Yesterday, I talked about how to use positive reinforcement to handle disruptive students. I wrote this post in response to a question posed on an online youth ministry forum I'm a part of: “How do you handle disruptive students during a lesson or sermon?”
That said, I have to be honest.
I also have another very different response to this question.
Disruptive students aren't something to be handled; They're people to be loved.
What's more, their disruptions – though oftentimes cries for attention – may also be a reflection of something else: Boredom.
Oftentimes, I think as youth workers, we want to run our youth ministries like classrooms. We expect the same order and discipline that experienced teachers are able to achieve.
And while I have the utmost respect for teachers, the truth is, youth ministries aren't classrooms, nor should we try to turn them into them. Instead, as youth workers, we need to be ready and willing to deal with a bit of controlled chaos; We need to see disruptions not as annoyances, but as opportunities to engage students.
And let's face it, the only person in a youth ministry who loves the talk / sermon is the person giving it. The truth is (and I know this is hard to hear), when you're the one doing all the talking, students aren't engaged; They're bored.
And when students are bored, they're much more likely to be disruptive.
Better yet, work with students in advance to equip them to lead a discussion.
If you insist on giving a talk, make it experiential. Break up your words with video clips, music, and activities designed to engage different learning styles and different facets of a student's identity – not just their intellect but their hearts and emotions.
Though it's good for us to know (and even employ) strategies like positive reinforcement in our youth ministries, the truth is, there's only one foolproof way I know to “handle disruptive students”.