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Five ways to deescalate upset students in the classroom

While our purpose here at ITWORX Education is to push the possibilities of how technology can help education, we never forget that the classroom is at heart a very human place. And that possibly the greatest skill any teacher possesses is their ability to empathise with students, of all ages.

Dealing with upset students is one area where this ability is especially vital. Whether they’re angry or hurt, sad or stressed, frightened or disruptive, a student whose emotions have overwhelmed them is a student who needs you at your very best. Here are our humble suggestions as to what that might involve.

1 Step back and take a breath

It’s essential that you both are, and appear to be, the calm supportive adult figure. Even if the student’s behaviour has been challenging, or personally upsetting to you, set that aside. Whatever you do, don’t be their adversary or see this as a battle you need to win.

Rather than trying to uncover the problem, never mind the solution, it might also help the student to focus first on a cooling off period. Before anything else, give them time and space to come down from any emotional pressure point.

Also remember to listen, always. Don’t interrupt, and focus on showing that you truly hear what the student is saying, and that you see things from their point of view. Use phrases such as: “I’d like to be sure I understand what you’re saying…” and “Would I be right if I thought this what you mean?”

2 If possible and helpful, take it outside the classroom

If the incident is disturbing the whole class, see if you can move things outside the immediate environment.

The change of scene might also help the student: to pause, calm down and see things differently.

If it’s not possible to do this straightaway – for example, if you can’t leave the rest of the class unsupervised – then arrange a time and place to meet the student in person. While it might be tempting to make this a one-on-one discussion, it’s probably better to do it in a setting where other students are nearby. Otherwise the student might feel intimidated, and that – even subliminally – the conversation is being held on ‘your terms’.

3 Make it clear what you can and can’t do

As you start to move through causes to possible resolutions, always be clear what’s in your capabilities. Ultimately it won’t be a helpful solution if it comes exclusively from you, or if the student ends up relying on you should a repeat happen.

It can also help to move the onus for answers away from yourself and back to the student. Ask them how they’d resolve the situation, or give them suggestions to choose between.

4 Keep a record

This is where contemporary technologies can help. Apps that help with classroom management – such as ITWORX Education’s TeacherKit – enable you to keep accurate records of behavioural issues, and to then analyse these and share these: for example with parents and colleagues.

5 Follow up, and think of yourself too!

Even if a positive outcome is reached, never see the incident as closed. Check regularly with the student as to how they feel about things, and whether they’d like to reopen the conversation.

And think of yourself too! You might want to share and discretely discuss the episode with someone, whether it’s a colleague or family member. Dealing with stressful situations and stressed-out students can, in turn, cause you stress. Don’t ignore that!

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