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.