How can educators recognize and intervene when student behavior is escalating?
Page 7: Peak
If the teacher is unable to defuse a student’s behavior during the Acceleration Phase, the student will move into the Peak Phase—the most unpredictable and often dangerous phase. During this phase, the teacher should focus on addressing disruptive acting-out behavior and maintaining safety.
What a Student Looks Like
In this phase, the student may engage in behaviors that disrupt the learning environment and result in lost instructional time. In some cases, the student’s behavior may be clearly out-of-control and even pose a danger to themselves and others.
Yelling at the teacher or another student
Throwing a book on the floor
Slamming the door
Walking out of the classroom
Throwing a book at a student or the teacher
Engaging in self-harm
Overturning a desk
Running out of the room or the school
The behavior at this point is often loud and explosive. Although the Peak Phase tends to be a short one, the aftermath of this critical event, or “behavioral earthquake,” is usually quite serious. For obvious reasons, it is best to prevent behaviors from escalating to this point.
In this video, Nora displays some common Peak Phase behaviors. Note how Mr. Santini maintains control and implements his crisis plan (time: 0:38).
Teacher: Last call for questions? Otherwise, we’re going to get started on today’s warm-up.
Nora: [pushes over chair] You’re so annoying! I hate this class!
Teacher: [To another student] Take this to Ms. Chen, please.
Teacher: [To class] Class, let’s line up at the door and go next door to Ms. Chen’s just like we practiced.
Strategies To Implement
In this phase, the teacher can no longer prevent the challenging behavior. Teachers can implement the following strategies to address out-of-control behavior when it occurs.
Speak to the student in a calm voice.
Limit your verbal communication so as not to overwhelm the student with requests, extra words to process, or rapid speech.
Be understanding and compassionate.
Have a plan and know how to implement it.
Make safety the top priority. Remember that the goal is to prevent harm from coming to the student and his classmates. At this point, pause instruction to address the behavior.
Most schools or districts have established crisis plans in place to address situations that may be extremely dangerous or disruptive. Be sure you are familiar with the school’s procedures for:
Addressing the student’s behavior
Contacting the appropriate person for help (if needed)
Knowing what to do with the other students if they are in danger
Documenting the incident
Explicit steps for obtaining immediate assistance for serious behavioral situations. For example:
Call the office or send a student to the office with a crisis behavior card—an object used to inform office or other school personnel that a behavior crisis is underway.
Send the rest of the class to a designated room or area.
If possible, help the student in crisis to reestablish self-control.
Bring the rest of the students back to class once the crisis has been addressed.
Notify parents of the incident.
A physical restriction that prevents or limits a student’s ability to move parts of the body (e.g., head, arms, legs) freely.
The placement of a student alone in a room or area from which he is physically unable to leave. Note: Timeout is not a form of seclusion.
Note: You should be familiar with your school or district’s policy on restraint and seclusion . These practices should be used only as a last resort and only by trained personnel.
Unlike in previous phases, once a student enters the Peak Phase, the teacher can no longer interrupt the acting-out cycle. To return to the Calm Phase, the teacher must support the student as he or she transitions through the De-escalation and Recovery Phases.
Kathleen Lane provides more information about implementing a pre-established plan and prioritizing safety during the Peak Phase (time: 2:00).
Kathleen Lynne Lane, PhD, BCBA-D, CF-L1 Professor, Department of Special Education Associate Vice Chancellor for Research University of Kansas
The overriding consideration during this peak phase of the acting-out cycle is to maintain safety of the student who is acting out as well as the other students that are there in the classroom, the teacher, and the other adults as well, to ensure that nobody is going to get hurt. In order to do that, we first need to figure out long before this ever happens, ideally before the first day of school, what the plan is going to be. So in some schools, they’ll have the students who are in control line up outside the classroom and wait outside the door. And oftentimes they’ll call a vice principal or somebody else that manages challenging behaviors to come and remove the student who is engaging in this peak behavior. So there’s a variety of different methods that people can use. And what’s important for the teacher before the first day of school is to figure out how does your school’s set of leaders want you to respond to those types of problems? Is the goal to keep all the students in the classroom? Is the goal to remove the student who’s acting out? Do you have a removal policy at that point where they will send the student to on-campus suspension or phone a parent? The downside of that, though, I have to say, is that you can unintentionally reinforce this really undesirable behavior. So if you send a student out, you can be [laughs] teaching them that if you act out significantly enough, you can escape my classroom or these task demands or these assignments. And so if that student’s particular goal is to get out of a situation that they’re not comfortable with either because they can’t do or don’t want to do these activities or whatever is taking place in class, you are in danger of reinforcing some very inappropriate behavior.
So we have to be careful here. We want to think about what is the child trying to get or trying to avoid when they’re in that peak behavior? We want to get through this peak stage as quickly as possible and get out of it so that we can restore the environment, recover, debrief with that student, and get back on track instructionally. But we have to keep everybody safe.
For Your Information
For students who repeatedly engage in the acting-out cycle, a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) can help teachers identify triggers and develop a plan for support. To learn more about this, see the IRIS Module: