Three Strategies for Creating Positive Classroom Routines

September 16, 2021
Three women talking to each other

The Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) curriculum’s core values are Care, Welfare, Safety, and SecuritySM, with Security provided through forming harmonious and collaborative relationships. Nowhere is this brand of security more important than in a teacher’s classroom! If we consider that the opposite of this brand of security is insecurity, we can quickly identify ways a teacher might cause anxiety and distress when positive classroom routines are not present. For instance, students might like to know that they start the day with reading and then move onto math; they may also like to know that between reading and math there is always a bathroom break and a chance to talk with friends. When these things become unpredictable, we can actually cause a student to escalate when stress otherwise could have been avoided. Similarly, students can become so accustomed to the volume of a teacher’s voice that they can recognize sudden changes to it. And if these changes come suddenly or seemingly without reason, the result is potential student anxiety and distress.

Module 2 of the CPI Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® course pushes us to be mindful of the integrated experience we are providing to the students we serve. And because the CPI curriculum is helping teachers learn how to react in crisis situations, many course participants focus their conversation and input on how to provide a positive integrated experience when an individual is already in crisis. However, what if this concept of integrated experience could help us to avoid crises altogether?

Just as we know how to provide a supportive approach when an individual is anxious or a directive approach when a person has become defensive, we can proactively provide a positive integrated experience to our students by relentlessly adhering to positive classroom routines. When the students we serve know what to expect in our schedules and in our consistent behaviors as teachers, we can often provide security where there would otherwise be insecurity. However, if we can be purposeful about adding a few other supportive strategies to our practice, we might make insecurity in our classrooms a rare sight. Fortunately, Module 3 of the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® course provides us with these strategies! We hope you might be purposeful in utilizing one or all of these.

1. Communication Through Touch

Teacher student high five

As a teacher, I quickly learned the power of human connection. One of my first principals encouraged me to be in the hallway between classes. To avoid standing there awkwardly, I began offering high fives, handshakes, and fist bumps to anyone who would take one. It became one of my most recognized positive classroom routines.

I was reminded of the power of this small act when leading a training in Iowa in August. There, I had a participant who I’ll call Ric. Ric came into every session and fist bumped the other individuals in the room. I wasn’t anxious or defensive when he interacted with me, but it still made a huge difference. If he had done this just once, I would have appreciated it, but conveying his kindness and his desire for human connection daily was much more powerful than doing it once would have been. His relentless commitment to routine made a difference to me, and I know he would make a difference in the days of his clients, too!

On a more personal note, my daughter recently completed 5th Grade and had the chance to participate in a “promotion” ceremony as she moved on from elementary to middle school. As she made her way across the stage, her teacher stopped her, and they proceeded to engage in a special handshake created just for the occasion. Throughout the ceremony the teacher shared similar-yet-different handshakes with several of her students. It was as if she was speaking a special language to the students, making each feel like a special individual. As my daughter returned to her seat with a giant smile on her face, my eyes began to water. It made me so happy that my little girl had forged a connection with a human outside our home. I knew this magic was only possible because that teacher had taken the time to connect with her students as individual humans. Communication through touch helps us with that!

I can recall countless times when my students needed me to be more than a teacher. Importantly, my students needed some sign that we were two humans working together, rather than two individuals who just happened to be next to one another. When students accomplished goals in my class, it was commonplace for me to give a side hug or to take that student’s hand in mine and to give it a gentle squeeze. It’s amazing to watch a student’s eyes light up with recognition (of human connection) when he or she wasn’t expecting to connect. I’ll admit that not all students can be so impacted by positive classroom routines like this. But taking the time to learn which students might benefit from that extra layer of connection can have powerful, lasting results.

2. The Supportive Stance

supportive stance

Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training teaches us to think of the Supportive Stance as a strategy that helps us to stay safe in moments of crisis or distress. However, individuals who can be supportive with the way they stand consistently can make a distinct difference in the positivity of those people around them, whether surrounding individuals are in distress or far from it.

