1. ASSESS THE SITUATION
A crisis is focused more narrowly on a time-limited, problem-focused intervention to identify, confront, and resolve the extreme behavior, restore equilibrium, de-escalate the situation, and support appropriate student-and-teacher-centered responses.
As the crisis situation unfolds, time moves both rapidly and more slowly. Our first priority is student, faculty, and staff safety.
• Quickly survey your surroundings.
• Take a rapid inventory of any structures and/or objects that have a high risk of contributing to the danger or crisis (e.g., sharp, blunt objects, etc).
• Do your best to remove those objects from sight and limit access to those structures or objects that are potentially dangerous.
2. ASK FOR ASSISTANCE
There is a chance that you may be the only adult near the crisis or dangerous situation. You do not want to be alone in situations like this. Be assertive, yell if you have to for help from another adult. You may have to instruct students to go find an adult. Explain to the students that the situation is an emergency.
3. SELECT A COURSE OF ACTION
When students are exhibiting aggressive or dangerous behaviors, remember to still try and be empathetic to their struggle. Our reaction in that split-second can determine just how serious the situation can get. If we look in disgust or exasperation at the student behavior, it can actually make the student feel more anxious and more panicked. It seems counter intuitive, but we must attempt our best “poker face” and be aware that the calmer we look, the calmer the situation may be (even if we are very worried.)
VERBAL DE-ESCALATION STEPS:
• Respect personal space. Aggression is an act of proximity, so be mindful to be close enough to the student to support, but far enough away to avoid becoming a target. Two feet of distance is a reasonable amount of distance.
• Be wise about the demands you are going to stick to. Including a choice in your demands (e.g., We can do A or we can do B, you decide) is always a good idea.
• If you decide to use language, focus your language on the student’s feelings. Validate the feelings of the student.
• ASPEN Verbal De-Escalation Sample Script:
• “You seem very mad and maybe even sad. I’m so sorry. I’m hear to help, but we need to stay safe.”
• Use Precision Commands (Attached)
• Be firm when you deliver the commands
• Don’t force eye-contact, but be explicit about your communication in their direction.
• Avoid any lecturing or arguing at all costs. Students in this moment are not going to be ready to reason.
• ASPEN Verbal De-Escalation Sample Script:
• “I can tell you’re upset. You are safe here, but I need you to calm down.”
NON-VERBAL DE-ESCALATION STEPS
• Take a “crouching golfer” stance. This is an “active squat” where you can move if you need to, but you reduce your size by crouching down. This is less threatening and the student can see you are under control and responding in a non- threatening way.
• If you need to, walk slowly around the room observing exits and monitoring the student’s behavior.
• Remain calm and use your movement and your body to communicate a calm and collected (but vigilant) demeanor.
ROOM CLEAR PROCEDURES
• Room clear procedures are steps built into a classroom routine when a student has exhibited a consistent pattern of aggressive outbursts and/or disruptions.
• The goal of a room clear is to remove any stimulus and risk from all students as opposed to removing the aggressive student. While most certainly disruptive to instruction, it is a safer alternative than restraint and removal of an aggressive student.
• Room clear procedures are NOT interventions and are NOT designed to reduce aggressive outbursts and/or disruptions.
• Consider room clear procedures as a combination of a verbal and non-verbal de- escalation strategy.
• STEPS TO A BASIC ROOM CLEAR PROCEDURE:
• Obtain building administrator approval
• Ensure that a Functional Assessment and Behavioral Intervention Plan are current, relevant, and implemented with fidelity.
• With your building principal, agree upon a predetermined location for the class (i.e., library, common space, etc.)
• Practice the procedure in a regular routine with all students. Utilize the following script PRIOR to the outburst ever occurring: “Hey class, every once in a while, a student in our class may struggle with emotions and behavior. It happens and that’s okay. We will always have a plan to help that student. Today, we’re going to practice what to do if any of our students are having a really hard time. When I say the codeword, “Snowball,” we are all going to quietly get up from our seats, line up at the door and head to the (pre-determined location). Let’s practice.”
• (Important note: Avoid codewords that are silly or resemble the names of characters. The codeword must be neutral and understood by the class. The dignity of the student struggling with aggressive outbursts should always be considered in this routine.)
• Practicing room clears should happen at least as much as other drills such as fire drills, earthquake drills, etc. Avoid practicing too often, as the goal should be to limit classroom disruptions as much as possible.
• Room clears are only as effective as the comprehensive Behavior Intervention Plan. Room clears are not effective in reducing problem behaviors. They are safety precautions only.
4. IS PHYSICAL ASSISTANCE EVEN NECESSARY?
After our attempt to either verbally or non-verbally de-escalate the student, we only have a split-second to determine our next steps. Clearly, if our de-escalation attempts are working, there would be no need to even consider physical assistance. However, there are times when our attempts at de-escalation do not result in the student de-escalating.
