Relocation refusers

Behaviour Management

Relocation refusers

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Teacher talking to a student in a classroom environment.

Worthy of a book itself, this problem is another dreaded scenario that sends shivers down the spine of beginning teachers. For the unprepared, relocation battles can become a nightmare of epic proportions. However for the prepared and strategic, there are plenty of solutions that can turn this headache into nothing more than a friendly conversation.

Relocation requests are regularly met with unexpected resistance due to the public nature of the consequence and the students’ strong instinctual drive to be around friends.

Relocation requests are regularly met with unexpected resistance due to the public nature of the consequence and the students’ strong instinctual drive to be around friends. Moving from one desk to another is socially isolating, uncomfortable and intimidating. It also causes a degree of public embarrassment – the student is paraded in front of their peers like a criminal being banished from their tribe. For the teacher, relocation is a simple request. For the student however, it is socially devastating. Recognising this potential impact, teachers need to be careful when relocating students. Many novice teachers have been caught out by flippantly asking a student to move and naively expecting immediate compliance. Unfortunately, students often oppose such commands and battle lines are soon drawn. Requiring a student to move is not as easy as it may first sound plus there is a higher than usual chance (compared to other techniques and instructions) that an escalation will ensue.

For the teacher, relocation is a simple request. For the student however, it is socially devastating.

Students might be asked to relocate for any number of reasons. Sometimes they come into class upset and teachers make the mistake of asking them to move away from their friends. When in this mood, productivity is going to be low regardless of how many techniques the teacher throws at the problem. Provided the student is not distracting anyone else, the teacher is usually advised to leave him or her be for now. There is no point in adding fuel to an already emotionally charged fire. These situations are easy to deal with because the student doesn’t want a confrontation or to distract others – he or she just wants to be left alone, and that is exactly what the teacher should do.

When in this mood, productivity is going to be low regardless of how many techniques the teacher throws at the problem.

The more common and difficult situation occurs when a student is loud, talkative, off-task and subsequently refuses to move after being directed to do so. These students are difficult because they may quickly get back on with their work in the hope that their new-found work ethic is enough to appease the teacher. One option is to leave these students be and remind them at a later, more private time that you expect them to follow your instructions in the future. However, there comes a point where that option is not on the table and a student needs to be relocated. This happens when the student returns to work but after a short while continues distracting others – an all too familiar pattern.

As relocation is such as high-risk technique, the key to preventing an escalation is to signal to the student that he or she will be moved at some point very soon. Then when the request to move comes it is not such a shock and students are less resistant. There are several ways this can happen: a warning or 2, the ‘choice’ technique, or even asking the student to sit in a certain spot for the next activity due to a reason you conjured out of thin air (e.g. to help/be helped by a peer). Another option is to give the student a time limit such as by saying, ‘Anushka I can give you another 5 minutes there, then I need you over here okay, so you are not distracted for the rest of the lesson’. Giving a valid reason for the move (other than, or as well as a behavioural reason) has a positive impact on a student’s willingness to comply. These small warm-ups prepare the student for the move and lessen the chance of resistance compared to a relocation demand coming out of the blue.

As relocation is such as high-risk technique, the key to preventing an escalation is to signal to the student that he or she will be moved at some point very soon.

If Anushka had further refused to move, many behaviour management programs require the teacher to escalate the situation to a higher response level. However, this may not be necessary and it is extremely risky. Firstly, the teacher could actually reduce his or her response (reverse escalation) instead of escalating it – eye contact, a head wave, a smile (follow-up enforcer) and ‘come on I’m busy and stressed today – please move’ (‘I’ statements) might work. The teacher then allows a few minutes for compliance (secondary behaviours) while helping other students. Then should Anushka still not move, the teacher has various options. A reverse escalation may work which involves a lower-level response such as a ‘follow-up enforcer’, no response at all or even a humorous comment. Sometimes the teacher may need to request the move 3-4 times – each time keeping calm and doing something else in between (usually helping other students).

Firstly, the teacher could actually reduce his or her response (reverse escalation) instead of escalating it – eye contact, a head wave, a smile (follow-up enforcer) and ‘come on I’m busy and stressed today – please move’ (‘I’ statements) might work.

As you have read, escalations are dangerous because they often lead to further escalations and teachers quickly run out of options. Instead, if Anushka is working, not distracting others and seems to now be compliant, her teacher may let her continue for now. A quick chat 5 minutes later might go like this, ‘one peep and you will move without argument – deal’. Notice how that sentence ended with a full stop and not a question mark. Anushka may think she has won this one, however she is yet to learn that her teacher is not to be trifled with and her consequences have already been determined. The teacher has used best practice here because the original goal was to have Anushka on-task and not disrupting others – this has now been achieved.

However, Anushka and the rest of the class need to know that defiance behaviour will not be tolerated, and that their teacher will always follow-up. As the class leaves for the day, Anushka is told to remain seated. The teacher then sits Anushka outside her office for several minutes. A natural consequence of not wanting to move is not being allowed to move. Other options include a brief chat, acceptance of a written apology which is also signed by parents and/or a requirement to sit at a location to be determined by the teacher for the next 4 lessons (e.g. Anushka must wait outside and be ‘collected’ by the teacher who directs her to her seat for the day). However, this may be considered overkill (or ‘over-correction’) and in reality a quick chat would probably more than suffice. Being asked to stay back is a strong signal to everyone that Anushka ‘is in trouble’ and additional over-corrections may not necessarily result in lesser issues in the future. This of course all assumes Anushka’s behaviour is not a pattern. If she refused to move (or needed to be moved) each lesson, that is a different story altogether,

Hint: Some students are simply ‘managed’ (meaning that there is no realistic goal of eradicating or significantly reducing their behavioural issues). Provided a consequence of some type is imposed for misbehaviour, however little, the student has paid his or her penance. The teacher can then move to the next lesson instead of wasting a disproportionate amount of time on a single student with no real prospect of influencing future behavioural choices.

