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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Classroom Management: The Intervention Two-Step

Dr. Richard Curwin

Director, Graduate program in behavior disorder, David Yellin College

All of us have had major classroom disruptions that try our patience and push our limits. These incidents can threaten our sense of control and generate fear of looking weak to other students. We fear that other students might do the same thing if we don't take a strong stance. Couple these feelings with the possibility of taking the disruption personally, and we have a recipe for disaster. It's important that we divide our response into two parts:

  1. Immediate stabilization
  2. Intervention to resolve these issues

Crisis Management

If you go to the emergency room, the goal is not to make you better (unless the required treatment is minor). They simply want you to stop getting worse. They do not cure -- they stabilize. Once stable, you are directed to outpatient care or regular hospitalization. The same is true for firefighters, police, soldiers and all first responders. Before taking an affirmative intervening action, they stabilize the situation, environment, perimeter or people in need. The principle of all emergency situations is stop things from getting worse before trying to make them better.

The same is true in the classroom. Often teachers try to solve an unstable situation, only to escalate to the point where any intervention might not work. To be stable, both the teacher and student need to be relatively anger free, calm and willing to listen to the other's point of view.

Calming down requires time for both the student and teacher to depersonalize the incident. Often, students will rethink what they did when given time to reflect. For example, many of us write e-mails and later, upon reflection, wish we'd never hit the send button. Having a waiting period can save us a lot of pain. Thus, this two-step process might sound time consuming. In reality, time is not a major factor. When we think about how much time it takes over the course of the year as situations worsen, we save a great deal of time with the two-step, which gives us far better results than quick, unstable interventions.

Common wisdom tells us to intervene as fast as possible, that waiting is a bad thing. I agree that waiting is not usually a good idea, but I disagree that an immediate intervention always works best. Most students and some teachers make things worse when the temperature is hot and emotions are high. It is far better to stabilize things before jumping immediately into an intervention. Lower the temperature first.

Do's, Don'ts and 5 Examples

As I have said, minor inappropriate behavior does not require the two-step, but when it is required, let's see how to do it:

  • Understand that stabilizing is not excusing, letting the student get away with anything or ignoring. It is deferring the actual intervention to a more favorable time.
  • Show the student that you're willing to hear his or her side of the story.
  • Guess the motive for the misbehavior, and acknowledge it without agreeing to the student's choice of a solution.
  • Deflect attempts to argue.
  • Use humor.

Things to avoid:

  • Criticizing, lecturing, scolding and blaming
  • Arguing
  • Saying or implying "no excuses"
  • Taking immediate action
  • Embarrassing or attacking the student's dignity
  • Demanding, "What did you say?" in an accusatory manner

Here are some of my favorite examples of stabilization. If these stabilization techniques are not followed by an intervention strategy, they will not solve the problem. Try imagining what intervention you would use when things calm down.

  1. Student (in front of the whole class): "This class sucks!"
    Teacher: "I'm sure you have reasons for thinking that, but this is not the time to talk about it. I promise to listen to you after class."
  2. A student calls another student a name, and that student hits him.
    Teacher (to the hitter): "You have every right to defend yourself from insults, but hitting isn't an acceptable method. We need to have a conversation about better ways to solve this problem."
  3. Student (out loud): "I hate this class!"
    Teacher: "And yet you still come. That takes a lot of courage. Let's find a way to make this class better for you. I hope you have some worthwhile suggestions."
  4. Young student: "I'm not going to, and you can't make me. You're not the boss of me!!"
    Teacher: "That is a great refusal. If anyone ever offers you drugs, that is exactly what I want you to say. Can you practice one more time?"
  5. Student tells teacher to **** off.
    Teacher: "You must be incredibly angry to use that kind of language with me. We need to find a way that is more acceptable to display your anger, but right now, I'm too angry with you to discuss this situation calmly. We must talk later when we are both ready."

These are just examples. Each one of us has to find our own comfortable voice to be able to mean what we say. Insincerity never works because children can read it much more often than we realize.

If these expressions don't work for you, you can always use the old standby: count to ten and take a deep breath. And if you have other effective intervention strategies, please share them in the comments section below.

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Dr. Richard Curwin

Director, Graduate program in behavior disorder, David Yellin College
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Comments (43)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

debrahadley's picture
debrahadley
High School teacher in Family and Consumer Science (Home Ec). English major

I don't perceive myself as "desperate" or "foolish" or any of the other derogatory terms that have been used to describe classroom management and traditional schools.

The way I understood the original question is that a teacher was struggling and asked for help. When that teacher goes to class the next day, contemplating an alternative educational philosophy is not going to help her deal with her students in the here and now.

Nor is it realistic to expect the alternate educational model as a remedy anytime in the near future. If all public schools decided to adopt the Montessori model today, then I would applaud that. I am a life-long learner, dedicated to my craft and constantly seeking a better way to teach and reach my students. I feel it is unfair to be judged simply based on the fact that I work in a public school, and I was trying to help someone who had asked for advice.

The fact that I work in a public school tells little if anything about me, my students, my educational philosophy or the outcomes of my students. And it is not realistic to say that people can just choose to home school their students or to enroll them in Montessori or Sudbury schools. Some people do not have the means, ability or desire to homeschool their own children, and some people do not have the means or ability to enroll or transport their children to a school that uses an alternate educational philosophy.