The ASPEN Physical Procedures are ONLY necessary when you have made the split-second decision of the following:
• Is the student threat real?
• Is the student threat immediate?
• Is the student threat capable of doing harm?
Physical assistance is ONLY necessary if the answer is “yes” to all of the above questions. What do we mean about a threat being “real?” Well, some students can act-out in disturbing ways, but if the student or no one else is in danger, the threat is not real.
What do we mean about the threat being “immediate?” Well, that meaning certainly denotes that time is in the equation. The threat is immediate if it is inevitably going to happen in a short period of time.
What do we mean by the student threat being “capable?” Many times, students will make threats towards staff and peers that must be able to be effectively carried-out to be capable. For instance, a preschooler that says they are going to drive the school bus down the mountain is a scary thought and threat, but that preschooler is incapable of carrying that threat out effectively.
While there are innumerable instances (too many to break down) where threats can be REAL, IMMEDIATE, and CAPABLE, it helps to think of examples. In our travels across many schools in the U.S., some of the most common real, immediate, and capable threats of student harm occur in the following scenarios:
a) Self-Injury. When a student slams their head into the floor or wall, it is considered a self- injurious behavior. The threat of harm to that student is real, immediate, and capable.
b) Elopement (Running Away). When a student attempts to bolt into a parking lot or
street, the threat of harm to that student from traffic is real, immediate, and capable.
c) Assault. When a student engages in serious aggression towards another student or
adult, the threat of harm is real, immediate, and capable. What is serious aggression? When the aggressor possesses a significant size, strength, or intent to harm over a target student or adult.
5. EXPLAIN AND ENGAGE
Once you have determined that physical assistance is necessary, you must inform the student that you are going to engage them by saying the words, “I’m going to touch you.” Due to the split-second nature of these events, you will most likely be saying that phrase as you touch them to engage the physical supports. This phrase is small but important. It is important that we respect the basic human rights of the student in crisis by giving them notice that we will be moving in to support them physically. After that phrase, there should be ZERO dialogue from you to the student. Conversation and words during a physical support can add to the anxiety of the student. Once you have committed to providing a physical support, communication is not recommended until you and the student are safe.
The ASPEN Physical Support is best described as a “two-on-one arm support.” The vernacular of this support comes from many sources ranging from high-school wrestling to “Advance Control Techniques” from the Police Academy. While the origins of this physical support undoubtedly stem from an amalgamation of the aforementioned forms of physical support, the ASPEN physical support has been used successfully in the school setting by trained practitioners for over 20 years. The primary purpose of the ASPEN Physical Support is to keep the student and staff member safe. The ASPEN Physical Support IS NOT a support to move the child. The ASPEN Physical Support is NEVER to be enlisted on students at the same height and weight (or higher) of the staff. When staff witness a real, immediate, and capable threat of a student who is taller and heavier than the staff member, they are to contact the local police or school resource officer immediately and ask for help. If the taller, heavier student is running away, the staff members are to keep line of sight on the student and direct police support to their location.
6. NEUTRALLY DISENGAGE
Once you’ve engaged in the ASPEN physical support and you are safe and the student is safe, you must neutrally disengage from the physical support of the student and step away. What is “neutral disengagement?” It is slowly and methodically releasing the student while remaining emotionally neutral. These events are inevitably stressful and we must make sure that once we are safe and the student is safe to avoid any comment or remark that may add more stress to the situation. A good, neutral script for neutrally disengaging is provided below:
“I’m going to back away now. I’m going to release your arm and slowly step back away from you.”
Once the student and the staff member are safe, efforts to document the incident should be carried-out as soon as possible. The staff member involved directly in the support should document their involvement as well as the staff member called-in to assist. The parents and
district leadership (typically the district special education coordinator) must be notified within 24 hours of the physical support. The ASPEN Training provides schools and districts with an emergency procedure form template that may be used for this purpose.
Within 24 hours of the incident, school team members should take time (30-60 minutes) to debrief about the situation. The structure of the debrief should follow the agenda below:
• Who was involved?
• Where did it happen?
• What triggered it?
• Was anyone hurt? If yes, how?
• On a scale of 1-10 (1 = I don’t understand, 10 = I totally understand), how well do team members understand WHY the incident happened? What are the team members thoughts and feelings about the WHY?
• On a scale of 1-10 (1 = I don’t understand, 10 = I totally understand), how well do team members understand the plan for the student? What are the team members thoughts and feelings about the plan?
• On a scale of 1-10 (1 = I don’t understand, 10 = I totally understand), how well do team members understand next steps for the student? What are the team members thoughts and feelings about next steps?
• Does anybody need a break from the situation?
• How can the school team support one another?
• What did we learn from this incident?
• What will we do differently from now on?
• What will we continue to do the same?