Why you should consider de-escalation training as schools reopen

When teachers control their own emotions, they can better support students in crisis
By: | March 17, 2021
Educators learn de-escalation techniques during a Crisis Prevention Institute training session.Educators learn de-escalation techniques during a Crisis Prevention Institute training session.

Stress, mental health issues and anxiety—among students and teachers—will intensify the challenges of returning to in-person learning this school year and next, a survey has found.

Perhaps accordingly, nearly 90% of educators said student health and well-being will be top priorities in their classrooms over the next 12 months, a survey by the Crisis Prevention Institute found.

Administrators focused on maintaining that well-being amidst the trauma of COVID and the stress of returning to school should consider helping teachers develop new de-escalation techniques to support students, says Susan Driscoll, president of institute, which provides conflict prevention training.

“You can’t control what a child or student is doing,” Driscoll says. “But you can control your behavior and that’s how you can have a positive outcome.”

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Administrators can use federal COVID stimulus funding to provide de-escalation training. The Crisis Prevention Institute, for instance, uses a train-the-trainer model for blended online and in-person sessions led by experts in childhood trauma. “In order for children to function, they have to feel safe, you have to address their physical and emotional safety needs first,” she says. “They are behind, they’re worried, they’re re-establishing social connections.”

The de-escalation process starts with teachers knowing how to spot the first signs of anxiety in students. These indicators including fidgeting or sudden changes in behavior, such as a normally quiet student becoming very talkative, Driscoll says.

At this stage, teachers have to respond with a quiet tone of voice and sympathy.

“Teachers, especially coming back from the pandemic are also in a state of anxiety,” she says. “There’s so much pressure on teachers, so being aware in the moment and remembering to be supportive is half of what it takes to prevent major confrontations from happening.”

At the next stage of a potential conflict, students will become defensive, and ask challenging questions or refuse to follow directors. In these situations, teachers should try to avoid getting into a power struggle by “deflecting,” which means giving student a choice but setting limits.

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Next, if an outburst occurs, teachers may have to call for help.

After an incident, educators should focus on tension reduction, where teachers and students rebuild relationships through techniques such as restorative justice.

“Teachers instinctively know a lot of this,” Drisocll says. “But they’ve never been trained to use specific techniques in a specific order, and keep their cognitive brain in control.”