Seeking Inclusive Advice: Imagining What’s Possible for Students in Crisis



What's Possible for Students in Crisis

We are excited to launch a new component to our work, called Seeking Inclusive Advice.  Submissions are reviewed and responded to by TCICP Staff.

In my school, multiple student crises occur every day. I feel like the way those crises are handled do not typically result in positive outcomes for our students. For example, there’s a child in my class who is easily triggered, and I don’t always know how to help him.  When things start to get out of hand, the dean rushes in, and immediately, the child is surrounded by adults. When this happens, the child gets to the point of no return. I want to help him and other students who are easily triggered, but I don’t feel like my school community has the tools to do this kind of work.

Most teachers can identify with the situation described above-all we want to do is help, but everything we do that might be “helpful” makes it worse for the child who is in crisis. TCICP has supported many school communities to develop an environment that fosters feelings of safety and calmness for kids who are “easily triggered”. We put our heads together with all types of staff including social workers, administration, teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents, trying to figure out sustainable actions that attribute to the de-escalation of challenging behavior.

From our direct experiences, we know that when you’re dealing with a child who is in crisis, it’s difficult to imagine that anything you do will make a difference. However, we also know from our direct experiences that over time, more positive outcomes for students in crisis are possible. Try anything once, and it probably won’t work.  Try something, the same thing, ten times, and you will probably start to see a difference, because learning something new– whether it be vocabulary or how to take a deep breath when you feel angry– repetition, consistency, and persistence are needed for that new knowledge to stick.  

When we change the way we think about why kids behave and respond in the ways they do to classroom life, the way we respond to the situation often changes too. One thing to know and understand about student behavior is The Escalation Cycle, pictured.  At each stage, there are both individual and collective actions that can be considered to avoid exacerbating the crisis. How to Calm the Agitated Student, from, clearly identifies and defines concrete practices for school staff to enact when engaging with a student who is in emotional distress during each stage of the cycle.

Additionally, it is important to consider children’s social histories.  Both children and young adults who have experienced trauma may not have had the best experiences with adults, or with school, and it is important for us educators to consider their perspective and turn on our empathy buttons when responding to them while they are in crisis.  It’s easy to forget how quickly the cortisol levels flow throughout the body when someone has been through trauma or is currently living in trauma. We often try to “talk a child down” from their escalated behavior, but when a brain is in fight or flight mode, it is incredibly difficult to process verbal information.  Instead, we might give the child space and stop asking them questions, and talk to the child when the escalation cycle has ended. Teaching them explicit ways for them to self regulate can be really helpful when talking makes the situation worse.  Break systems, when implemented well, can be game changers for easily agitated students.

There is not any one solution for remedying the way adults respond to a crisis in school communities.  Rather, there are many solutions to engage with; really it’s a matter of prioritizing this work with a representative group of school staff within the community. To start, we encourage you to find a study buddy, read through a few articles or teacher research similar to our topic (like How to Calm the Agitated Student, and TCICP Positive Behavior Teacher Inquiries), and perhaps follow a few accounts on social media that underscore this kind of thinking (we at TCICP often refer to @socialthinking and @Think_Inclusive on Twitter, and on Instagram).  Together, choose one-two practices to implement, commit to trying those things AT LEAST five times before you meet again within one week.  It’s a process, but with time, practice, and reflection, more positive outcomes for your students are likely. Remember, while we cannot control our students’ behavior, we can control the way we respond to it.

Submit an inclusive dilemma you and/or your school experiences here.