Five Things We Do Wrong (but can easily fix)

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.

The Breakfast Club clip

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.

Remaining Calm



Hughes, J. (Director). (1985). Breakfast Club, The [Motion Picture].

Long, N., & Fescer, F., & Beck, B., & Beck, M. (2011). LSCI Powerpoint Training.

8 Responses to Five Things We Do Wrong (but can easily fix)

  1. Danielle says:

    You are right. The way we react to a student determines if they escalate or not. I also agree that using the phrase “what happened” is much better than asking why. When you ask why, it’s almost as if you are already accusing them. If you asked what happened, it is as if you are trying to get the story. Whether the story is true or not doesn’t matter at that very moment. If it helps them calm down you can address it later.

  2. Danielle says:

    Hello! I was just looking up information on what to do about students in a crisis. It is a nice little hand out that talks about the different signs and gives suggestions based on the different signs they give off. I thought it would be a nice addition to your resources, or as a resource to give teachers.

    Teachers often forget that there are a lot of hormones that cause students to become moody as well. By keeping to your steps, it allows some ease and relaxation for the students. Many times students just don’t know how to deal with their emotions. Teachers should model the right and wrong ways to handle a situation, just as they do with academics. I often hear, “they should know better”. Well, my answer to that is, “if they did, they wouldn’t always do what they do”.

    Great post. I would love to share it with teachers in my building as a resource. = )

    Website for the handout I was telling you about. I hope you find it useful.

  3. Anna says:

    Ben, this is very informative! I really enjoyed your portrayal of common mistakes performed by ill- informed/non-properly trained staff in confrontational situations with troubled students. Improper reaction can have weighty consequences, unnecessarily leading to conflict escalation, which can be easily avoided if these few “minor” points mentioned in your post are taken to heart, namely: more listening, less accusative questioning and more respect provided to the student, as well as eliminating the stubborn determination to have the last word and always emerge as a winner from such a confrontation, which should greatly help in de-escalating potential conflicts. In this context of properly dealing with troubled youth, I stumbled upon an article titled “The Therapeutic Power of Kindness. Reclaiming Children and Youth” (Long, 1997), which reveals how powerful staff kindness may be in “reclaiming troubled students” – your advice also propagates such respectful and kind approach, and your example of benign confrontation could be very helpful in establishing a trusting relationship with the staff:“For a troubled student to acknowledge his or her pattern of negative behavior takes courage. Benign confrontation is an act of kindness because it respects the student’s defenses and self-esteem while also motivating him or her to examine and change his or her behavior”. In conclusion, let me include a Chinese proverb, included in the same article, which best shows the grand power of kindness, so significant in your discussed context of dealing with the troubled youth and crucial to the success of any therapeutic program, as well as in the realm of our daily lives: “If you want happiness for 1 hour – Take a nap. If you want happiness for 1 day – Go fishing. If you want happiness for 1 month – Get married. If you want happiness for 1 year – Inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime – Be kind to others”… :-)

    The International Child and Youth Care Network, Issue 98, March 2007; Long, N. “The Therapeutic Power of Kindness”

  4. benb2 says:

    I know and have worked with the author of the article you submitted, Nick Long. He is one of the people who helped come up with the five things (I cited him too) He is also the guru of LSCI. Please click on the link for LSCI for more information.


  5. Jackie says:

    Ben, (here is the full comment)
    Your post is very strong and intuitive. We present a defensive stance in many of the interactions we have each day. I found myself re-reading the LOSER acronym to see where I fit in. There are many times when I need to have the last word, or when a colleague reacts with a harsh question of “why?” Your insight into how these confrontations could end differently is very eye-opening.
    In my work, I am often outside of the physical classroom, but I may still have to deal with a discipline problem. The field trip chaperones and teachers are always helpful, especially when they have identified a student who needs their extra attention, but sometimes it is up to me alone. I will certainly use your ideas and I also found an article with tips or new teachers ( that I think was useful. It provides some teaching strategies to use including having a plan B.

  6. Kaitlin says:


    Excellent use of comical cartoons and fitting illustrations throughout your post. I was very entertained by these! What I find to be the most interesting aspect of your post is the LOSER acronym. This is an easy tool to use while working with students to keep an instructor focused and something that any individual can easily keep in the back of their mind while interacting with others. These are very important tools that can be used by a person in any position and it’s easy to remember, especially since the acronym is so catchy.

    Your optimism regarding the idea that things can be changed is highly reflected throughout your entire post and I appreciate your positivity throughout the blog. Enthusiasm expressed in writing is very important and I feel that you accurately captivated it here in your post and thus intrigued me to continue to want to read on and go through more pages of your site.

    Working with Defiant Kids

    I found this article to be an excellent resource that includes many of the same ideas that you presented here, however a bit more in-depth. It also briefly discusses why conflicts occur, and happen what seem to be so frequently, and I think this is an important aspect to address as well.


  7. BBeck says:

    A wonderful article you referenced. I agree it is very important to understand how conflicts occur. I just always remember an axiom that my trainer told me, and I pass to to everyone I train, there is nothing so insignificant that it cannot be blown out of proportion.


  8. Dear Ben,
    I would have to agree, because I confront students in the wrong way when I substitute them. I know I have to work on my technique and I see how it must be done. I love the clip from, The Breakfast Club, and I never noticed how the vice principal totally uses the five rules of wrong in that short of time. I also was impressed by the last clip where the student was trying to get the teacher to react and she kept very calm. I watched that over and over again and I could not believe how calm she stayed. Here is an article I found on teaching with respect:
    Good luck in the future.

Leave a Reply