But what if the teacher did want Anushka to move because she was disruptive over and over again? What if Anushka refused to move no matter what her teacher said? What if there was 40 minutes left of the lesson (meaning the teacher couldn’t just ‘wait it out’)? The teacher has tried warnings, choices and everything else he or she could think of, all to no avail. What now? A tiered escalation system normally requires a teacher to seek the assistance of other school staff such as the principal. This can be embarrassing for the teacher, annoying for the principal and very disruptive. It often ends with the student storming out of the room in a huff.

Before making this call, a teacher needs to consider if further action is worth it or if there are alternative strategies that can be employed – what other ‘levers’ in the behaviour management system can the teacher pull? First, it is best to briefly reconsider the underlying causes for the behaviour in this precise situation. Ask yourself, ‘is there a root cause here that I am missing and why is the student being so defiant on this particular day?’. At this critical juncture, the situation is past the point of reverse escalations, selective ignoring, a private chat and other such tactics. The teacher has no option but to escalate and there are 7 possible options. These are listed below in the order they should be applied:

  1. The outside chat. It is quite often easier to get students outside than it is to get them to move seats. This is a valid alternative that works in many cases. It goes like this, ‘sit outside please, take your work, I will be there in about 5 minutes and we will have a chat about this and we can decide if you can come back in’.
  2. A crouched chat. A very quiet and private chat goes like this, ‘Anushka, I’m asking politely, we had a deal and you broke it, I know you are energetic today but I have to do my best to teach the lesson and your behaviour makes that very difficult. I need you to move please – it is not an option or negotiation and I don’t want to fight you on it because I want to help others with their work. Move over there and then I’ll come help you in a few minutes, okay. It’s not a big deal – just move, then problem solved and nothing else happens.’ The teacher may leave Anushka to think about this for a few minutes. This coaxing is usually effective because students realise that a calm, quiet and private conversation is one of the final options. Teachers may also use this strategy along with the outside chat technique – from there they can be moved back inside to a different location.
  3. The ultimatum with the threat of consequences. No one likes giving ultimatums, but it may be necessary if the chat fails. A very private talk goes like this, ‘okay, so I have asked you to move and you are refusing to move, correct? I will give you 60 seconds to change your mind while I help Olivia. As I said, it’s no big deal – just go over there, problem solved – no need for this to blow into a big thing where you lose your lunch, parents are called and so on – I’m too busy for this today – 60 seconds and then you will quietly move.’ The teacher then walks off.
  4. A final request. This is the last-ditch effort by the teacher. It is short, firm and it might go like this, ‘this is your final opportunity before it gets escalated. 20 seconds.’ At this point the teacher may write a note in preparation for sending another student to get a senior manager as the situation is beyond what the teacher is empowered to manage. Some students will move as soon as they see a fellow student leaving to get backup.
  5. Use a behaviour card or similar (if applicable). If the student is on a behaviour card or some other system is in place, now is the time to use it. Note that it is very unlikely you will get to this point with a student who is not already subject to 1 or more behavioural systems – this student is already well-known by the manager responsible for behaviour. If these systems do not exist, today is the day to speak with your manager about putting one in place for this individual (if the behaviour is a pattern).
  6. Relocation of other students (immediately near them). This is an option that may work and it can be done at any point depending on the situation. However, it may not be worth doing if there are 30 students in a small room because not much separation is possible. Trying to relocate innocent bystanders can cause more issues as the new targets may see themselves as victims and not be happy about the disruption. Moving 1 or 2 students remains an option.
  7. School-wide approach. This is a worst-case scenario used when any of these 7 escalations is required on a regular basis (e.g. step 4 once a week or more). If a student’s misbehaviour is repetitive it can be safely assumed that other teachers are having issues with him or her as well. In this case, a school-wide approach is required and it should be managed by a more senior staff member such as a deputy or head of department. The simple process of referring a behavioural issue to a higher authority resolves almost all of the remaining issues (at least to a manageable level). The teacher may implement their own system (IBP).

    Assuming the issue is not simply extreme task-avoidance (due to poor curriculum, low self-esteem, the student being upset on the day etc.), the student may be a candidate for a specialised behaviour program at another school. Teachers may suggest (to their managers) that the student be referred to the school psychologist as there may be underlying causes of this rare oppositional behaviour (e.g. oppositional defiant disorder, depression, anger issues, neglect or abuse, undisclosed medical treatment etc.).

    If no support is available, the teacher may need to ride out the lesson as best he or she can. Regardless, this student should not be permitted to return to class in the immediate future as his or her insubordination poses a safety risk to the teacher and fellow students. The teacher has a right to be in full control of the class and to feel mentally and physically safe in the workplace. The teacher may require a formal meeting and other behavioural systems be put in place before ‘inviting’ the student back into class. In extreme cases, the teachers may consider whether the student is actually bullying/harassing staff.

Hint: When a student refuses to move, some experts advocate moving the entire class – do not do this under any circumstances with the exception of some rare instances where students’ safety is at immediate risk. Moving a whole class is impractical (e.g. did you book the library just in case?) and it disrupts everyone else’s learning. It also has a devastating impact on the individual who is refusing to move – he or she will be further embarrassed and traumatised. Subsequently winning that student over would then be very unlikely. Moving a whole class is also not proportionate, it creates innocent victims and there are dozens of other options that are much easier and more effective. The student may even follow the class. What then?

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.


Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.


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