4 Steps That Will Help You Deal With Fights In Your Classroom Like a Pro
According to Schools Week, before COVID19 struck, assaults on school premises rose 72% between 2015 to 2019.
And they will rise again as we go back to 'normal.' This is a huge problem.
A fight in the classroom is an example of a 'flashpoint' situation. A flashpoint in the classroom is a situation that stops learning, is extremely disruptive and if no action is taken, can blow up to epic proportions.
Other examples can include:
A medical emergency — a student faints in class
Overt or covert bullying where students feel uncomfortable or threatened
Students being aggressive with teachers and being verbally abusive
Students throwing dangerous objects around the room or generally being unsafe — i.e kicking the door or throwing chairs
Any of the situations above can throw your nervous system for a loop and cause you to become 'emotionally dysregulated' (I prefer to use the term 'emotional highjacking').
For the scope of this blog, I won’t be covering what you should do in a medical emergency. My advice is simple: become a First-Aider! Or make sure you know who the designed people are in your school.
In this blogpost, we will be looking purely at behaviour. Flashpoints can be hard to predict but here are some steps that you can take before during and after to help you deal with them more effectively and hopefully stop them from occurring in the future.
Not all flashpoint situations are the same.
Some just happen instantly but others are like brewing storms — the same way that on a beautiful day we are wary of the dark clouds on the horizon, there are signs that your students can display that shows you something is about to kick-off.
Your relationships with your students become important as they may give you will know when they are 'off' & give you a greater understanding of which characters don't get along.
As you are teaching, make sure that you make a mental note of the 'classroom dynamics' of each class. If you notice that some flashpoints happen more in some classes than others, ask yourself these quick questions:
Who are the 'characters' in the classroom? Who tends to be more disruptive & do many of the incidents involve them?
Are the cliques in your classroom? Do the same groups of kids sit together & do they get on well with the other members of the cohort?
Have students expressed to you that they don't to be near other students? What reason did they want to move?
Once you can answer these questions, you will have a 'fingertip' feel for the dynamics of your classes & you will grow a 'sixth sense' for any potential problems.
If you are getting bad vibes from your class then you can the SIT framework. See, Investigate and Take action
See - Notice anything that is strange or out of place, even if you may think it's nothing. This is especially important if you believe a child is being bullied. Look for body language mismatches. i.e The student says they are fine but look distressed.
Investigate - If you do notice something strange, don’t be scared to ask questions. It may be to the student involved or to their peers. If there is a conflict stirring, try to find out the cause and see it can be averted.
Take action - If it could be something potentially serious, report it via the right channels and follow up to see whether it has been resolved.
As a teacher, I know that you have a million things to do but if you see a recurring negative pattern in your classroom especially between your students, please don't ignore it.
A stitch in time saves nine. A quick chat, extra pastoral support or a restorative meeting can save you a whole lot of issues later — trust me.
Prevention is not always possible — what if a flashpoint blows up in front of you?
Then my friend, the next step is simple: you need to quarantine the situation. This is especially important if you have conflict in the classroom that is in danger of escalating out of control.
This means that we have to separate the parts that are creating the crisis in the first place and then work on de-escalating the situation.
Some of you may be scratching your head and saying "well duh, isn't that common sense?" Well, you would think so but this is not always commonly practised.
If you have two students that are fighting in the class, don't just stop them fighting, make sure that they are not in the same room until the situation is fully accessed and both your students have recovered from their emotional hijacking and they can think clearly.
In fire prevention training, you are taught that fire needs three elements to burn;
— take out one of those elements, then you have no fire.
Some severely disruptive students tend to get 'amped up' by having an audience and will showboat in front of their mates. This can serve as their 'oxygen.'
State your instructions in a firm but non-emotional manner as possible. If you work yourself up into a state, you will start ‘firefighting’ which will reduce your authority and make the situation worse.
If the student does not comply, state your request ask again in the same manner. If by the third time they are still not listening or they are ramping up the aggression or hostility, then call for assistance.
If the students are knocking great lumps out of each other, then please use common sense and call for help. Your institution should have a procedure in which you can send "SOS" call and either another teacher or Senior Leadership can come to your aid.
There is no shame in asking for help, especially if you have a tough class. The faster you quarantine, the faster you can get the class back into order.
After you have quarantined the situation, your job is to get your class as settled as fast as possible. A major disruption may supercharge everyone's nervous system and as it may take a while for everyone to settle down.
Do not underestimate the time it takes for everyone to regroup. Professor Gloria Mark of the University of California is considered one of the World’s leading experts in productivity.
Professor Mark stated the average worker who is focused on a task gets a brief interruption like a colleague stopping for a chat or replying to a text message would take:
"an average an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task1.”
How much more would it be for teenagers? Shut down all conversations about what has happened and set a task that they can preferably work independently on.
Some disruptive students may try to use the mayhem to their advantage and like any good D-List Celebrity, try to get their own fifteen minutes of fame. In the aftermath, it's good to be calm but firm in restoring the balance.
You are the leader and the class takes their cues from you. If a student desperately wants to talk to you, then do that either outside the classroom or ask them to do it after the lesson — your priority is to restore law and order to your classroom.
4. Solve and Sanction
I've put this part at Stage Three but this can easily be Stage Four.
Depending on the situation at hand, you may give a sanction on the spot if the reason is clearcut. But not all flashpoints are the same and some may require a bit more investigation.
You may have to go through a process where you will have to gather statements, speak to witnesses, liaise with Senior Leadership & parents or talk external like the Police. This will not be possible during the lesson.
The key thing at this stage is that you make sure that when it is convenient for you try to get a clear resolution. If it is a serious incident then there must be a sanction not only to discipline the students but really get to the root of the problem & stop it once & for all.
Unless you are a psychopath, nobody likes to sanction their students. Sometimes it feels like the sanction may destroy the classroom relationships. But sanctions are necessary & if done right can enhance your relationships with your pupils.
I wrote an entire blogpost on how to sanction students & preserve the rapport you have built up with them. Click the link below to get the know-how.
Although you may not be able to prevent all flashpoints, you know that certain classes and certain individuals may either cause or be a factor that creates these situations.
If you get to know your students, quickly deal with the flashpoint situations in the classroom, deal with the incident & have 'teachable moments' with the actors involved, you will find they will occur less & less & you can do what you are paid to do: Teach.
But... Even this blogpost scratches the surface. Stopping flashpoints is only the start. The only way to get your students fully on board with you is to get to understand them deeply & know what makes them tick.
I believe that we are living through one of the most remarkable periods in Human History. The COVID pandemic is just the beginning & things will never return to normal.
Our students are called 'Generation Z' - & they have a front-row ticket to these radical changes in our world. The 'old-skool' ways of teaching are done.
Grab my FREE eBook "Teaching Generation Z" to give in-depth analysis and practical tips that will help you inspire your students & take your teaching to the next level.
Teachers, my aims with this detailed 32 page eBook are simple:
1) To give you the Bird's Eye view of how these revolutionary times shape our students' worldviews and attitudes.
2) And give you practical, hands-on, tips, tricks & solutions to keep your students engaged, inspired & behaving a little better in your classrooms… Physically or virtually!
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Thank you for reading!
Karl from actionheroteacher.com
Kermit Pattison. 2018. Worker, Interrupted: The Cost of Task Switching. Fast Company [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/944128/worker-interrupted-cost-task-switching.