How can educators recognize and intervene when student behavior is escalating?
Page 3: Calm
The first phase of the acting-out cycle is the Calm Phase. In a successful and well-managed classroom, most students will stay in the Calm Phase a majority of the time. In it, students behave in ways that support a positive and productive classroom environment and are most responsive to instruction.
What a Student Looks Like
In the Calm Phase, the student is on-task and follows classroom rules and expectations. Generally speaking, a student’s behavior can be described as:
Compliant and cooperative
Responsive to the teacher’s directions and praise
Receptive to working with classmates
On-task and academically engaged
In this video, note the behaviors that Ava displays during the Calm Phase (time: 2:22).
Teacher: All right, everyone. It’s a close race right now. This last question will determine who our winner is. Who led the Nashville sit-in movement?
[Students write their answers on their whiteboards.]
Teacher: Okay, let’s see those answers in three, two, one. Lift up your boards!
[Students lift up their whiteboards.]
Teacher: Great job! The answer was Diane Nash and John Lewis. Alrighty. Looks like… drum roll, please… [Students tap their desks to create a drumroll sound] Ava comes in first place today!
Ava: Oh yeah! Let’s go!
Teacher: With Jeshua coming in second and Sterling coming in third!
[ Johanna Staubitz commentary ]
In this video, we can see that Ava appears to be happy, relaxed, engaged with instruction. She’s calm. She’s in her seat. She’s oriented toward the teacher. At one point, she smiles, and she’s responding really quickly to opportunities to respond. All of these are signs that Ava is calm and relaxed and ready to learn. And when students are calm like this, they are indeed ready to learn. This is the best time to teach. And we can use times when students are calm to teach routines and procedures, like it’s obvious that Ms. Harris did because these students all clearly understand how to participate in this game where they’re using response cards. We can also teach students self-regulation strategies. For example, mindfulness practice is a really important thing for students to do and an important skillset for them to develop that can help prevent escalation even when there are triggers. So we can do a lot with this calm state if we can achieve it in students. And I also just want to shout out to Ms. Harris here for using gamification. By turning this review activity into a game, she’s really ratcheted up student engagement, even for a student like Ava, who sometimes has a hard time staying on-task and engaged.
Strategies To Implement
One of the best ways to prevent challenging behaviors from occurring is to keep students in the Calm Phase. The table below outlines some strategies and tips to help accomplish that goal.
Explicitly teach classroom rules and procedures.
Develop clear rules and easy-to-follow procedures. These should be introduced, discussed, modeled, practiced, and reviewed frequently.
Teach classroom behavior expectations (i.e., what it looks like to be responsible and respectful). This can decrease challenging behaviors and increase the likelihood of student success.
For more information on teaching classroom rules and procedures, review the following IRIS Module:
Create a welcoming and supportive classroom environment.
Show an interest in students’ lives, hobbies, or interests.
Note: Students who have a positive relationship with their teacher are much more likely to respond positively when the teacher attempts to de-escalate behaviors. Similarly, when teachers know their students, they are much more likely to understand what strategies will work best in each phase of the acting-out cycle.
Create engaging lessons linked to state or district standards.
Integrate high-interest topics.
Choose culturally relevant material.
Engage students in collaborative activities.
Allow students to express opinions on current topics or events.
Keep in Mind: Academics and behavior are interlinked: When students are on-task and engaged in classroom activities, they are much less likely to engage in challenging behaviors.
Focus on social and emotional skills.
Teach social skills (e.g., positive peer interactions, respecting boundaries).
Teach students skills to help regulate their emotions (e.g., positive-self talk, mindfulness).
Teach problem solving and conflict resolution skills.
Note: If a school does not have a social-emotional learning (SEL) program, teachers can incorporate social and emotional skill building into daily class instruction and model these skills while interacting with students.
A process through which students gain the knowledge and skills to develop self-control and self-awareness in order to manage emotions, build healthy identities, and maintain positive relationships.
