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Washington State University
Washington State University Office of the Provost

Managing difficult classroom situations

Events such as demonstrations on campus bring heightened awareness of challenging situations that can occur at our university. We want our WSU faculty to feel prepared to be instructive if upsetting or unsettling events arise. As an instructor, you have the right and responsibility to create and shape a classroom environment conducive to learning. With that in mind we offer the following suggestions and resources for managing the classroom environment, especially amidst challenging circumstances.

Set classroom expectations. It’s important to outline expectations to create a space where open dialogue can take place and civility is present. Suggestions include stating expectations related to participation, use of electronics, and how to effectively manage disagreements. You may also wish to set expectations for courteous and respectful discourse, while being careful to avoid language that curtails free expression.

Instructors are classroom leaders and shape the course in terms of content and context. Although not all challenging class situations can or should be avoided, they are a lot easier to manage if instructors have good rapport and communication with their students. Small gestures like smiling, calling students by name, staying after class or coming early to visit, and/or using online classroom spaces to create community and get to know students are all ways to make the classroom space more of a community. When community is present it’s easier to open dialogue, as well as anticipate and manage challenging situations. It’s important to have ownership of the classroom space and to have the tools necessary to manage a challenging situation that emerges whether it’s related to content or related to classroom interactions and context.

Additional Resources

Dealing with disruptive situations. In spite of best efforts at prevention, disruptive situations can occur within a classroom space at any time. It’s critical to not ignore the situation. Regardless of the nature of the situation, it’s important to navigate as it occurs. Do what you can to hear the students out (either in class or a meeting after), empathize when you can, see if there are things you can do within the classroom to address, avoid arguments, be respectful, and provide options for moving forward. If you feel unsafe as an instructor or on behalf of a group of students you can conclude class early or call your respective campus police departments for assistance.

  • WSU Pullman:, 911 in an emergency, or 509-335-8548 for non-emergency situations
  • WSU Everett: 425-388-9990
  • WSU Spokane: 509-358-7995
  • WSU Tri-Cities: 509-372-7234
  • WSU Vancouver: 360-546-9001

Additional Resources

Know your resources. WSU is committed to maintaining and supporting welcoming, inclusive learning and living environments. We greatly value the diversity of our community and believe our differences will ultimately result in an instructive, enriching educational experience. WSU offers support and assistance to help manage challenging situations, and many resources to ensure the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff.

Additional Resources

Thank you for all that you do for WSU and for making our community a welcoming one for all of our students.


Mitzi M. Montoya

Provost and Executive Vice President