We Are Class Disruptors!

As published in Techniques magazine.

Picture rights purchased from Storyblocks.com

Managing Your Class Through Disruption

Halt! Who goes there?

Are you friend or foe? Hero or villain? Are you here for disruption or order?

In today’s story, these questions may not have as clear of an answer as one would think. We are seeing more and more how villains have a heart, and disruptors can have good intentions, while heroes can be misguided, and authority figures can have power issues.

We once heard terms like: Don’t rock the boat! Don’t muddy the waters! Don’t disrupt the norm!

Phrases and thought processes like these were once ubiquitous.. A lack of disruption was once equivalent to structure, order and progress. Disruptors were always the villains in the story.

Today, however, disruption has taken on an entirely different value than what it had before. Rather than being viewed as an inhibitor of progress, disruption is now viewed in some realms as an avenue for progress. Industry has discovered the value of disrupting what is good, to get to what is better, or even what is best!

Netflix disrupted the video store industry. Amazon has disrupted brick and mortar retail. The mobile phone has disrupted the computer, television, music, camera, calculator and GPS industries. As technology moves forward so will every related industry that technology touches. Industries who acknowledge the shift and embrace disruptions will thrive. Those who do not will fail and education is not immune.

Whether it’s in the classroom or in the world of business, a reluctance to remain relevant and adapt to change is a primary contributor to failure.

Of course, being labeled a disruptor still has its bad boy or bad girl connotation but only to those who are resistant to change.

What does all of this have to do with the classroom?

An article submitted by the Scientific World Journal, “Student Classroom Misbehavior: An Exploratory Study Based on Teachers’ Perceptions” revealed several activities that teachers consider disruptive. Those activities range from talking out of turn to outbursts of aggression and from students getting out of their seat to challenging the teacher’s authority. Interestingly enough, the factor that seemed to most contribute to disruptive activity was boredom (Rachel C. F. Sun and Daniel T. L. Shek, 2012).

Barring a student who has an agenda, students rarely aim to disrupt a lesson. What they are often aiming to disrupt is their own boredom.

So, what causes boredom or a lack of engagement in the classroom? Is it the student’s responsibility to engage with the lesson or is it the teacher’s responsibility to provide the opportunity for student engagement? I would propose that it’s both but with a heavier responsibility on the latter.

Students disrupt where there is opportunity to disrupt. Student engagement, however, supersedes disruption. Therefore, based on this premise, teachers should employ what we call positive disruption. Teachers can beat their students to the punch by disrupting their own class before the students have the opportunity. How? By disrupting their usual routine of classroom management and behavior through planned, purposeful student engagement activities.

Rather than being the disrupted, teachers become the disruptors.

Disrupting a class for the sake of disruption, however, would not be productive and is not what I am recommending. Nor am I saying that throwing engagement activities into a class is somehow going to magically transform students into starry-eyed pupils who soak up every detail of the lesson. What I am suggesting is that planned, purposeful engagement activities will help to disrupt an expected routine and create a platform for focused learning. The key word here is purposeful.

What is the intended purpose for the lesson being taught? Do the students know the purpose? Do they know why they are learning what they are learning? Do they care? Have they been given the opportunity to care or told why they should care? Caring is an emotional response.

Activities which purposefully engage students on an emotional level are far more productive than repetitious assignments or non-purposed activities. Links between emotions and memory have been studied since the time of Sigmund Freud. More recently, an article entitled “Emotions and Memory” from Psychologist World, shared the following:

It appears that emotionally charged situations can lead us to create longer lasting memories of the event. When we are led to experience feelings of delight, anger or other states of mind, vivid recollections are often more possible than during everyday situations in which we feel little or no emotional attachment to an event (“Emotions and Memory,” n.d.).

Creating a situation which provokes an emotional response, whether it be excitement, joy, anger, or even sadness, increases the chances of students retaining the information that is shared in that moment. If the intended purpose is to have students capture information and store it for later recall, that information should be flagged with an emotional response.

Industry, especially, hospitality, restaurants, and retail understand and have proven this. They want their brands to be remembered. So, what do they do? They create an emotional experience around their products and services. Step into any worthwhile hotel, eating establishment, or store and it becomes quickly apparent that a major concentration of effort has been placed on the experience as well as the product. From the music they play, the colors on the walls, and the temperature in the room, to the customers service they provide, business is all about the experience. Brands want customers to feel a certain way about them so that when the time comes, customers will remember and tell their friends and return to buy again.

Teachers, whether they realize it or not, have a brand. Students have branded them, and their subjects, based on the experiences they have had in their class (S. Bridges & P. Bridges, 2019). A good teacher can make a student like, love, or at least tolerate even a boring subject by the way they present their brand.

A class disruptor is someone who understands the value of disruption and breaking out of the norm. A class disruptor understands that they have a brand to create, promote, and protect. A class disruptor uses disruption to their advantage and disrupts the would-be student disruptors through purposeful engagement activities. A class disruptor is indeed the hero of their story!

So, I challenge you. No, I dare you to become a Class Disruptor and make your class more amazing than ever! Start now by thinking of ways you can disrupt any stale routines or class assignments. Even better, make plans now to attend the “We Are Class Disruptors” workshop at this year’s ACTE CareerTech Vision conference in Anaheim, California where we will go into detail about specific areas you should consider disrupting and provide various ways you can disrupt your class. We will even provide you with a free “We Are Class Disruptors” book for attending.

Take the challenge. Take the dare. Be the hero. Be a Class Disruptor!

Now, let’s go disrupt something…


Bridges S., & Bridges P. (2019) We Are Class Disruptors: Managing Your Classroom Through Disruption. Self-Published.

Rachel C. F. Sun and Daniel T. L. Shek, (2012). Student Classroom Misbehavior: An Exploratory Study Based on Teachers’ Perceptions, The Scientific World Journal, vol. 2012, (Article ID 208907), 8 pages, https://doi.org/10.1100/2012/208907.

Emotions and Memory. Retrieved from https://www.psychologistworld.com/emotion/emotion-memory-psychology