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Escalate with caution

Behaviour Management

Escalate with caution

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

An anxious student in a school environment.

When a teacher escalates and employs a higher-level response not only is learning time interrupted, there is a risk that the escalation will fail.

The process of escalation may seem inevitable – as if the teacher has no choice in the matter. In actual fact, the teacher does have choices. The teacher can:

  • do nothing and ignore the behaviour
  • do something small (a reverse escalation such as a follow-up reinforcer)
  • repeat the previous technique (3 or even 4 times if necessary)
  • give a half-response to delay a full one (‘we’ll chat about this later’)
  • do something completely different such as peer prompting or redirection
  • try to use humour.

These options are usually (but not always) preferred over an automatic escalation. The reason for this is quite simple: when a teacher escalates and employs a higher-level response (remember that students don’t escalate in most cases – teachers choose to), not only is learning time interrupted, there is a risk that the escalation will fail. If the teacher is then embarrassed or feels like they have been backed into a corner, the next logical option is further escalation. In other words, an escalation risks the need for yet another escalation.

Hint: By escalating, teachers are effectively initiating a public confrontation. Threatening or admonishing a person in front of their peers is disrespectful – teenagers are particularly sensitive to these confrontations and may view the interaction as a direct challenge to their personal image. It is no wonder then that some students don’t hesitate to reply in kind with an equally disrespectful response (DeBruyn, 1983).

At some point however, the teacher cannot escalate any further and runs out of options. This is another reason why the choice to escalate should be taken very seriously and judiciously. Image a scenario where a student refuses to move. The teacher tries a few things and then threatens to send the student to the office. The student has been backed into a corner and refuses to budge. Now what? By going straight to a high-level response (threat of referral to a higher authority), there are no more escalations left. What eventuates is a tense, stressful and very public battle of wills.

In the example above, the teacher started way too high and escalated way too fast. He or she should have started with low-level responses and stayed there for as long as reasonably possible. Another similar example is when teachers give consequences for swearing (such as a 10-minute lunch detention). What if a student swears 5 times? Is the teacher prepared to supervise 50 minutes of detention over several days? The teacher might have better things to do.

Hint: If a student swears directly at you, remember other strategies such as detachment to keep your cool and using humour to prevent further escalations. If a student calls you a name or tries to offend you, say ‘probably true Mr Grahame, but I don’t need you to tell me – outside please’, or ‘only my mum can call me that – outside please’. Then continue teaching like it was nothing and address the student 10 minutes later with proportionate consequences.

References:

DeBruyn, R. L. 1983. Before you can discipline: Vital professional foundations for classroom management, Manhattan, KS: The MASTER Teacher.

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.

ADAM GREEN

Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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