How can educators recognize and intervene when student behavior is escalating?
Page 8: De-escalation
Once the Peak Phase has passed, the student enters the next phase of the cycle—De-escalation. During this phase, the teacher should take steps to reintegrate the student into the classroom environment with dignity and respect.
What a Student Looks Like
Student behavior in the De-escalation Phase can vary. Depending on the student, they may:
Be confused or disoriented
Deny any responsibility or involvement
Attempt to blame others
Try to reconcile with those they harmed or offended
Be willing to comply with explicit directions
Refuse to discuss the incident
Strategies To Implement
During this phase, a student needs time to cool down so that she can reintegrate to the classroom and its demands. The table below lists steps and tips for each. Developing a procedure for this at the beginning of the year may help to more effectively de-escalate a situation and prepare a student to reacclimate to the learning environment. This procedure may vary depending on the nature and severity of the peak behavior.
Provide the student the time and space to cool down and to reflect on his behavior.
Either designate an area inside the classroom or identify another room where the student can cool down. If in a different location, have another adult accompany the student from the room to that location.
Make sure the student is not in close contact with other students.
Give the student a few minutes—perhaps five or ten—to collect herself and re-engage in instruction.
Note: This is an opportunity for the student to cool down. It should not be confused with seclusion and should not be used as a form of punishment.
Resume regular schedule.
While the student is calming down in a separate area:
Restore calm to the classroom.
Continue with the regularly scheduled activity.
Once the student has calmed down a bit, provide an independent instructional activity.
The instructional activity should be at or below the student’s level so that the student can be successful.
Choose an activity that requires the student to do something active (e.g., solving math problems, filling out a graphic organizer).
Avoid topics or activities that are likely to trigger the student again.
Be explicit about what you expect the student to complete and the quality of the work.
If the student is resistant, just ask him to complete the first one to two items and then circle back with him to review his work and acknowledge his effort.
If the student does not meet the expectations, allow the student more time to comply. Reintegrating the student before full cooperation has been achieved may cause the behavior to re-escalate.
Work with the student to complete a debriefing behavior form detailing the acting-out incident.
Prompt the student to think through what happened, reflect on what could have gone differently, and fill out the debriefing form.
Some students may need help from the supervising adult to complete this task.
Click below for sample debriefing forms. The first, which contains visuals, is designed for students who do not have advanced reading or writing skills.
Note: This is a time for the student to self-reflect. It is not a time to engage the student in conversation about his behavior, which could inadvertently result in the student’s behavior escalating again. The debriefing behavior form will later be used in the Recovery Phase.
If applicable, ask the student to restore the environment (e.g., picking up papers thrown on the floor).
It is important to hold a student accountable for his behavior and any damage that may have resulted. This might not be feasible in some situations (e.g., The student is removed from the room immediately, and the room must be put back in order before instruction can resume).
In this video, Mr. Santini illustrates the steps that teachers should take during the De-escalation Phase (time: 0:58).
Teacher: Nora, I see you’re feeling upset. Do you want to go to the Peace Corner and do some deep breathing? OK. Good call. Thank you.
Teacher: Hey Nora, how you feeling?
Nora: A little better.
Teacher: Oh, yeah? Well, if you’re ready, you can go work on the math review worksheet and I’ll bring the class back.
Teacher: All right, cool. Thank you. Here you go. Nice job.
Nora: I’m finished.
Teacher: Great Nora. Thanks for finishing your math activity. I’m going to give you this debrief form, and you can use this to tell me about what happened earlier, OK?
Just let me know when you’re done.
Nora: I’m done.
Teacher: Great! Thanks for completing the debriefing form, Nora.
If a student has met the expectations for completing the independent activity and the debriefing behavior form, this typically indicates that the student’s behavior has de-escalated. It is now more likely he will be able to return to the classroom without incident.
Once a student has exited the Peak Phase, it is critical that the teacher support him through the De-escalation and Recovery Phases. When the teacher does this, the student is less likely to engage in further challenging behavior and can more successfully return to the Calm Phase. Kathleen Lane explains more about how a teacher can support students during the De-escalation Phase (time: 1:27).
Kathleen Lynne Lane, PhD, BCBA-D, CF-L1 Professor, Department of Special Education Associate Vice Chancellor for Research University of Kansas
Most of the time during this de-escalation phase, the student is not going to want to talk about what just happened. And most oftentimes the teachers [laughs] honestly don’t want to talk about it either because they’re concerned about re-escalating the student. The good thing is, though, at this particular phase, students are usually really receptive to directions. So we need to figure out a way to give them a way to get out of this situation with some dignity. Oftentimes, teachers will do this by letting the student sit in a different area of the classroom, not a time-out area, but a separate space where instruction typically occurs. Then you can give them an independent activity that’s at their instructional level. So it might be a worksheet. It could be writing their spelling words a couple of times each. It could be doing a journal entry. And you can give them a prompt along the lines of “Go ahead and write about just what happened.” But it has to be short. It has to be something they can do independently and successfully. And it removes them from all the attention that they’re getting from other students in the classroom. So this gives you as a teacher, a couple of minutes—not too many—just like two or three, to get everybody else back on track and engaged in instruction. That’s how we’re keeping instruction moving forward so that you can give the student who just had that big challenge an opportunity to calm down, refocus, and then we can re-approach the student in the next stage.