In the classroom, there are daily opportunities to choose whether we make the situation worse or use de-escalation strategies to help our students with their big feelings.
Sometimes our egos can get the better of us and the temptation to make a bad situation worse is all too real. This blog post includes eleven simply ways to make a bad situation worse, and the de-escalation strategies that can be used instead.
Get Visibly Angry
I don’t know about you, but I hate to let students see me angry. There is no quicker way to make me feel like a failure. I have a difficult time hiding my anger. I get red in the face and have to work hard to maintain my breathing. Students who are trying to get a rise out of me get a real show if I reach this point.
Instead of getting visibly angry remain as calm, cool, and collected as you can. At least on the outside. To achieve this, take a few deep breaths or give yourself a break before responding to your student. This can save your sanity along with precious time.
Raise Your Voice
Sometimes it feels good to just yell, am I right?
No, I am not right. If you need to scream, do it into a pillow far, far away from your students. Right along with being visibly angry, raising your voice not only takes away your authority, but it also makes you look small.
Instead of raising your voice, lower it. If nothing else, lowering your voice will catch your students off guard automatically de-escalating the situation. Lowering your voice also has a calming ability.
I have also found that slowing the cadence of my speech has the same effect. Just be careful with your tone.
Have a Stare Down
Some students want to show you who is the boss by getting into a staring contest. This might seem innocent enough, and you might win, but don’t chance it. Holding eye contact for an extended period of time may be a show of power, but it comes with a lot of negative consequences.
Instead, make short bursts of eye contact with your student while also ensuring the rest of the class also has your attention. This de-escalation strategy shows the student in question they are not the star, and that everyone in the room matters. It also gives the student a few seconds to themselves without feeling like all eyes are on them.
Be Problem Oriented
When in a bad situation you can continue to harp on the problem over and over again. Keep bringing it up to the students. Go ahead. This is a surefire way to make them blow their tops!
Instead, stay solution oriented. Skip right over the problem and begin to offer possible solutions. This might mean a couple minutes of brainstorming with your student or offering suggestions. Either way, by staying solution oriented it shows your class you are ready to move on.
Use You Statements
“You need to stop right now.” I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have said that phrase. I can count the number of times it has worked. Zero. Zip. Nada.
Giving directions through you statements only work to make a bad situation worse.
Instead, use as many I statements as possible. For example, instead of saying “You need to stop tapping your pencil,” try “I am really distracted by the noise of the pencil tapping.” This still gives students the notice they need to make a change without pointing fingers.
Say, “Calm Down”
I recently saw a meme that said, “No time in the history of being told to calm down has someone calmed down.” #truth
In fact, most of the time when told to calm down an individual takes it as a cue to up their behavior.
Instead of saying, “Calm down,” ask students what they need. This gives the power to the student to make a different choice and ask for help.
Get the Last Word
I need the last word in an argument. I physically need it. It is not a productive way to de-escalate a situation though. Not even a little.
In fact, the more silent you are during an argument the better. At a certain point, the other person is just arguing with themselves.
Correct Every Minor Behavior
It is extremely tempting to latch onto every single thing a student does while they are not being agreeable and correct it. Students have a way of becoming extra aggravating when they are already off task or angry. You can go on correcting everything they are doing or you can choose to ignore the minor behavior.
A powerful de-escalation strategy is to selectively ignore a student. Instead of correcting their pencil tapping and leaning back in their chair focus on the major issues at hand. Unless a behavior is a safety issue, simply ignore it.
Dig Your Heels In
As the teacher, I am never wrong in the classroom. Right?
Wrong again. I am all too guilty of digging my heels in long after I have given up and making a bad situation worse in the process.
Instead, know when to give in. This might mean letting a student get away with something they wouldn’t normally, but it also means the opportunity to move on.
I love sarcasm. It is a big part of my personality. It has no place in the classroom though.
Instead of using sarcasm, tell a joke to lighten the mood. The cornier the better. Doing this instead of resorting to sarcasm gets the class on your side and gives everyone an opportunity to breathe.
Do All the Talking
When in a disagreement with a student we tend to talk over them, correct them, and generally dominate the situation. This gives students the impression that we think they have nothing to say.
Instead, do less talking and more listening. Ask students what they need and really truly listen to the answer. Ask them for more. Let them talk it out with only minor prompts from you.
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