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MIIA is a Membership Service of the Massachusetts
Municipal
Association

Preventing Loss by Managing Students with Challenging Behaviors

Published in News on by Lin Chabra, Membership Training, MIIA

The start of the school year is an exciting time for many. Reconnecting with friends, new lessons to be taught and learned, and the shared experience of fun and camaraderie at school arts, cultural and sporting events.

However, from the municipal risk insurance perspective, the start of the school year often means an increase in workers’ comp claims. And, a large proportion of these claims in most MIIA municipalities are experienced by schools. Of those claims, most are ‘struck-bys,’ that is, particularly aggressive acts toward educators. The highest frequency behavior causing injuries is ‘hits’, followed by ‘bites.’

Violence against educators isn’t a local problem. A 2011 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) of nearly 3,000 K-12 teachers, found that 44 percent said they had been physically attacked. Further, the APA reports that violence against teachers results in, lost wages. lost days of work (927,000 days/per year nationwide), training and replacement of teachers leaving the school or profession prematurely, medical and psychological care, student disciplinary proceedings, increased workers’ compensation claims and premiums and incarceration of perpetrators.

While many of the initial struck-by claims are low cost in dollars, the amount of administration time needed for processing and managing the claims can take a toll on budgets and distract employees from normal work activity. What’s worse is that if the student or student perpetrators are not properly managed and/or the staff isn’t trained in the best practices to manage these students, the severity of the injuries can increase over time and end up costing the city or town more, as well as adding additional emotional toll on the teacher, staff, and other students.

Training your way to safety

Investing in training to help your school staff manage challenging behaviors is vital to the health and safety of both the educators and students. For example, the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association (MIIA) is offering its members a new cost-effective and customizable training program called Safety Care™ Behavioral Safety Training by QBS Inc™. The program focuses on four processes:

  1. Incident Prevention that looks at environmental, social, staffing, and activity methods to decrease the likelihood of challenging behavior.
  2. Incident Minimization, which involves strategies for early anticipation and detection of challenging behavior and methods to stop, minimize, and reverse the progression of challenging behavior.
  3. Incident Management that includes strategies and techniques for the safe, therapeutic management, termination, and future prevention of challenging behavior. 
  4. Post-Incident Procedures that focuses on recovery procedures, debriefing procedures, data collection & analysis.

Observe Closely. Approach Carefully.

An example approach of what a school staff can learn comes from David Lennox, Ph.D. President and CEO of QBS, Inc. a behavioral skills training company. Dr. Lennox notes that in most cases, dangerous behavior doesn’t occur out of the blue. There are often smaller events—signals—that happen before the dangerous behavior, which may give a “heads up” that more aggressive behavior is coming.

He says the first step is to observe more closely. Learn those signals and communicate them to others. Then watch for the signals to take steps to prevent further escalation. Triggers—events that upset, irritate and evoke escalation—are also something to consider.

Next, Dr. Lennox says it’s important to plan an approach. Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice communicate a lot. Make sure staff know to approach in a way that is not likely to be taken as aggressive. Make sure their faces and voices don’t indicate that they are frustrated or angry. Staff should not approach an agitated individual while clasping their hands behind their back. Hands and arms should be free, but not look confrontational (e.g., not crossed), so that if the agitated student makes a sudden move to strike, the staff member can protect himself or herself.

De-escalating the situation

Among strategies to calm an individual, according to Dr. Lennox, is to try to help the individual by asking some gentle questions such as “How can I help you?” It can also be helpful to redirect the student to a more appropriate activity or conversation topic that will guide him or her away from whatever is causing the escalation. Once an individual begins cooperating with simple requests, and receives reinforcement for cooperating, the cooperation will often continue.

Lastly, Dr. Lennox notes that if the team you have assembled is not able to safely de-escalate the situation, whether it be because the members are not adequately trained or because the threat is just too great, let them know whom they should call for assistance.

Each municipality and school district should research available programs to find the one that most aligns with its goals, and provides training to everyone (teachers, administrative staff, custodians, cafeteria staff, etc.) who works with students who may become verbally or physically aggressive. Everyone’s safety depends on it and reducing insurance losses is an added benefit.

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Resources:

Preventing violence against teachers, http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/11/ce-corner.aspx

A Silent National Crisis: Violence Against Teachers, http://www.apa.org/education/k12/teacher-victimization.aspx

Training and Planning Can Help Staff Manage Tense Situations, MUNICIPAL ADVOCATE Vol. 28, No. 3

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