Verbal Communication Skills Combat Crisis
By Meghan Fay, Assistant Editor

Schools around the country are doing everything they can, including developing emergency plans, to prevent violent incidents. But focusing on low-profile problems such as verbal harassment or hallway fights is just as important. Educators trained in Nonviolent Crisis Intervention®, the standard for the safe management of out-of-control behavior, are at an advantage when behavior management issues arise. Learning to identify behavior that escalates into physical aggression can be a valuable asset in the classroom.

Since 1980, the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI), located in Wisconsin, has trained human service professionals, including educators, in ways to manage disruptive and assaultive behavior. CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training combines four crucial areas of emphasis: the reinforcement of verbal communication, personal safety techniques, therapeutic physical intervention and an understanding of crisis development behavior levels. 

Verbal de-escalation is the preferred route in handling a crisis situation. “If you don’t reinforce verbal communication in training, people tend to forget those skills,” said Linda Steiger, President of CPI. However, personal safety and restraint techniques are taught to be used as a last resort in a crisis situation. 

Communication is the first thing to breakdown in a crisis situation. “What our training does for people is it organizes their thinking,” said Steiger. This 12-hour training takes the theories and skills educators have been given throughout their formal education and years of experience, and organizes it into a succinct approach to a crisis, she said. 

Common Crises

The following is a list of the crisis development behavior levels and responses to the situation, which when learned, give educators a common language to discuss students’ disruptive behavior and signals for assistance. 

  • Anxiety
This behavior level is identified by a change in energy level. A student who is fidgeting or pacing is showing signs that an energy level has changed.
  • Response
The response to this type of behavior is to be supportive. Because educators have differing personalities, no one person demonstrates support in the same manner. However,  “the commonality about being supportive is to not make a judgment on the student’s behavior,” said Steiger. Engaging a student in conversation is always a positive step because in most cases, the student will begin to explain the precipitator for their actions. By understanding what triggered their anxiety, an educator can provide some direction to the student.
  • Defensive Behavior
At this behavior level, the student is starting to act irrational. They may begin name-calling, yelling, screaming or verbally threaten the teacher or fellow students.
  • Response
The response to this type of behavior is to set limits. According to Steiger, it is best to give the student choices allowing him/her to understand the positive consequences of stopping their disruptive behavior and following directions and the negative consequences of not stopping their disruptive behavior. However, educators, “want to be sure [they] have the authority to carry through any consequences,” she said.
  • Physical Acting Out
At this behavior level the student is endangering him/herself or others.
  • Response
A physical intervention is necessary if the behavior has escalated to this level. According to Steiger, if anyone is attempting a physical intervention, it is best to approach it as a team. When educators undergo training with CPI, they work in teams. In the event of a crisis such as when there is a need to restrain a student, they can support each other. 
  •  Tension Reduction
  • Response
When the student starts to come back under control, it is important to use this time to establish some agreements, such as -- should they find themselves feeling agitated in the future, they will seek out this educator so that they can work through the student’s frustration together. At this point, an educator can do some of the most important information gathering because the student is communicating freely. 

Although the above behavioral levels seem easy enough to grasp, seldom does a student go through the levels from beginning to end in a smooth fashion. Not every student who needs nonviolent crisis intervention will be discovered at the anxiety level. A student may already be past that stage by the time he or she has entered the school that day. But the common language and method of addressing disruptive behavior gives educators the tools necessary to be effective in a crisis situation. “The training is not a substitute for what [educators] do already. It’s an additional tool. It can help provide safety not only for the students, but for educators as well,” said Steiger. 

Crisis Prevention Institute
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339