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Friday, August 24, 2007


One of the greatest skills that teachers of today require is the ability to de-escalate a situation that may become volatile and out of control. Teachers are increasingly aware that students are coming to their classrooms with difficulty in social skills, anger problems, neurobehavioral disorders and learning disabilities. Teachers face an increase in school violence and oppositional students as well as parents. The skills and confidence a teacher has in dealing with challenging situations may be the key to preventing a power struggle with a student or parent.

How do teachers prevent or de-escalate a potentially challenging situation? This is a difficult question as each challenging individual is unique and the teacher may not be aware of the full history of the individual they are presented with. Here are some strategies teachers can try to keep situations under control.


1. Recognize the individual’s triggers. What occurs before a behaviour occurs? Can the trigger be recognized and can strategies be implemented before the behaviour escalates?
2. Read the individual’s “state of behaviour”, body language or emotional state in order to determine whether instructions will be followed or opposed. Example: Head on table, slammed books on desk – May not be ready or willing to follow your instruction. Try to change the state by approaching the student quietly after you have started the class and try to determine if the student is willing to begin or has something happened that makes it difficult for the student to attend.
3. If instructions are opposed give the individual time to process what the instruction is actually asking them to do. Make sure instructions are clear and precise. Visual instructions or visual indicators for starting a task may also be required. Try to give instruction and withdraw attention in order to prevent a power struggle.
4. Secondary behaviour may need to be ignored during the immediate situation but should be revisited when there is time and everyone is calm.
5. If instruction is still not being followed, make sure the next instruction is not stated as a threat. Example. “If you do not follow my instruction you will have to go to the office”. This may come across to the student as a challenge. “Make me!”
6. Repeat the initial instruction and withdraw. Pay attention to those that are following instructions.
7. If the behaviour escalates as it might, depending on the individual, make sure you have a specific “discipline plan” that involves other supports if possible. If the student is violent make sure a plan is devised and everyone who works with the child is aware of the requirements of the plan.
8. If the office needs to be called – Have the person who comes from the office take the class and if the teacher feels confident enough have the teacher work with the student.
9. If the child is older and walks out swearing, cursing, slamming doors etc… Make sure the office is informed but do not follow the student out of the classroom. Allow them to leave but before they re-enter a meeting must occur between the student and the teacher to try and repair the relationship. A trip to the office may be required but the teacher still needs to determine whether the student understands that they must work together in the classroom without conflict. This is why a meeting with the teacher should happen to re-establish routines and rules.
10. Humor may help. Sarcasm may escalate.
11. Using a calm voice, non-threatening body language and repetitive instructions may help in de-escalating a potentially volatile situation.
12. Walk away from a power struggle that is escalating. It is not about winning the fight. Sometimes teachers need time to regain their emotional state and may need time to re-group. IT IS OK… “I need time away from you right now but we will discuss this when we are both calmer and willing to work together.”
13. IS IT EASY?? NO NOT AT ALL. Some situations may escalate even though you have done everything you could to keep it under control. Feedback with a peer, discuss the situation, brainstorm strategies and remember you can only do the best you can with the knowledge and skills that you have at the time.
14. ASK for HELP if you need it. Asking for help does not determine your success or failure as a teacher. Some children may come from extremely dysfunctional environments and may not be capable of interacting in a “traditional” setting.
15. TEAMWORK is very important when working with challenging children. We can’t do it all by ourselves.
16. ORGANIZATION is the key for teachers and for students. Unstructured time may lead to potentially challenging situations.


Anonymous said...

What about some strategies for challenging behaviours that are passive in nature? Quietly defiant.

Colleen said...

Passive defiance can be an indication that the student is trying to gain power using inappropriate means. I would suggest doing observations noting the intensity frequency and duration of the behaviour making sure to describe the inapproprate behaviour in very specific terms. Also look for the antecedent to the behaviour which allows us to look at our own behaviour in relation to escalating a potentially non-compliant situation. Does the student have learning difficulties? Has an assessment been done? Make sure to include in your observations the times when the student is exhibiting desired behaviours. Develop your plan focusing on decreasing the inappropriate behaviour and teaching the desired behaviours. Time and resources need to be devoted to this process. Other strategies that you can look at are: (depending on the age of the student) Planned discussion, peer mentoring program, restructuring student's self talk, signal interference cuing, re-direction, self-monitoring, increasing positive interaction with other staff members at the school, curriculum modification if there are learning difficulites and goal setting. Try to include activities within your plan on a daily basis, activities that promote the ability for the student to feel powerful appropriately - choice, responsibility,as well it is very important to determine the students strengths and interests to help with increasing student motivation. Have a look at the book: Educating Oppostional Students by Stephan Hall. Very practical. Hope this gives you some ideas.

Colleen said...

I have just added another website that looks at "Functions of Behaviour" This may be helpful.

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One of the biggest issues that I hear about from teachers and caregivers is the behaviour of the children or youth in their school, program ...