Would you know how to respond well during an incident of acute or severe behaviour? Behaviour Matters offers practical tips on how best to handle such situations, and warns that teachers should always be prepared for them, no matter how rarely they occur

For many adults working with youngsters in a school environment, those who have experienced acute or severe behaviour incident will have reported wide-ranging and often long lasting effects on themselves, their pupils and the teaching and learning environment.

Hopefully such incidences are rare; however, the problem with rarely occurring incidents is that we can easily become complacent about them. This is reflected in several popular mindsets shown below:

  • Schools are safe havens
  • Nothing like that will happen here
  • I will be able to respond when necessary
  • I can easily get help.

All of the above responses are typical for many staff. Unfortunately, responding appropriately and easily gaining necessary assistance is not always the case. Passive or hostile responses to acute incidents are usually the most instinctive, and will almost certainly make the situation worse. Not knowing how to request help (or even worse – if help does not arrive when asked for) may again worsen the situation or even threaten personal safety.

As teachers, many of us have had to intervene in a conflict between two or more pupils. Many of us have also attempted to break up a fight, and yet how many of us spend time practicing or being trained how to do so? The typical reaction is to think, “I’ll just know how to do it when the time comes!”

In just the same way that we are expected to have a “lesson plan” related to the content and differentiation requirements of the lesson, so time should be given to preparing a behaviour plan. Clarity of thought and well-rehearsed systems will not only empower staff to respond, but will also ensure that responses are appropriate, structured and safe. There are no definitive responses that are fail- safe in any environment, as each school and classroom is an individual work area. There are, however, many practical issues that should be considered in ensuring the effective management of acute or severe behaviour problems.

Practical Tips
Make yourself aware of school policies, particularly those relating to behaviour and inclusion. The policy documents should set out clear and planned response procedures to follow challenging situations. The efficacy of such procedures only becomes apparent if they are followed and adhered to exactly. All too often in the heat of the moment many policies that have remained theoretical become ineffective when untrained or unprepared staff attempt to put them into practice.

Take a critical look at your own systems within school to request assistance. There are many varied systems in place, but not all are successful.

  • Sending a “trusted” pupil for help. Are you absolutely certain that they will arrive at the designated person? Will that person be available? Do they know who has requested help? How urgent is the request?
  • Do you use a red card system? Ensure the card goes to an available member of staff. Make sure your name is on the card. Red means “Come now!”
  • If you use panic buttons, mobile phones, walkie-talkies or internal phones, test the system regularly. If you have a response team, how quickly does assistance arrive?
  • If help arrives, does the help de-escalate the situation?

You may need to consider alternatives to accessing help:

  • Moving the rest of the class away from the incident. Where? Who supervises the class? Who remains with the incident?
  • Do you feel confident about the legal implications of your chosen response to the incident? Does your school behaviour policy give you clear guidelines?
  • What are the reporting and recording systems in your school?
  • Does the behaviour system include advice related to reparation? Remember you may be teaching the pupil or pupils again later in the day or week.

Keep calm
The main thing you must keep in mind, which is vitally important during any acute or severe incident, is that the most important person to keep calm is yourself. Your emotions will drive your behaviour; uncontrolled emotions will lead to inappropriate behaviour and may escalate the situation. Your response to the situation must be composed and considered. The incident has already reached an acute or severe level − your responsibility is now to ensure safety and care within the guidelines of school policy.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008

About the author: Dave Stott has 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools, and Local Authority behaviour support services. Dave is now a writer, consultant and trainer.