Saturday, February 12, 2011

Verbal De-Escalation- "Exactly As I Planned It?"

Verbal De-Escalation.

If I could have a dollar for each time this has been said in our district in the last several months, I might have a check for equal my bi-weekly pay check.

Regardless, I haven't had to use my powers of persuasion in some time.

Sure, daily, there are small occurrences where I have to use these skills on the surface, but I haven't had to verbally de-escalate a child before he hit me with a chair or spit on me in almost 3 years.

You might be thinking, WOW, you are spoiled.  Yes, yes I am.  I have great kids.  I have great kids who have great parents.

I also have great special education aides.

I also choose to believe that I make good behavior plans for kids with special needs and also maintain great rapport with my kids.

I am not trying to toot my own horn (yes, I said toot), but this is something I feel I excel at, and there shouldn't be shame in knowing your strengths.


There isn't often a time in special education, or in education at all, when you can say that something went "exactly as you had planned."  In fact, I can't remember the last time I planned ANYTHING in my life that worked out exactly the way it was supposed to.  Not my personal life, not my professional life, and certainly not in my classroom, where flexibility is the law of the land.

I try to live by the rule "God laughs at people who make plans," and although I always have a plan, that doesn't mean I ever use it.

This is the reason I have to write a blog about the perfect "verbal de-escalation."

Let's start with some background.

Student with special needs.  Age 9.  Good comprehension level, verbal.  Needed to be verbally de-escalated once in second grade, few times in first grade, more than a handful of times in Kindergarten.  Has had several behavior plans over the years starting with positively reinforcing with extrinsic rewards, moving towards doing nothing more than a simple count of 3 before completing a desired behavior.


When I say desired behavior, what do I mean?  Do I want this student to be nothing more than a little soldier completing tasks and activities that have no meaning and rewarding him with treats like you would with a dog?  NO.

I take issue with the blogs and statements going around stating "rewards don't work."  I think, as is everything related to education, it should be individualized.

Regardless, desired behavior means participating in a small reading group, typing into an e-portfolio, problem solving, measuring, adding and subtracting, telling time. 

This student loves the computer.  He is motivated mainly by the computer and is also ruled by a routine.  He has been my student for over 3 years.

It's been cold, we've had indoor recess.

During indoor recess, my students choose from a "Choice Board."  There are 5 choices on the Choice Board and the students need to find their picture and place it under the visual icon of their choice.  Typically choices include "blocks," "puzzles," "sand table," "play area," "computer," "Play-Doh," "Moon Sand," "iPad," or "books."  Choices are changed weekly and some items are removed.

On this day, we had had indoor recess for at least 5-6 straight days.  I had not changed the choice board in 5 days and most of the students (5 of the 6) had made the same choice on all 5 days.  On this day, I changed the choices.  I took OFF computer.

This sent my 9 year old into a rage.  He saw this during a different activity in the morning and knew immediately what it meant.  He saw it and looked at me like I had shot someone.  How could I?

I anticipated this.  Change to the routine makes for frustration and behaviors.  We know this, and we plan for it.  It's the reason I changed the board.  We have to learn to deal with these frustrations.  We have to learn to use the strategies we've learned over and over and over again.  We know what anger looks like, what an angry face looks like, what anger feels like.  We know some strategies to use when we feel mad.  But if we never practice, why bother? 

So, my 9 year old started to cry.  And then he started to yell at me. 

"Calm down.  Computer is off the choice board for lunch recess only.  It will be back on for afternoon recess, " I said calmly.

"No!" he said. "I play computer!" 

"I'm sorry, but we'll have to make another choice for lunch recess, " I said.  In my own head, I was talking to myself, using my own verbal de-escalation.  Remember to stay calm.  Remember to use a calm voice. 

"No!" He shouted.  He climbed under the table.

"We'll have to finish our work now, please come out from under the table or we can go to time out." I said.

Our Time-Out chair is in the middle of our circle carpet, not in a restraining area.  In the time-out chair, the student would be asked to sit in a chair, for 2 minutes only, with a visual timer.

"I not sitting in the chair!" He shouted.

"Okay, please sit down in the chair or I will write on your daily report.  I will count to 3, you can make the choice.... 1... 2..."

I was still being calm.  I kept talking to myself inside my head (stay calm, stay calm, he's getting madder).

He walked over the chair, sat down backwards, and began to slam the chair legs into the ground, rocking backwards in the chair.  Fortunately this did not look unsafe, so I sat down in a chair next to him.

Luckily, my special education aides are amazing.  At this time, rather than have other 6-9 year olds watch this small scene, they asked the other students to take a walk and help get mail from the office.  The other students went for a walk and I was left with the student and one aide.

I began to talk to the student calmly about the indoor recess.  He was still really mad.  He stood up and began to lift his chair.

"I know you don't plan on throwing that chair.  That would not be a good choice."  I said.

He put it down.

He walked over to me.

Spit started to form at his lips.

"Don't you even think about it." I said.

He stopped.

He walked over to the shelf full of shoebox tasks.  He looked up.  He appeared to think about climbing the plastic shelves.  He appeared to think about pulling the boxes from the shelves.  He stopped himself before doing either of these things.  I was silent.

He walked over to the movable wall in our classroom.  He put his hands out as if he was going to push it over.  He stopped himself.  I was silent.

He walked over to the window sill.  He began to lift a leg like he was going to climb.  He stopped himself.  I said nothing. 

He walked back over to me, turn his back, and put his hands on his hips.

HE HAD STOPPED HIMSELF 3 TIMES!  He was internalizing!  He was thinking.  He was making choices!  Good Choices!  In the midst of his angry "rage."

"Did you hear when I told you that computer would be back on the choice board for the afternoon recess?  I only took it off for lunch recess.  And look at the other choices.  We could play a game, do a puzzle, play Toy Story 3 Memory, or play with Play-Doh.  You like all those things, remember?"

"Oh." He said.

He looked back over at the Choice Board.

He looked back at me.

He looked over at the board again.

"Okay Miss Kolis.  We play a game."

He reached out to hug me.

It was over.  We did it!

He managed himself!  He did it! 

And the whole thing worked out exactly as planned!  And how often does that happen? 

Um, next to never?  Never?  Yep. Never.

Which is why I had to write about it.

That's a good day. Stressful. But good.


Deven Black (@devenkblack) said...

Wow. That kid really did good and so did you. Congratulations to you both.

Misti said...

That is so awesome!!! :)