It is always tough when you have to confront a heated student or a student who is causing problems. What we have to remember as staff is that it is our reaction which often determines if a situation is escalated or deescalated. If you look at the video clip below you will see that how we approach others as a figure of authority does not always work, yet this is how a lot of teachers still confront students.
After viewing the clip you can see why when we approach belligerently from a position of power and authority without knowing where the other person is coming from, we as staff do not win.
There are five common mistakes that staff make when initially confronting a troubled student(Long, & Fescer, & Beck, & Beck, 2011).
We talk too much- if we are talking more than the student, it means we have probably lost the opportunity to de-escalate. If we are talking more than we are listening, it means we are talking at or over the student but not to the student. If we can get the student talking, it tends to calm them down quicker.
Win every battle- we have to get away from this idea that there has to be winners or losers. A crisis should be seen as an opportunity to make change in a student’s perceptions or behaviors.
Last word- this goes along with win every battle. No where in our contracts does it say we get to have the last word. If you confront a student in front of his peer group he or she is going to make a small face saving comment or innocuous behavior. It is OK to let it go. If you call the student on it he or she will repeat it louder and you are back in conflict with that student. If what the student says or does really bothers you and you feel it needs correction, pull that student aside quietly at the end of the period and discuss it with them.
No respect- We have to show the student’s respect no matter what. I know it is very difficult when a student is telling you to do a sexually impossible act, but when a student feels disrespected we are the ones in trouble. Remember, we cannot make students do anything, they give us those controls and respect is the best way to keep them.
Remove the word “why” from your vocabulary- the way why is used today is like an accusation. If you think about when you have been evaluated and the person asking questions asks why do you do this or didn’t do that, you get defensive. So do the students. Start with how come or what happened instead.
What we want to focus on is called benign confrontation. Benign confrontation includes asking questions in calm manner. Our goal is to draw the student in and calm the student down at the same time. To do this, we use questions such as who, what, where, when, and how (again we avoid using the word why, at least in the initial confrontation). This is also when we want to be a good listener, or as I say, we want the staff to be a LOSER not the child. By being a LOSER, I mean:
L—LEAN forward slightly (it shows you are concerned)
O—OPEN Posture (not the time to have your arms folded across your chest or your hands in your pockets)
S—SQUARELY face the student (Sit in front of him or her if at all possible)
E—EYE contact (Don’t stare but let them know you are focused on them)
R—RELAX; don’t fidget (this is not the time to make coffee or grade papers)
Show the student you are paying attention and really care about what they have to say.
There is a scene from the movie, The Breakfast Club (Hughes, J., 1985) that shows all five things that staff do wrong and how students react when they do. If you have the movie or remember it, I suggest looking up this scene. In this scene the Vice-Principal Richard Vernon confronts Bender over a screw he removed from a door. Notice how the students do not get along but band together when confronted inappropriately. Watch how Vernon does all five of things staff do wrong in less than five minutes of confrontation. It starts with Vernon coming in swearing and showing no respect. Next, he asks why like an accusation. He gets into a confrontation with Bender and does not let any student really reply (he talks too much). He also shows no respect when he blames the wrestler for his idea of holding the door open with the magazine rack. He then does not let Bender have the last word when he says “eat my shorts” under his breathe. He calls him on it and they are back in a power struggle with Vernon believing he has to win the battle. If you paid close attention, you can see that Vernon is not happy with the way things turned out either. He seems a bit confused as to how things got out of hand so completely. Neither Bender or Vernon is a winner in this confrontation. Even though this is a very basic summary, Vernon violates the five things in a few other ways as well. See if you can figure them out for yourself. Here is a link to that clip (the embedding was disabled). The clip ends sooner than I would like but you can get the idea.
In this next clip you will see a very angry student. Watch how many ways this student tries to get the staff to be counter-aggressive or counter-hostile in less than one minute. Notice how the teacher is aware of what the student is doing and remains calm. By doing so, she defuses the situation and can deal with the student’s behaviors at a time convenient for her. This is an actual clip, not a re-enactment. Just a note: out of camera range, there are seven other students in the room at the time.
Hughes, J. (Director). (1985). Breakfast Club, The [Motion Picture].
Long, N., & Fescer, F., & Beck, B., & Beck, M. (2011). LSCI Powerpoint Training.