Navigating the complexities of student crisis management can be one of the most challenging aspects of classroom management in teaching. If behavioral issues in students are on your mind as a teacher, here are some actionable insights for you! From identifying early warning signs to crafting effective interventions, we aim to empower teachers to create a stable learning environment. Whether you're dealing with minor disruptions or serious crises, these strategies will empower you to handle any situation with confidence and skill.
What is student crisis management?
Student crisis management refers to the strategies and protocols educators employ to identify, assess, and address disruptive or dangerous behavior in a school setting. It aims to create a safe environment by effectively handling situations that can escalate into crises, such as conflicts, emotional outbursts, or threats to safety. Proper student crisis management can not only defuse immediate issues but also lay the groundwork for long-term solutions, enhancing overall educational outcomes. This topic is vital for teachers, school administrators, and parents looking to maintain a secure and conducive learning atmosphere.
The 6 Stages of Student Crisis Management
Stage 1: Baseline (Green)
The “Baseline” phase refers to the student’s typical, non-crisis state. During this phase, educators lay the groundwork for emotional and behavioral well-being, which can help prevent or mitigate future crises.
What it looks like: Calm, happy, ready state to learn
What to do:
- Positive Attention & Reinforcement: Regularly acknowledge and praise appropriate behavior. Use verbal affirmations, tangible rewards, or extra privileges as positive reinforcement.
- Teach at Level: Provide instruction that is tailored to the student’s current academic and social-emotional level to prevent frustration or boredom.
- Clear Expectations: Clearly outline behavioral expectations and classroom rules. Utilize visual aids or written instructions for additional clarity.
- Establish Routine: Create a predictable classroom routine to reduce anxiety and help students understand what to expect.
- Emotional Literacy: Implement curriculum or activities that teach students how to recognize and manage their emotions.
- Check-in, Check-out: Have brief daily meetings to discuss goals and concerns with the student, helping to anticipate and mitigate issues before they escalate.
- Role-Playing: Use role-playing exercises to practice appropriate responses to stress or conflict.
- Sensory Accommodations: If necessary, provide sensory supports like fidget tools, noise-canceling headphones, or quiet corners to help with self-regulation.
- Teach Coping Strategies: Proactively teach coping mechanisms like deep breathing, counting, or taking short breaks that can be used during stressful situations.
- Build Relationships: Establish a strong student-teacher relationship to create a sense of trust and security. Get to know the student’s interests, strengths, and challenges.
- Parent/Guardian Collaboration: Keep an open line of communication with parents or guardians to share information about the student’s behavior, academic progress, and any potential triggers or challenges.
- Ongoing Monitoring: Continuously observe student behavior and emotional state to quickly identify any deviations that might signify the beginning of a crisis phase.
By laying a strong foundation during the Baseline phase, educators can not only minimize the occurrence of crises but also equip students with the tools they need to cope effectively when difficulties do arise.
Stage 2: Passive non-compliance (Yellow)
The “Passive Non-compliance” phase is when a student may not directly defy instructions, but they don’t follow them either. This can manifest as ignoring requests, hesitating, or seeming disengaged. The key in this phase is to address the issue without escalating the situation.
What it looks like: Anxiety, generally non-disruptive, refusal
What to do:
- Give Space: Sometimes a student needs physical and emotional space to process instructions. Allow some room for the student to come to terms with the task at hand.
- Reduce Verbals: Minimize the amount of verbal instruction, as too many words can overwhelm the student. Be concise and clear.
- Provide Visual Support: Offer visual aids like charts, cards, or icons that summarize what needs to be done. This can be especially helpful for students who process visual information better than auditory information.
- Use First-Then: Use the “first-then” technique to structure tasks. For example, “First finish your math problems, then you can read your book.”
- Clear Expectations: Explicitly outline what you expect the student to do, avoiding vague or ambiguous terms. Make sure these expectations are understood.
- Reminders of What ‘Working For’: Remind the student what they’re working toward, whether it’s a reward, a break, or simply the satisfaction of completing a task.
- Provide Choices: Offer limited choices to allow the student some control over the situation. For example, “Would you like to start with reading or math?”
- Validate Feelings, Supportive Language: Acknowledge the student’s feelings without judgment and use supportive language to encourage compliance. For example, “I can see this is tough for you. Would it help if we break it down into smaller parts?”
- Nonverbal Cues: Use gestures, facial expressions, or other nonverbal cues to encourage compliance. This can be particularly useful for students who may be overwhelmed by verbal communication.
