Tips for Using a Psycho-Educational Approach for Disruptive Students in the Classroom

Author: Melissa Bryson

Bad boys

What do social work and education have in common, other than social workers being present in schools? Well, they are more similar than you might think. When you look at a classroom of students what you are really looking at is a group, bonded by similarities (often age or grade and topic of discussion) that will be influenced by the same group dynamics as a therapy group. Students process information and learn to trust and share with classmates just like a group of strangers coming together for therapy. Therapists have already taken aspects of education and brought them into therapy using a psycho-educational approach. Likewise, educators can utilize aspects of therapy in the classroom setting.  This approach can be useful in a classroom in order for students to learn content as well as process how that content relates to students’ individual lives.

So how can sexuality educators use therapeutic approaches in their classroom?  naughty_teens_1383900c

First, educators should have a basic understanding of how psycho-education works and how we are already unknowingly using the approach. When used in therapy, psycho-education focuses on creating goals, skill building, and gaining a better understanding of a topic related to treatment, for example, healthy coping skills for anxiety disorders (May, Powell, Gazda, & Hauser, 1985). As sexuality educators we encourage our students to identify their morals and values to make decisions about sex, build skills to prevent unsafe or unwanted sex, as well as discuss general knowledge about sexuality, sexual health, relationships, and communication. The basic components of psycho-education are built into the framework of a good sexuality education curriculum, but there are more ways to use this approach to the benefit of a sex education classroom.misbehaviorWe have all had, or heard about educators who have had, that one student or group of students who have trouble taking class seriously or who actively tries to derail the class by acting out. The way that we as educators deal with this disruption affects the ability of the group as a whole to learn and take away useful information from the class. Managing class room disruptions can be just as important as the curriculum we teach because if we let the disruptions take over the class then getting the material across becomes a moot point. Being aware of group dynamics can help educators prepare for disruptions and manage them when they arise. Currently educators are using psycho-educational theory to combat disruptive behavior and still foster a learning environment for students with behavioral disorders (Goldstein, Sprafkin, Gershaw, & Klein, 1983).

We can take a few tips from these educators to use in our own sex education classrooms:Sex ed condom

  1. Use structured learning. Include in your curriculums activities such as modeling, role playing, and performance feedback. Our students need structure and confidence building responses in order to guide their active learning process.
  2. Encourage problem solving life skills. When we relate our lessons to students’ lives they are more likely to participate and apply the concepts not only in class activities but also in real life.
  3. Create classroom guidelines. Use your guidelines throughout the duration of the class, not just for the first day! Classroom disruptions often break agreed upon class guidelines and therefore students can be held accountable by the same parameters they played a part in designing.
  4. Help students identify emotions and how emotions affect decision making. Often times we instruct students to discuss what they would do in a situation, ex. negotiating sexual intimacy in a relationship, asking someone on a date, etc. However asking students to also identify their own emotions and be aware of the emotions of others can result in more successful decision making.
  5. Normalize any and all reactions of students. Every person has different coping skills for stressful situations or situations they do not understand. Be sure to validate the experience of your disruptive students, and encourage them to participate in respectful ways instead of removing them from the classroom.

Now go forth my educators! Use the psycho-educational approach to benefit your curricula and encourage your students to gain knowledge and understanding of sexuality education.



May, H., Powell, M., Gazda, G, Hauser, G. (1985) Life skill training: psychoeducational traning as mental health treatment. Journal of Clinical Psychology,41 (3), 359-367.

Goldstein, A., Sprafkin, R., Gershaw, J., Klein, P. (1983) Structured learning: A psychoeducational approach for teaching social competencies. Behavioral Disorders, 8 (3), 161-170.

4 responses to “Tips for Using a Psycho-Educational Approach for Disruptive Students in the Classroom

  1. Melissa,

    First off, great work! I really liked how your approach focused on integrating aspects of social work when teaching about sexuality in educational settings. Your post clearly illustrated what psycho-education is and what it looks like in the classroom, making it easier to understand how aspects of psycho-education like skill-building, goal setting, and healthy coping skills can be applied to educational settings.

    I also tend to agree with the educator’s use of structure in the classroom, because I think anxiety is reduced when students know what to expect, that there is consistency, and a “plan.” The skill of applying a condom, or the students’ ability to relate problem-solving and decision-making skills to their relationships with their sexual partners is so crucial to sexuality education (and I think it’s backed by research, too, right?). Not to mention, I think students get so much more out of it when they are able to a) walk away with a “skill” and b) be able to apply that skill to a real life situation.

    Thanks for the great post, and especially the pointers at the end! I enjoyed reading this. ☺


  2. Of course I am biased, so YES!-social work and sexuality education go extremely well together! Psycho-education is such a great teaching/learning approach and is how I like to structure most lessons, no matter the topic. Your post made me realize that not everyone uses this approach and it would be useful to examine lesson plans to see if they touch on these important aspects. Your tips at the end are helpful, thanks!

  3. “Normalize any and all reactions of students.”

    I noticed that this is something that the sex ed teacher we observed in the classroom did for his students. He allowed a student to use her laptop in class, commenting that she was uncomfortable, and that’s just how she dealt with it. Other teachers would have forced her to close the laptop and “pay attention.” To the sex ed teacher, it is more important that the student be comfortable, so she can pay attention in her way, than to force her attention.

  4. I find it so interesting that in our field we make such clear distinctions between the role of the clinician and the educator, and yet no one can deny that there is immense overlap, as well. It almost seems like everyone could benefit from taking a few social work classes, as well as a few education classes through the course of training as a sexuality professional. Thanks for highlighting this reality, Melissa, and for offering such clear suggestions for taking a psycho-educational approach in the classroom!

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