Provide contingent attention to increase on-task behaviors or reinforce appropriate actions or skills. For example, use behavior-specific praise to let students know exactly what they are doing well to increase the likelihood of those behaviors being repeated in the future.
Positive reinforcement given to a student that is not based on classroom behavior or performance. This can include smiling, thumbs up, greetings, positive comments, and non-academic conversations.
Positive reinforcement given to a student based on classroom behavior or performance. This can include verbal encouragement, behavior-specific praise, and positive notes.
A positive, declarative statement directed toward a child or group of children that describes a desirable behavior in specific, observable, and measurable terms; also referred to as descriptive praise. For example, “Table 4, thank you for bringing your notebooks to class today.”
Arrange the classroom to help establish a learning environment that facilitates student growth.
Arrange the physical space of the classroom so that:
Seating arrangements best support whatever activity is at hand (e.g., clusters for group work, rows for independent work, and U-shapes for discussion).
The teacher can easily move throughout the room to monitor behavior, engage with students, and provide feedback.
To learn more about effectively organizing the classroom, view this IRIS Case Study:
Kathleen Lane explains more about when and how a teacher should use attention to maintain a calm classroom. Next, Dr. Gloria Campbell-Whatley explains why it’s important to consider students’ cultures and backgrounds to maintain a high level of engagement during instruction. Finally, Yesmery Sanchez discusses how she keeps all of her students in the Calm Phase.
Kathleen Lane, PhD, BCBA-D Professor Department of Special Education Associate Vice Chancellor for Research University of Kansas
In terms of the calm stage, I would like to suggest that the very best behavior management plan is a good lesson plan. And really, it’s about being attentive during this time. It’s providing students with both contingent and noncontingent attention. Contingent attention is when a student does something desirable, like when they complete their work or ask for help in a respectful way or do something nice for another student. We are taught as teachers to recognize that and say something very specific like, “That was really nice of you to help Cheryl clean up after she spilled her tray in the cafeteria.” But there’s also, during this calm phase, another way of maintaining that just by offering students non-contingent attention. And that, just by virtue of being in your classroom, there’s going to be some dialogue or interaction between a teacher and a student. And whether you greet them at the door, it doesn’t have to be a compliment. It can be as simple as something like, “Hey, you know, I missed you yesterday,” or “What’s going on? How’s your family?” Or “Did you have a chance to go to the game last night? I heard we had a really challenging second half.” Just something so they recognize that you’re a human being and you value them as a human being. And building positive, productive student-teacher relationships is really helpful to building calm, supportive, instructionally focused classroom settings.
Transcript: Gloria Campbell-Whatley, EdD
The Calm Phase would be your instructional kind of situation. And during the Calm Phase, many teachers hold traditional beliefs that “I’m teaching this method that works.” And so, because this method works, then I can just teach it, and everybody will get it. But that makes you blind to the different nuances in the classroom. So teachers must understand how beliefs and values in the lives of students may be different. Many times, we don’t look at ourselves and look at our privilege or socioeconomic status. So you’ve got to do some self-reflecting and figure out how you can differentiate instruction—not just according to academic levels, but the differences that you have in your classroom. You can get familiar with the culture when you do circles. You can give a topic that’s open-ended and students can write, and then they can get up and talk about what’s going on in the community or at home and you begin to understand the culture and the other students begin to understand the culture. This is very important to instruction; you have to learn to see through the eyes of another culture. You can present your assignments in different ways, looking at language, speech… you have to create a number of ways for students to show they know something. They may be able to do a skit, or poetry, or something else. It’s also important to have a classroom arrangement that facilitates high engagement. Students are already seated so that they can work together, even though they may be creating a lot of noise; [laughs] noise goes with that productive working. And that may be something that the teacher may not be used to. Teachers will need to reflect, “Who is engaged in the lessons and who’s not engaged in the lessons.” You want high engagement from all of the students. You’ve got to have multiple means of expression, multiple means of engagement, and multiple means of representation.