Classroom management is not a bad word. It is simply a term to describe how teachers can deal with group interactions in the classroom. Group interaction is a factor anywhere people gather in numbers (in public schools. in alternate educational philosophy schools, in home schools, in public parks, at family gatherings, and in online forums, among other places.)

I'm not saying that those who have deep social, emotional and educational needs couldn't flourish in an alternative model school. These students can flourish anywhere that caring adults help them to deal with their issues and then push them to learn and achieve.

The point I'm trying to make is that what needs improvement in public schools is far more complex than what has been described in this forum. Public schools are a microcosm of the society of which they are part. Schools contain within them all the ills of the society around them. Heal the social ills in our nation, and you can heal the schools.

I'm not opposed to change. I'm not opposed to progress. I am opposed to being judged and scolded unnecessarily. What I'd like to have people understand is that I'm not insulting alternative educational models. I'm simply pointing out that if public schools are going to convert to them, then that will be a long-term process. It will not be something that can happen overnight or even in a school year or two. And during that time, I will still be teaching and managing my classroom. Suggesting an alternate educational model as a solution to classroom management is not immediately practical. And the teacher who asked for help was seeking immediately practical advice and strategies.

I am proud of the work that I do with my students. If you want to judge me, then come and see what I'm doing in my classroom.

zep's picture
zep
Education Specialist

Debra, respectfully I think the point multiple people were making was not to insult you or your profession, but to make the point that tomorrow, in any classroom, we can make a choice to continue wrestling with the classroom management paradigm or we can question how we approach our students and what the goals really are. As a fellow public school educator, I see no reason why every teacher couldn't resolve tomorrow to change their entire methodology; you may be interested in a teacher who did exactly that with results that surprised even him, The Secret Revolution: A Psychologist's Adventures in Education (2007). Though a Psychologist by trade, Dr. Bernstein was a teacher who decided in 1 day to do a 180 degree turn in his approach to his students.

zep's picture
zep
Education Specialist

Debra, one quick additional point, public schools from the alternative perspective are not being run as a microcosm of society, if they were the students would have equal rights to every other human in the building, including the right to vote on issues which impact their school.

Brittany Palmer's picture
Brittany Palmer
Student teacher from Burbank, CA

I really appreciate the section of this blog on lowering the temperature. I think taking a pause and giving everyone time to think before attempting to resolve a conflict is a great idea to allow time for reflection. I also like the section on acknowledging the students' feelings. Students need to know that you respect them and that you are on their team wishing for them to succeed.

Rachel Esco's picture

In terms of crisis management, I have noticed the staying calm and strong is key. When a student is having a disruptive outburst, its important to be firm without provoking them to keep a sage environment. For instance, you can casually ask the student to take a walk while also being supportive.

C.S. Stone's picture
C.S. Stone
8th grade Science, Hammond, Indiana

It has always been my habit in my classroom to ask the offender to leave the room, go get a drink of water and "cool off". while they are gone, I get everyone back on task and then go out and talk to the student. 99% of the time, its just frustration of some sort and we talk and joke through it, looking for a solution to the issue.

If more than one student is involved, I remove one from the classroom, wait one minute, then walk with the other student to have a 3 way discussion about the issue. Again, its usually something that can be resolve on the spot; if not, I refer one or the other to the counselor's office (or if necessary, the dean's office) and allow those professionals to sort out the issue.

I never allow the disruption to take up more than 5 minutes of my time or become a focus of the other students. They all know I don't allow "drama" and that in MY room, its all about the learning. We respect ourselves and each other, period.

It works.

(1)
grteach05's picture
grteach05
Elementary Math Interventionist

Dr. Curwin,
Thank you for your insight and specificity when it comes to classroom management. I find this information to be a valuable tool for new teachers as well as veteran teachers who still have difficulty with this aspect of teaching. I will certainly be sharing this information with our teachers at the beginning of the school year.

Sue Pelosi's picture
Sue Pelosi
School Counselor - Diocese of Bridgeport CT

Thank you for all the great info. I will be assisting my principal this year to help teachers with management problems. I think it's helpful for some teachers to observe veteran teachers - mentoring is a good way to gain new ideas and to personalize strategies too.

Kaye-Ann Williams's picture

I enjoyed reading your post! Classroom management is very important if teachers are to achieve students success. I agree with you! Both teacher and students have to try to remain calm and depersonalize the situation. I really find that when students are given the time to reflect ion their behavior they become apologetic. How teachers deal with misbehavior in the classroom really makes a difference in the students life, whether they change for the better or continue to misbehave. I find that talking to the child after class is more effective than handling the situation immediately in-front of the whole class.

C.S. Stone's picture
C.S. Stone
8th grade Science, Hammond, Indiana

It has always been my habit in my classroom to ask the offender to leave the room, go get a drink of water and "cool off". while they are gone, I get everyone back on task and then go out and talk to the student. 99% of the time, its just frustration of some sort and we talk and joke through it, looking for a solution to the issue.

If more than one student is involved, I remove one from the classroom, wait one minute, then walk with the other student to have a 3 way discussion about the issue. Again, its usually something that can be resolve on the spot; if not, I refer one or the other to the counselor's office (or if necessary, the dean's office) and allow those professionals to sort out the issue.

I never allow the disruption to take up more than 5 minutes of my time or become a focus of the other students. They all know I don't allow "drama" and that in MY room, its all about the learning. We respect ourselves and each other, period.

It works.

(1)

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