3 SIMPLE Tips to Help Manage Difficult Students

Think of one your most difficult students.  One or more students come to mind right away, right?  We spend more time thinking about our most challenging students and what we can do to help them to be successful in the classroom.  You've tried the common tricks in your toolbox like positive reinforcement, rewards, and even negative consequences and nothing seems to work.

1. Get To Know Them
Find a way to connect and build a rapport with a student. Talk with them every day outside of the classroom, such as recess or invite them for lunch. Do they enjoy basketball?  Shoot hoops with them on the playground.  Let them teach YOU how to do something at recess.  Let them explain how the details of their favorite video game. Last year, I had a super-challenging student who was very difficult to connect with.  I noticed that he really didn't have any true friends but loved getting other students' attention with his disruptions.  I spent a few minutes every day just chatting with "Joe" about non-school related things. It took me a solid month to build up to a meaningful conversation but I was determined. I found out that he never played kickball and was embarrassed to try and was worried that the other students would make fun of him. I enlisted a few of my good kids to invite "Joe" to play and they invited me to play too.  The entire class played kickball that day and the students were so happy that every single classmate was on the field.  They patiently taught "Joe" the rules of the game and gave him some practice time to kick the ball.  When he got his first time up in the game, the students were coaching and cheering him on and he was grinning from ear to ear.  From that day on, he played kickball every day!  He really enjoyed it and I loved seeing him chatting and playing with his peers.  Did he become a perfect student in my class? No, but things improved immensely.  He had a sense of belonging and began to make connections and form real friendships with some of his classmates.

Read more about getting to know your difficult students in my post, 3 Simple Tips to Help Manage Difficult Students: Tip #1.

2. Enlist Their Help
I often make my most challenging students my go-to helper.  If I notice that they are getting fidgety and potentially about to cause a problem (or just starting to), I will give them something "important" to do.  My favorite task to give them is to deliver a note or item to another teacher.  I'll write a quick note to a teacher friend for my student to deliver.  The note may just be something silly that says "have a great day" or "you are awesome".  It may be something unimportant that I need to return to them (Mrs. T needs this DVD returned right away and tell her thanks!).  Just getting the student up and about on a seemingly important errand can give them the classroom break that they need. Currently, I have a student who just loves to feel important (and really, who doesn't?).  I give him a special job or task when I know he needs a quick break.  I might have him do something as simple as emptying the pencil sharpener, delivering a message to another teacher, or returning a library book for me. Now that he knows that I like his help, I have my student asking me for things he can do to help and I always take him up on his offer.  He'll stop by before class to see if I need help straightening the desks or filing papers.  Allowing him to help me in little, yet meaningful, ways gives him positive attention, makes him feel special, and gives him a sense of accomplishment.

Read more details about enlisting their help in my post 3 Simple Tips to Help Manage Difficult Students: Tip #2.

3. Give Them A Safe Space
Give your students a quiet, peaceful place where they can move to calm down when they are getting frustrated, agitated, or upset. I have a desk set up in a corner of my classroom that we call the "Calm Down Station".  My students know that they can take a time-out at any time they feel they need a break.  At the desk, I keep a box of hands-on stress relievers such as a bean bag, pattern blocks, and clay. I also have a glitter wand, paper, coloring pages, and an assortment of markers and color pencils. I have taught my students how to use the Calm Down Station and I make a note of the students who use it and how long they stay there. If I feel that they are avoiding work, I will gently ask them to return to our class for a few minutes or bring their classwork over to them to complete. Read more about this strategy here, 3 Simple Tips to Manage Difficult Students: Tip #3

We all have students that will need extra attention. Having a simple, workable plan in place can go a long way towards having the best class possible. What strategies would you add to the list?  
Read more details about each tip in my separate blog posts, Get To Know Them, Enlist Their Help, and Give Them a Save Space.


  1. All fabulous and simple tips. I've had some success in the past with #1 an #2. Haven't tried #3. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Great tips Debbie! I kinda want an agitation station for the teacher...

    1. Yes, sometimes I feel like we could use a cool down spot! ;)


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