- Time-Limited Prompts: Give the student a reasonable but limited amount of time to begin the task. Use a timer if needed to make this concrete.
- Reinforce Partial Compliance: If the student begins to comply even in a small way, offer immediate positive reinforcement to encourage full compliance.
- Check for Basic Needs: Quickly assess if unmet needs (hunger, discomfort, etc.) may be contributing to the non-compliance, and address them if possible.
By taking a calm, structured, and empathetic approach, educators can navigate through the passive non-compliance phase effectively, guiding the student toward more positive behavior without escalating the situation.
Stage 3: Active non-compliance (Orange)
The “Active Non-compliance” phase is characterized by a student openly refusing to follow instructions or engage in the prescribed activities. This behavior is more overt than passive non-compliance and usually requires more immediate and deliberate action to prevent escalation.
What it looks like: More vocal or physical non-compliance, disruptive, may be unsafe but not in imminent danger
What to do:
1. Casually Prepare Environment: Subtly rearrange the environment to minimize potential triggers or hazards. This could mean moving distracting items out of reach or ensuring a clear path to the exit.
2. Remove Audience If Possible: Some students may act out more if they feel observed by peers. Redirect the other students to another task or area if feasible.
3. Make Sure ‘Second’ Person Is Prepared: Ensure another staff member is aware of the situation and ready to step in if needed, in line with your school’s protocol for crisis situations.
- Continue with Limited/No Verbal: Limit verbal interactions to reduce the potential for confrontations. If you must speak, use short, clear statements.
- Give Student Mental and Physical Space: Create an opportunity for the student to deescalate by giving them room to move and think. However, be mindful of safety concerns while doing so.
- Offer an Alternative: Suggest another acceptable activity or behavior that meets both your objectives and the student’s immediate needs or desires.
- Utilize Non-Threatening Body Language: Maintain a neutral facial expression and open body language to convey a non-threatening stance.
- Reinforce any Positive Behavior: Should the student show any signs of cooperation or reduced resistance, immediately offer positive reinforcement.
- Provide a Safe Exit: Offer the student a dignified way to comply without losing face. This could be a simple, face-saving task they can perform, or an alternative option that still achieves the educational objective.
Managing active non-compliance is challenging, but it’s crucial to approach the situation calmly, consistently, and respectfully. This not only serves the immediate goal of deescalating the situation but also helps in building long-term rapport and trust with the student.
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Stage 4: Unsafe (Red)
When a student engages in “Unsafe Behaviors,” the situation has escalated to a point where the individual may be a danger to themselves or others. Immediate and strategic intervention is necessary to de-escalate the crisis and ensure everyone’s safety.
What it looks like: Unsafe and imminent danger to self or others, harming self, others, or unsafe destruction
What to do:
- Remove Audience: Clear the room of other students or remove the unsafe student to a designated safe area, according to school and district protocols.
- Ensure Sufficient Staffing: Make sure there are enough trained staff members present to safely manage the situation. Follow your school’s crisis-management training procedures.
- Limit Verbal Interaction: Reduce verbal interactions as much as possible to prevent further escalation. If communication is essential, use brief, clear commands or visual aids.
- Remain Calm: Keep your own emotions in check. Your calm demeanor can help de-escalate the situation.
- Waiting is Usually Your Friend: Once immediate safety measures are in place, it may be best to wait out the behavior, allowing the student time to de-escalate naturally, if it’s safe to do so.
- Consult Crisis Plan/IEP: Quickly refer to any pre-established crisis intervention plans or Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that include guidelines for handling unsafe behaviors.
- Utilize Safety Equipment: If trained and authorized, use safety equipment to protect staff from student, student from student, and student from self, according to your school’s guidelines and laws.
Remember, safety is the utmost priority in any situation involving unsafe behaviors. All actions taken must adhere to local, state, and federal laws, as well as your educational setting’s policies and procedures. Always consult with professionals for training and advice on managing such high-risk situations.
Stage 5: Decompressing (Purple)
During the “Decompressing” stage, the crisis has passed its peak, and the student is starting to de-escalate. This is a sensitive phase where the student might still be emotionally or mentally agitated but is no longer engaging in unsafe behaviors. Your actions in this phase can pave the way for a smoother recovery and for the re-establishment of a teaching and learning environment.
What it looks like: Beginning recovery, some compliance, some restoration, may have remorse or fatigue
What to do:
- Give Time and Space: Allow the student ample time to calm down. Avoid rushing them back into classroom activities or discussions about what triggered the crisis.
