It’s the Little-Big Things That Count: Responding to Impactful Events and Crisis Situations
By Mark DeRubeis, IU8 Educational Consultant
Teachers and educational professionals alike are fully aware that students will experience brief emotional and behavioral challenges at school. Moreover, it is safe to assert that most educational professionals will learn, via training and experience, how to efficiently circumvent and defuse escalating emotional distress of students before the distress reaches the point of an intense release of negative emotion. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, a student will “release” negative emotions from time to time. Once the apex of the emotional escalation continuum is reached, accompanying behaviors are typically performed that impact the learning environment. Generally speaking, this is where the comfort and competency of staff are the weakest.
Fortunately, most educational professionals do not have to practice using crisis management skills much in real life and school situations. Unfortunately, given this infrequency, missteps are more common at the apex of the emotional escalation continuum than anywhere else during a crisis incident. Many times, it is very subtle mindsets and team processes that bring about efficient resolution of impactful events and crisis situations. I refer to these desirable subtleties as “little-big things.” Here are two of the more notable “little-big things.”
“Many times, it is very subtle mindsets and team processes that bring about
efficient resolution of impactful events and crisis situations.”
In a school setting the adherence to time and schedule is paramount. There are many things that need done in a day and there is a limited amount of time to get them done. Falling out of schedule means falling behind, which ultimately impacts student learning. Crisis situations, conversely, have no schedule and resolve in their own time. The predicament should be apparent. The temptation that many succumb to is trying to quickly move the student through the emotional distress or crisis. Avoiding this temptation and remaining relaxed and tolerant is the “little-big thing.” Veterans of a crisis management understand that a student’s emotional distress resolves in its own time.
Once a crisis occurs, school teams need to mobilize and organize quickly. For instance, auxiliary support staff are contacted for support. Activities and schedules are altered on the fly. Staff are pulled to cover classroom activities, etc. However, an often-overlooked organizational step in a crisis situation is establishing who takes the lead and who is the main interactor with the student in a crisis. Is this person the staff who is first to the scene? The staff with the best relationship with students? Or, the staff with the most experience or credentials? It is obvious when this step is dysfunctional. Here are a few signs of problematic teaming during a crisis situation. Too many staff are talking to the student. Differing and contradictory approaches are used. Staff appear to be competing with one another to resolve the incident. Body language of staff is generally negative. And, there is an overall presence of uncertainty and apprehension that can be felt by everyone. The end result is that the student in distress typically escalates even more. The “little-big thing” here is role identification and allocation. Effective and efficient crisis response teams master this task fluently. They work collaboratively and put egos aside. Role assignment comes naturally, without conversation, via mutual understanding. They understand the lead role is typically not fixed and can change at the time of another crisis event. Finally, there is understanding that staff who take the lead in a crisis situation does not necessarily have to be the same staff as the main interactor with the student.
Today’s post referenced the sizable impact of patience and clearly defined roles during crisis events. On the surface these approaches are minor. In actuality, they are anything but. It is important to note there are many other “little-big things” crises teams do that promote successful outcomes. Moreover, these “little-big things” seldom have to do with skills and knowledge. More frequently, they are related mindset, philosophical approach, and team cohesion. Moving forward, I challenge you to consider what “little-big things” you and your teams do well. What “little-big things” could stand to improve?