One Step Away from Crisis

February 4, 2022

By: Michelle Morgan, NBCT

As we start this new year, both educators and students are doing their very best every day to just to show up. Moving into the third year of the pandemic, teachers are twice as likely to feel stress and three times as likely to be depressed as they were in 2019.  Social workers and school psychologists are overwhelmed with student mental health referrals. Is living each day in escalation, just one step away from a crisis? I suggest that understanding the crisis cycle can help educators cope, and also enable us to better support our students with their difficulties.

I train first year special education teachers in my Utah school district.  These teachers are busy learning specialized instruction, classroom management, and data collection, as well as how to write Individual Education Plans, implement behavior plans, and follow state and federal special education laws and procedures.  All of this information is critical for their success.  More than 15 years ago, I felt stress as I struggled to learn these things as a new teacher, and I wasn’t dealing with a pandemic.  In order to help my new teachers cope this year, I have been teaching them about the phases of the Crisis Cycle:

Baseline: we are feeling good, and things are going well.

Response: Keep doing what you are doing.

Trigger/Stimulation: something happens that provokes anxiety or agitation

Response: Remove trigger if possible

Escalation: we are starting to exhibit problematic behavior in response to trigger

Response: Consider different options for responding to trigger, set limits

Crisis: we are in full melt-down, we are not able to think or communicate clearly

Response: Ensure safety, least amount of interaction with others possible

De-escalation: our body slows down, we become quiet

Response:  Allow time to cool off

Stabilization: we feel guilty that we lost control

Response: Debrief, active listening

Post Crisis: we are exhausted, want to go home for the day

Response: Ask for support, observation

Each person’s crisis cycle is unique to their own special circumstances, whether an educator or a student.  The most important thing to remember is that it takes an enormous amount of energy to go through the crisis cycle and come out on the other side – it is much easier to prevent crises if we can. Understanding our own cycle can help us to avoid a crisis.

I work with my new teachers to identify how they feel and what they do at different phases in the Crisis Cycle, and we map it out.  This exercise gives them a heightened awareness of their own behavior, in addition to helping them identify when their students may be going into crisis. I have watched these new teachers patiently work with and support students with disabilities as they learn about the Crisis Cycle together, and I think it is helping them.

Being an educator this year is hard.  Being a student this year is hard. During a year when the best we may be able to do is just show up every day, having a better understanding of the Crisis Cycle may help both educators and students to make it through until the end of the school year.

Michelle Morgan, NBCT

Michelle began her teaching career with the Prince William Country School District in Woodbridge, VA, then relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah. She joined Granite School District in 2007 as a resource teacher at Beehive Elementary in Kearns, Utah. In 2013, Michele earned her National Board Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist. In 2015, Michele earned the Excel Teacher Award. Since 2017 Michelle has worked as an Elementary Special Education Coordinator for Granite School District, and currently mentors new teachers. She earned her BA in Communications at Brigham Young University, and pursued a Master’s Degree in Special Education at George Mason University.