There is a method called positive framing [laughs] that you can use to make sure that you talk to the students in a very positive way, and it’s celebratory. With positive framing, you don’t focus on what they did wrong, you focus on what they did correct, and you make sure that you engage them in a very exciting way. It helps students’ behavior, [laughs] in that the next time you want this high level of engagement they will be ready for that, because they know that they’re going to be rewarded and rewarded positively. There’s not a deficit view.
Transcript: Yesmery Sanchez
I think in the Calm Phase the best way to keep my students on-task is to make sure that they understand what they’re doing. Most of the behavior that I see in classrooms are when students are confused or they’re shut down because they can’t reach the material. Making material accessible to kids is key to making sure that they don’t start speaking to their friend or acting out in some way. So the Calm Phase is really where I would be assisting them to reach the material and to make sure that they’re engaging with the material. It’s also a good time for me to walk around. I would never sit down in the classrooms. I’m always walking around to see if there’s any way that I can help. High school is really self-led after a while. You give them the material and then they’re ready to start working on it with their partners or independently. So we’re really there to facilitate.
Sam’s behavior in the Calm Phase is illustrated in the video below. After reviewing, answer the following questions. You may type your answers in the field below the video. However, this field is provided for reflection purposes only; your answers will not be available for download or printing.
What behaviors does Sam exhibit that indicate he is in the Calm Phase?
What does Ms. Harris do to keep Sam engaged and in the Calm Phase?
Why do you think that Ms. Harris’ actions were effective for keeping Sam in the Calm Phase?
Teacher: Okay, today we’re going to read an informational text. Before we read the text, I want you all to make predictions about the central idea. Take about 30 seconds and then turn and talk with your partner about your predictions.
[Students talk to their partners sitting next to them.]
Sam: Umm, something about water…
Teacher: Great predictions, guys.
Sam: I’m not sure what exactly.
[Ms. Harris circulates around student desks.]
Teacher: I’m hearing a lot of good predictions.
Sam: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.
Teacher: Alrighty! Let’s bring it back to the front in five, four, three, two, one. Let’s hear some predictions.
[Weston raises his hand.]
Teacher: Yes, Weston.
Weston: Uhh it seems like there’s a water shortage. The author might be trying to warn us about the possibility of not having enough water to drink or use in certain parts of the country soon.
Now that you’ve had a chance to reflect, listen to Johanna Staubitz’s feedback (time: 1:32).
Johanna Staubitz, PhD, BCBA-D Assistant Professor Department of Special Education Vanderbilt University
In the Calm Phase, Sam has his arms crossed, he turns and talks with his partner when instructed without any delay, and he has a neutral facial expression. These are all things that signify he is calm and ready to learn.
And Ms. Harris does several things to keep Sam engaged and in this Calm Phase. The activity is a turn-and-talk. And so, giving students an opportunity to engage with their peers as part of instruction is a great way to engage them, particularly at the secondary level, where peer attention really becomes more valuable than teacher attention. And not only that, as Ms. Harris is circulating the room, which is a great classroom management strategy during an activity like this, so she’s got proximity to multiple students, she praises Sam and his partner as she walks by, “I’m hearing a lot of really good predictions.” And walking around and delivering praise like that is another way to promote engagement within the classroom. And she also did it without identifying Sam which is a nice way to praise a student without drawing unwanted attention. Sometimes at the secondary level that’s an important thing to consider.
And these actions are effective because Sam is doing work that he’s able to do. The instructions are very clear to Sam. He’s supposed to be making predictions. It was kind of like a one-step instruction that was given. And he can engage with the peer in a way that he can be successful. Not only that, but he’s getting a little extra support from Ms. Harris as she circulates the room. All of those things contribute to students being calm, happy, relaxed, and engaged with instruction the way Sam is here in this clip.