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Managing the Cycle of Escalating Behavior. presented by Sylvia Martinez, NCSP District Behavior Specialist Division of Special Education Los Angeles Unified School District California Association of School Psychologists 2007 Convention Los Angeles, California March 10, 2007. Outcomes.

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Managing the Cycle of Escalating Behavior

presented by

Sylvia Martinez, NCSP

District Behavior Specialist

Division of Special Education

Los Angeles Unified School District

California Association of School Psychologists

2007 Convention

Los Angeles, California

March 10, 2007



Participants will:

  • Identify the seven phases of escalating behavior
  • Identify proactive, preventative strategies that may decrease the occurrence of escalating behavior
  • Identify ways to intervene during each phase of the cycle
  • Develop a plan for maintaining self control

Carousel Activity

  • How can you prevent acting-out behavior?
  • How can you tell when a student’s behavior is escalating?
  • What do you do when a student is acting out?
  • How do you deal with a student who is fully escalated?

Video Clip


  • What can the teacher do now that she is in this situation?
  • What could the teacher have done to avoid being in this situation?
  • Task involvement
  • Signs of agitation
  • Presence of successive interactions

Signs of Escalating Behavior

  • Arguing
  • Non-compliance/defiance
  • Verbal abuse
  • Disruption
  • Bothering others
  • Off-task behavior
  • Destruction of property
  • Whining/crying
  • Limit testing
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Escape/avoidance

Strategies for Managing Escalating Behavior

  • Teacher empathy
  • Assisting the student to focus on the task
  • Providing space
  • Providing assurances and additional time
  • Permit preferred activities
  • Teacher proximity
  • Independent activities
  • Passive activities
  • Movement activities
  • Student self-management when appropriate

Successive Interactions

  • Series of interactions involving both teacher and student behavior
  • “My turn-your turn” events
  • Teacher behavior sets the stage for the next student behavior
  • What if the teacher didn’t take a turn?
  • Escalating behavior chains –

Lets interrupt the chain of events!

two components for managing escalating behavior
Two Components for Managing Escalating Behavior

1. Understand the Model

  • Patterns
  • Specific behaviors for each phase
  • Know where the student is in the cycle

2. Develop Strategies for Each Phase

  • Implement strategies based on where the student is in the cycle

Phase One- Calm

Student is cooperative.

  • Accepts corrective feedback
  • Follows directives
  • Sets personal goals
  • Ignores distractions
  • Accepts praise
  • On-task

Phase Two- Trigger

Student experiences a series of unresolved problems

  • Conflicts/Failure
  • Changes in routine
  • Pressure
  • Ineffective problem solving
  • Facing correction procedures
  • Non-school based triggers

Phase Three: Agitation

Overall behavior is unfocused and distracted.

  • Off-task
  • Questioning/Arguing
  • Out of seat
  • Bothering others
  • Social withdrawal

Phase Four- Acceleration

Overall behavior is staff-engaging leading to further negative interactions.

  • Questioning/Arguing/Threats
  • Noncompliance and defiance
  • Provocation of others
  • Rule violations

Phase Five- Peak

Overall behavior is out of control creating safety concerns

  • Physical aggression
  • Severe tantrums
  • Property destruction
  • Self-injury
  • Running, screaming

Phase Six- De-escalation

Overall behavior shows confusion and

lack of focus.

  • Confusion
  • Withdrawal
  • Denial
  • Blaming others
  • May respond to concrete directions

Phase Seven- Recovery

Overall behavior shows an eagerness for

busy work and a reluctance to interact.

  • Eagerness for independent work
  • Subdued behavior
  • Defensive behavior
  • Sleep

Strategies1. Calm

Intervention is focused on proactive

interventions. Focus on instruction and

positive behavior support.

  • Arrange for high rates of successful academic & social engagements
  • Use positive reinforcement
  • Teach social skills
  • Communicate positive expectations
strategies 1 calm
Strategies1. Calm

Four Strategies:

  • Classroom Structure
  • Quality Instruction
  • Managing Attention
  • Teaching Behavior

Strategies2. Trigger

Intervention is focused on prevention and redirection.

  • Increase opportunities for success
  • Respond to students exhibiting expected behavior
  • Reinforce the student’s first on task response
  • Intermittently reinforce on-task behavior
strategies 2 trigger
Strategies2. Trigger

Three major areas:

  • Formal programs or services: curriculum interventions, counseling, community services, medical assistance
  • Pre-Correction: anticipating the problem behavior and intervening beforehand
  • Addressing non-school based triggers: parent conferences-partnerships, school support services, wrap-around services

Strategies3. Agitation

Intervention is focused on reducing anxiety.

