Saint Joseph's University

8 Ways to Stay Calm with Agitated Students

The Special Education master’s program at Saint Joseph’s University is designed to prepare teachers for every aspect of teaching and learning in complex classrooms with diverse student populations. The program includes coursework that’s intended to teach problem-solving and critical thinking skills that help teachers get through unexpected, stressful situations at school. Children who suffer from social disorders, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and mental illnesses are more likely to exhibit aggressive and disruptive behaviors. The first step in calming agitated students is for the teacher to control his or her reactions and create a calm and safe environment.

Environmental Factors That Mitigate Stressful Situations

Teachers can make adjustments to the immediate physical environment, which will help calm the agitated student, as well as create a safer environment for other children, adults, and themselves.

Create a Safe Setting

Don’t yell or embarrass the student. Try to conduct private conversations that other students cannot hear, but avoid being left alone with the student. Make sure another adult is present, or your private conversation is visible – not audible – to others.

Give Them Personal Space

The rule of thumb is two arms’ length between the teacher and the agitated student. Don’t try to hug or touch the student, and if they tell you to back off, take a few steps back.

Don’t Block Escape Routes

Position yourself so you are not between the student and the door. Likewise, try to position yourself so the student is not between you and the door. Let the student feel that he or she may leave the room at any time; this is important to our basic “fight or flight” instinct, which kicks in when we are highly agitated.

Personal Factors to Calm Tension at School

Limit the Number of People Involved

Try to involve one other teacher or school administrator who is experienced in de-escalating tough situations. Avoid creating a situation where the student is significantly outnumbered and might feel persecuted.

Body Language in Crisis Management

The teacher should practice looking calm, even if inside he or she is scared or angry. Avoid crossing arms, balling hands into fists, and other body language that might put the student on defense.

Be Respectful But Direct

The teacher will reassure the student that they want to understand why the student is upset, and they will use active listening to restate what they heard the student say. In crisis management, the teacher will use short, brief statements that don’t require a lot of processing to understand. Use “I” statements and “feeling” statements rather than “you” statements. Example: “I’m worried about what just happened. I want to understand what you need.”

Coach Student to Moderate His Own Behavior

Once the educator has connected with the agitated student, they will coach the student to take responsibility for their own words and actions. It becomes a teaching moment. It’s a way of giving the student control over what they say and how they react, which can be a reassuring feeling for someone who just exhibited an outburst and might be feeling a loss of control.

Identify Points of Agreement

As the teacher and student work through the difficult situation, the adult will look for areas where they can both agree – “This was a tough situation,” “We all want the same things,” “I would have been upset too.” Three words to remember in these difficult situations: support, encourage, and respect.

Preventive Measures to Avoid Difficult Situations

The most challenging part of handling a difficult student is remaining professional and calm. It may sound silly, but role-playing games with other colleagues can prepare teachers for unexpected outbursts in the classroom.

Teachers who get to know children who have propensities for disruptive behaviors are better able to manage their classrooms. They can be more sensitive to children who might be dealing with difficult family and socioeconomic situations.

Student Teaching and Saint Joseph’s University

Many of the methods teachers employ to problem solve comes from on-the-job training and mentoring they get from other teachers and administrators. Saint Joseph’s University’s online teaching programs for PK-8 and grades 7-12 also helps prepare teachers for those unexpected moments in the classroom. Find out more about the Master’s in Special Education program.

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