have a smooth running classroom. The emphasis on procedures was spot on and also emphasizing the importance of the first week of school. Great course for teachers just starting out or a nice refresher course for veterans like myself

Donna J. , kindergarten teacher

Over the summer, I completed your Classroom Management 101 course, and I feel much more confident this year. I’ve started my year with clear and firm expectations, and I’m not letting the little things go this time around. As a result, my classroom is operating MUCH more efficiently. Thanks for the help!

Kara K. , teacher

Before I took Classroom Management 101, it was hard to get a noisy class's attention. Since taking the course, I've incorporate class response sayings and taught my rules in the Whole Brain Teaching style. Now, I can always get their attention now by using class response sayings.

Vicki M.

The course will give you realistic ideas for you to use each and every day in your classroom.

Jennifer M.

Your course was just what I needed.

Your course was just what I needed. The modules on difficult students were the most helpful as the demographics of the new school where I teach are very different from my old school. The information on managing transitions and releasing responsibilities were also among my favorites. I am sure I will listen to them again!

I think the time and money that I have invested in this course will help me reap great rewards in my classroom. I can already see positive results in the procedures and systems I have put into place. I really appreciated the extra resources like articles and links to other web sites to guide this process.

Lisa F. , 3rd grade teacher

My classroom was completely transformed!

The biggest concept I incorporated was whole brain teaching. My classroom was completely transformed! Within the 4 weeks of teaching my 4 new Whole Brain rules, I had students who showed more respect and who took responsibility over their actions. Not only did behaviors decrease, but the students were more engaged and productive! I also felt like I was able to teach more because I wasn't dealing with numerous problems per class. Amazing!

Joining Classroom Management 101 helped to completely transform my classroom! Linda does an amazing job of encouraging you to have a servant-hearted mindset, and then she guides you through creating a practical classroom management plan. It was the best choice I made this school year!

Becca R. , 4th grade teacher

I completed the course yesterday and I am just so thankful to God for you and your ministry through teach4theheart.com... I am seeing the fruit of following your suggestions on procedures and rules and high expectations.... This is my 12th year of teaching but still have found your course instructive, refreshing and encouraging. And from a Christian point of view!

Bing B.

amazing ideas

Thank you for all the amazing ideas you have provided. Your class has given me so many ideas and takeaways that I’m going to be implementing next school year. I feel more confident with more ideas and a better plan. Thank you!

Monica G. , Spanish - 6 & 7 grade teacher

Classroom Management 101 would be the best investment you ever made in your career. I learned more from Teach 4 the Heart than I did in all 4 years of college.

Angela F.
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Tyler Agnew

Tyler Agnew is a fourth-grade teacher in Killeen, Texas. He enjoys writing, reading, and freestyle rapping, which he does to review content for his students. Follow him on social media @agnewsie.

  • What about when the student enjoys going to the principal’s office and his parents don’t care about his behavior in class? I had a student who regularly defied my directions, refused to do his work, and frequently refused to participate. I usually would ignore his behavior until I could deal with it, but he became a danger to himself or others.

  • Thanks for sharing your idea.
    It is always a good idea to give students a choice.

    But: how do you cope with a student if you cannot ask the principal to come and get him? Just leave him in class?



  • Haha! If only it could be that easy! The principal and the assistant principal could care less if a student is defiant and they sure don’t want you calling the office for a defiant student. Second if you can get a parent to answer your phone call they mostly say that’s your problem now and you take care of them when you are with them and don’t bother me at home. So you have no support from administration or from parents! Then what? You try to get on their side by getting to know them and they try to take advantage of you later with I thought you cared so that means I can do what I want. Sorry but this is not helpful!

    • Victoria,
      We realize things are never simple. But you also cannot allow yourself to be disillusioned. Often results don’t show up for months or years. (I had a defiant student that I didn’t see results with for over a year and a half – but then they became one of my best students). Keep doing your best. Keep trying to reach students. Don’t give up.

  • What do you do when the admin nor parents are of help with a defiant? Find a new school or work through it with your suggestions above eg. playing catch with them etc?

    • That’s a tough situation. Definitely do the best that you can, but I can’t tell you whether to switch schools or not. I’d encourage you to pray about it. Sometimes we are called to stay, sometimes we are called to go elsewhere.

  • In my experience, it’s an unspoken expectation that the teacher handle these situations. Administration, nor parents step up to the plate more than once or twice..

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