- Let Student Set Pace for Re-engagement: Don’t pressure the student to rejoin activities or discussions until they signal readiness. They may need some quiet time before re-engaging.
- Offer Calming Choices: Provide options for activities that could help the student calm down further. This could be drawing, sitting in a quiet corner, or even listening to calming music via headphones if that’s permissible.
- Use Minimal Verbals: Keep verbal communication minimal and calm, avoiding confrontation or extensive questioning about the incident.
- Re-establish Rapport: Use simple, affirmative statements or gestures to rebuild rapport and connection. A simple thumbs-up, a nod, or a brief positive comment can go a long way.
- Non-Threatening Presence: Maintain non-threatening body language and facial expressions to convey that you are there to support, not to interrogate or chastise.
- Gentle Reorientation: Gradually redirect the student’s focus toward the routine activities of the class, making it easier for them to transition back.
- Offer Hydration or Snack: Sometimes physical well-being can impact emotional state. Offer water or a small snack if appropriate.
- Monitor for Signs of Re-escalation: Keep a close eye on the student to ensure that they are genuinely de-escalating and not at risk of another crisis.
- Seek Student’s Input: Once the student seems calm enough, ask them what might help them feel better, but avoid probing into the crisis incident at this stage.
Remember, the goal during the “Decompressing” stage is to support the student in returning to a state where they can re-engage in productive learning and social interaction. Your patience, understanding, and supportive actions are crucial in this phase.
Stage 6: Recovery (Blue)
Recovery is a crucial phase in crisis de-escalation. This stage focuses on helping the student regain their emotional equilibrium, reflect on the incident, and re-integrate into the classroom setting.
What it looks like: Recovered back to baseline (or close), ready for compliance checks and return to tasks or schedule
What to do:
- Re-establish Routine: Gradually guide the student back to normal classroom activities. A sense of normality can help with recovery.
- Positive Reinforcement: Acknowledge and praise any positive behavior or self-regulation the student displays.
- Review and Reflect: When the student is ready, briefly discuss what triggered the episode and identify alternative strategies or coping mechanisms for the future.
- Check for Understanding: Make sure the student understands what happened, why certain measures were taken, and what they can do differently next time. Use visual aids or social stories if verbal explanations are not sufficient.
- Follow-Up Support: Discuss any additional resources or strategies that might help the student moving forward, like a behavior plan or therapeutic supports.
- Restorative Practices: If the crisis involved conflict with peers or staff, consider using restorative practices to mend relationships and community ties within the classroom.
- Reconnect with the Student: Depending on the student’s readiness, use relationship-building activities or exercises to reaffirm the student-teacher bond. This could be as simple as checking in with the student at regular intervals to see how they are doing.
Remember, recovery is not just about bouncing back from the crisis; it’s about equipping the student with the tools and confidence to better manage their emotions and actions in the future.
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What to do after an incident
- Monitor and Adjust: Keep an eye on the student’s mood and behavior following the incident.
- Debrief with Staff: After the student has successfully recovered and is back in the educational setting, debrief with staff to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and what could be done differently next time.
- Document: Make a record of the incident, the de-escalation techniques used, and how the student responded for future reference and ongoing behavior management planning.
- Consult Crisis Plan/IEP: Refer to the student’s crisis plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP) for any specific de-escalation techniques or protocols. Ensure that all staff involved have contributed to any necessary documentation of the incident, in accordance with your school’s or district’s policies. Decide with the team if a change needs to be made in the official plans.
- Follow-Up Care: Ensure that any medical or psychological evaluations are carried out post-incident as needed, based on the guidelines of your educational setting and any individualized plans. In certain cases, you may want to consult with a behavioral specialist, psychologist, or other professional for additional insight into managing and preventing future episodes.
- Parent/Guardian Communication: Depending on the severity of the incident, it might be necessary to inform parents or caregivers, detailing how the situation was managed and the steps being taken to prevent future occurrences.
Understanding the 6 Stages of Student Crisis Management is essential for effective crisis prevention and management in schools. By implementing these student crisis management strategies, educators can foster a safer, more supportive learning environment for all. Teachers, administrators, and even parents can benefit from this roadmap, minimizing disruptions and maximizing educational outcomes. If you've found value in these strategies, remember that student crisis management is an ongoing process, and sharing best practices is key to improving school safety and student well-being.
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