• by Blaine Helwig

Major Student Disruption – Identify Triggers, Plan, then Deescalate!

Updated: Feb 2

If you are a teacher, it will be impossible to avoid major student discipline problems. It will happen at some point in your career. These situations are difficult to handle for the obvious reason – they are unique. So, let’s set a parameter – this short essay is NOT about the child that has serious emotional issues and they are not yet identified for special education support. If the student is exhibiting behavior where they are violent and tearing up the classroom, the elementary teacher will need administrative

The More Common Disruptive Situation: A Seven (7) Step Approach


The more common situation occurs when a disruptive student exhibits a public outburst. These events are generally triggered by a situation that is often avoidable. So, avoid them – the teacher is not the parent who must handle these problems for a lifetime. No. A teacher must work with the student for a standard nine-month ‘gestation’ school year. Thus, time is on the educator’s side to be an effective guide assisting the student in achieving better personal self-control.


1. Establish a positive relationship with the student and establish trust. This takes time. However, these short conversations must implicitly convey the ‘teacher-student’ relationship. Translation: ‘We are not of equal status in the classroom, and we are not in the classroom to be friends. But, I am here and willing to help you.’


2. Study the student. Talk to prior classroom teacher(s) – this may take phone calls to other schools or districts, but it is worth it! Get information on the parent and child. Were there identifying triggers on the behavior? If not, study the student! What specific circumstances set the behavior in motion? It is usually not random.


3. The teacher should seek counselor and campus administrative input and create a classroom support plan – as needed. These situations are one of their primary administrative support and assistance functions at the campus. The classroom support plan must address what the administrator and/or counselor do when they arrive at the classroom. The administrator should also be proactive during the instructional day and randomly check on the child with the intent to curb the inappropriate behavior and build a trustful relationship.


4. Meet with and talk to the student’s parent(s). Try establishing a positive relationship with the parent, so there can be a collective and united front for the betterment of the child. Are the negative behavioral triggers at home the same as at school? However, if the parent enables or defends their child’s behavior, then it is recommended that the teacher focus their intervention work primarily with the child. Working with the child can be a challenge; but it may be a much more difficult task to alter the thinking of a 35-year-old adult.


5. The teacher should begin developing an actionable plan with the easiest and most preventable steps first. For instance, seat the student in the classroom so that his/her desk permits ease of teacher proximity during direct teach, and during transitions to and from the classroom, allowing the student to be near the head of the line or at its caboose. In short, control ALL that can be controlled on the teacher’s end.


6. Be proactive. The teacher should problem solve with the student prior to conflict specifically on what they can do together to be successful in the classroom. What steps can the teacher and student agree upon to work together? Ask the student what “you” – the teacher, can do to help. I have discovered many times an elementary student is quite capable in communicating what bothers them. This conversation frequently leads to a viable starting point in identifying behavioral triggers.


7. If there is an outburst, above all – deescalate the situation with a calm voice and neutral, nonaggressive body behavior. Calm, Calm and more Calm is the recipe for success! But, if the child is violent toward teacher or other students, enact the established plan with the counselor and campus administrator – number 3.) above.

For the majority of classroom disruptions in my teaching and administrative career, the child is seeking an emotional response from student peers, the teacher or the administrator. Remain calm and do not provide the child an inappropriate emotional reaction. Deescalate the situation with a lack of emotion on your end! The student is making a choice with their behavior that will invoke a consequence. That is not the teacher or administrator’s dilemma at that moment. It is theirs – or soon to be theirs. That consequence can come later when the child is calm and prepared to converse rationally.


However, that talk is after the outburst. The focus of prevention must occur before the student’s outburst as well as in the de-escalation phase. Those two stages are frequently in the teacher and administrator’s control with a deliberate and intentional approach.


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