Managing a Crisis

When the best pro-active plans and behavior influence techniques fail to elicit acceptable behavior on a student's pan and a confrontation or crisis blows up, you need to have a plan. Crisis plans have at least these five parts:

  • a specific definition of a "crisis"

  • prevention strategies

  • specific procedures that all involved staff can use

  • a method for recording the crisis or reporting the incident

  • a student log or folder

  • system for supporting staff

A crisis has five distinct and recognizable phases. Knowing them may assist the teacher or other staff members in deciding what to do.

1. Triggering phase

Something happens to excite behavior or cause emotional and/or physical distress. The student perceives a threat but has not blown-up and is not acting out. The appropriate response of the teacher or staff member is to be supportive. Talk to the student calmly. Offer a change of scene-- a chance to get water, break the task, or change the scene.

2. Arousal or building phase

The student begins to show signs of distress. Changes that will be evident are increased muscle tension, increased voice volume and/or speed of words, rocking, pacing, gesturing with hands, etc. The blood has moved from the brain to the muscle groups thus impairing judgment. The appropriate response of the teacher at this time is to offer alternatives, facilitate relaxation, and/or set geographical limits.

3. Blow-up phase

The student is verbally and/or physically out-of-control. Downshifting has occurred, adrenaline is pumping (and will remain in the system for 30 minutes), and the fight or flight response is common. The student cannot process/synthesize information. The ability to process oral and written language and to recognize patterns is severely affected. At this point, students can become very dangerous and exhibit destructive behavior. The appropriate response of the teacher at this time is to assure the safety of the other students, himself or herself, and of the student in crisis. Give only short, simple directions, if any and use a calm voice. Remove triggering stimuli and targets. Prevent the peer group from reinforcing the student's inappropriate behavior. Try to contain the student geographically. If you can, back off.

4. Begin recovery and stabilizing phase

The student is beginning to calm down but is still tense. The out-of-control behavior is decreasing but could increase again if the student feels threatened. Breathing is not as deep, the extra color begins to drain from the face, the muscles begin to relax. The appropriate teacher behavior is to calm down, too. Assist the student in calming down and reinforce efforts made to return to normal behavior. Do not punish or reintroduce triggers. Show you care for the student.

5. After crisis/depression

In the final phase, as the body chemistry returns to normal, the student may feel sleepy, act tired or withdraw. The student probably will not feel or show remorse. The event may not even be remembered. Do not punish. Do discuss what to do the next time. Reintroduce the activity/task that was in progress when the crisis began building. When appropriate, talk about the incident with the group of students who were present. Discuss what happened and how to react should the student become aggressive again. The team who serves the student meets and processes the crisis. The behavior is analyzed, patterns are sought. The event is recorded and plans are made for additional positive behavioral supports.


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