  • If not addressed student may escalateor remain distracted making instruction difficult
  • Strategies are accommodations
  • Implement before onset of escalation
strategies 3 agitation
Strategies3. Agitation
  • Make structural/environmental modifications
  • Provide reasonable options & choices
  • Involve in successful engagement
strategies 3 agitation27
Strategies3. Agitation

What to do before a behavior escalates

  • Achieve eye contact.
  • Use the student’s name.
  • Use a non-verbal signal.
  • Proximity/praise.
  • Silent communication.
  • Do the unexpected.
  • Get them to think – give them time to decide.
  • Reduce distance – use proximity.
  • Give more “start” requests instead of “stop” requests.
  • Make non-emotional instead of emotional requests.
  • Use the “broken record” technique.
strategies 3 agitation28
Strategies3. Agitation


Teacher empathy Movement activities

Space (jobs)

Options/Choices Student involvement

Preferred activities Relaxation techniques

Teacher proximity Pre-arranged signal

Independent activities

strategies 3 agitation29
Strategies3. Agitation

Techniques that backfire:

Raising your voice Drawing unrelated

Yelling persons into the conflict

Saying “I’m the boss Insisting you are right

Insisting on having the last word Preaching

Using sarcasm Making assumptions

Attacking the student’s character Bringing up unrelated

Making comparisons with siblings events

or other students Holding a grudge



Strategies4. Acceleration

Intervention is focused on safety.

  • Remove all triggering factors
  • Avoid escalating prompts
  • Maintain calmness, respect and detachment
  • Approach the student in a nonthreatening manner
  • Utilize nonconfrontational limit-setting procedures

What are Escalating Prompts?

  • Agitated behavior from staff (shouting)
  • Cornering the student
  • Engaging in power struggles
  • Moving into the student’s space
  • Touching or grabbing the student
  • Sudden or very quick responses
  • Making derogatory statements about the student
  • Arguing/becoming defensive
  • Body language that communicates anger or frustration

What is a Non-Threatening Manner?

  • Speak calmly
  • Speak privately
  • Minimize body language
  • Keep a reasonable distance
  • Speak respectfully and privately
  • Move slowly and deliberately toward the problem situation
what is a non threatening manner
What is a Non-Threatening Manner?
  • Establish eye level position
  • Be brief (KISS)
  • Stay with agenda
  • Avoid power struggles
  • Give student space
  • Don not communicate “urgency to gain control”
  • Acknowledge cooperation

Strategies5. Peak

Intervention is focused on safety

  • Focus is on crisis management

- implement your plan (contact the office, clear the room, etc.)

  • Safe strategies
  • Behavioral Emergency

-Hughes Bill -Assessment of Risk Factors

-Behavior Support Plan -Mental Health/Other Assessment

-Functional Analysis Assessment -Behavior Intervention Plan

strategies 5 peak
Strategies5. Peak

Short-term interventions:

  • Isolation or removal of involved student
  • Allow time for student to “cool down”
  • Removal of other students
strategies 5 peak36
Strategies5. Peak

Legal Considerations

  • Definition of Behavioral Emergency
  • Use of Restraint
  • Notification/Documentation
  • Data Collection

Strategies6. De-escalation

Intervention is focused on monitoring for re-escalation of behavior

  • Monitor for health/safety of all involved
  • Avoid blaming
  • Allow time and space
  • Engage in independent work
  • Cool-down time
  • Determine appropriate time to debrief

Strategies7. Recovery

Intervention focuses on returning to normal activities

  • Follow through with consequences
  • Positively reinforce any displays of appropriate behavior
  • Debrief/rehearse problem solving routine
strategies 7 recovery
Strategies7. Recovery

Effective consequences

Does the consequence

  • Model, instruct or teach a more appropriate behavior?
  • Interfere with the flow of the lesson?
  • Give the learner the choice to redirect and receive instruction?

Is the consequence effective?


Debriefing Session

  • Facilitates transition back to program… not further negative consequence.
  • Goal is to increase appropriate behavior
  • Focus on problem solving
  • Pinpoint events that contributed to the incident
  • Teach replacement behaviors
  • Debriefing activities and forms

Proactive Strategies

  • Have a school-wide positive behavior support system in place
  • Emphasize quality instruction leading to increased academic achievement
  • Emphasize teaching and prevention techniques


  • Describe an event in which the student’s behavior escalated. Be sure to describe all seven phases of the Acting-Out Model.
  • Describe some responses that may

de-escalate the student’s escalating behavior



Self-Control Plan

Maintaining calmness, respectfulness and detachment

  • What are your stressors or “behavioral buttons?”
  • What does it look like when you are stressed?
  • What can you do to regain self-control?
  • To manage stress, what can you do:

- immediately

- after work


Self-Control Plan


  • Develop your own self-control plan using the worksheet
  • Share your strategies and ideas about maintaining self-control



Defusing Anger and Aggression


  • How was the situation escalated?
  • How did the teacher defuse the situation?


  • Video: Colvin, G. (2004). Defusing Anger and Aggression. Available from IRIS Media, (877) 343-4747,
  • Colvin, G (2004). Managing the cycle of acting-out behavior in the classroom. Eugene, Oregon: Behavior Associates.
  • Colvin, G. (2006). Understanding and Managing Angry-Aggressive Behavior presentation,
  • Colvin, G. & Sugai, G. (1989) Understanding & Managing Escalating Behavior presentation,


references cont
References (cont.)
  • Sprague, J. & Golly, A. (2005). Best behavior: Building positive behavior support in schools. Longmont, Colorado: Sopris West.
  • Sprick, R. Garrison, M. & Howard, L. (1998). CHAMPs: A proactive and positive approach to classroom management. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Contact Information

Sylvia Martinez, District Behavior Specialist

LRE/Behavior Support Office

Los Angeles Unified School District

333 South Beaudry Avenue, 17th Floor

Los Angeles, CA 90017

(213) 241-8051