As teachers, we can often end up mediating conflicts or handling crises throughout the day. Successful management of these situations where tensions or emotions may be running high does not need to be a win-lose scenario where the teacher wins and asserts their control while the student or students back down, or worse, when the student wins and the teacher backs down! Anger is an emotion that adults can struggle to deal with when children are in a full tantrum or heightened state. However, meeting anger in a child with anger from the teacher is a bit of a hypocritical response when you think about it. Managing these scenarios most effectively can result in a win-win for everybody as the situation is de-escalated and the student is offered a way back that is respectful of their anger, yet, assertive that there are other ways to deal with it.
The I-Assist model is a great strategy for diffusing such situations and ensure that everyone feels safe. It offers the student an avenue to avoid making a difficult situation worse in a few clear steps.
- Isolate the situation: Get the student on their own by either removing them or removing the other pupils present. This should be done in a calm manner rather than authoritative or accusatory. Managing a conflict in front of an audience can make it hard for both the teacher and student as nobody wants to be perceived as “losing face”.
- Actively listen: Listen to the student and paraphrase back to them how they are feeling to demonstrate you are listening and understanding. Take the focus away from blame and insults and put it on their emotions and feelings.
- Speak Calmly: Using a calm tone of voice despite what might be being said about you or others is important in ensuring the situation doesn’t escalate. It is very hard to argue at somebody who won’t argue back.
- Statement of Understanding: Use statements like “I understand you are angry with _____ or because of _____, however, there might be a different way to deal with these feelings”.
- Invite them to consider positive outcomes: Ask them what might happen if they were to calm down and deal with this a different way. Offer them a way out rather than trying to talk them down or impose a solution on them.
- Space to person to consider: Give them physical space to think about their next step. We’ve all been angry before and having an individual rushing us or in front of us when we are trying to calm down does not speed up the process I think we can agree.
- Time to think: Once you have made a request or given them choices, let them have some “wait-time” to decide. Pushing them can lead to further inflammation or escalation that we want to avoid.
There are steps here that we might already do in our classrooms as it is but the nice thing about the I-Assist strategy is it puts a nice consistent structure for dealing with conflict or anger outbursts to ensure that the teacher responds in a structured manner when situations arise and the children will learn what to expect if they are to react a certain way. If you incorporate this strategy, it can easily be shared with others who come in contact with your class so there is a consistent method used. It is a calm approach to a difficult situation that I am on board with.
Credit to the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention programme developed at Cornell University, New York for the idea.