Recently, a colleague of mine came into my training room to share some excitement with me. As she did, she entered my personal space, moving quickly from the social and personal zones into the intimate zone, which caused my own anxiety to increase.

personal spaceBut, instead of asking her to step away and potentially damaging our rapport, I simply stepped back and turned to my side. I’ve made this reaction to individuals in my personal space a routine that I adhere to regularly. I can’t expect others to understand how to create space with a Supportive Stance, but I know how to use this strategy effectively.

Importantly, a Supportive Stance does not have to look like our textbook example. For individuals who are far from anxiety, defensive behaviors, or risk behaviors, it is appropriate to find alternate stances that communicate respect, appear nonthreatening, and maximize safety. For instance, with my colleague, it could have been appropriate for me to simply lean against a nearby wall, or to invite her to take a seat next to me. Knowing our classroom model of the Supportive Stance simply reminds me to find the position and posture that will best maintain the calmness of the person I am interacting with. If I can make this a routine that I adhere to, and if I can find ways to build rapport rather than damage it when a person has entered my space, I can gain the trust of the people I serve. At times, individuals may challenge your ability to continue standing or sitting in a way that is respectful and nonthreatening. They may not understand how dramatically our position affects our interactions. But if you can be relentless in your ability to get into a Supportive Stance, you are bound to inspire others to know how supportive you actually are.

There are many ways to turn a Supportive Stance into one of your positive classroom routines. For instance, instead of towering over a student sitting at a desk, it may be more effective, and even more powerful, to take a knee and address that student at eye level. That’s a Supportive Stance you can use when a student is not escalated and on our Crisis Development ModelSM. When approaching students, approach from the side, putting them in a Supportive Stance, allowing yourself to avoid seeming like you are making a beeline toward them. When students need to talk for a while, it may be considered a Supportive Stance to lean against a wall or to sit at a nearby desk or table to show that you are willing to settle in and listen. In fact, when I am in a hurry, this act sends the right message: I care about you and want to hear what you have to say!

3. Listening with Empathy

Sometimes it’s easy to be an active listener. When a student wants to discuss a topic of importance to you, it’s easy to dedicate your time and energy to listening. However, a non-escalated individual who has your attention can sometimes take more than you were expecting to give. When this happens, CPI gives us a series of reminders to help us be the best listeners we can be. And while CPI doesn’t have an acronym to help us be relentless in our efforts to routinely be empathic listeners for others, our training does give us five suggestions that fall into the acronym LUNAR. This is significant because LUNAR reminds us that we should treat each conversation as if we are speaking to the last person on the planet.

L is for Listen to Facts and Feelings

When a student is telling a story – whether that person is escalated or not – he or she is sharing some feelings that matter quite a bit. If we can be relentless in our efforts to empathize with those feelings, we will help that individual to feel supported, even when that person is feeling content.

U is for Undivided Attention

When a student is NOT escalated, it’s possibly harder to avoid looking at a phone when he or she is speaking with you. But since our undivided attention can make a big difference, one of our positive classroom routines should be to avoid our phones when interacting with students.

N is for Nonjudgmental

It’s here that we must be committed to listening, no matter how unimportant we might judge a topic to be. Again, paying attention to a person’s real and raw emotions allows us to know a very real emotion an individual may be experiencing.

With students, remaining nonjudgmental may beone of the most important positive classroom routines when a student is not already in distress. I think about the times my students needed to tell me stories about their pets, their siblings, or even the sequence of events that led a student to specific foods in his lunch! When the challenge of educating dozens of kids surrounding me and pushing me to move on to the next thing, I needed to remember to give my undivided attention and to be nonjudgmental. Because that moment I was educating at least one child on how to treat other humans, and there is nothing more important than that.

A is for Allow Silence for Reflection

Before you speak, allowthe student some time to reflect on what he or she said. You might consider slowly counting to three in your head before you respond. This quite often results in the person breaking the silence by sharing further information or reflection. In fact, you may be surprised how little talking you need to do.

R is for Restating What You Might Hear

Restating means that you put what the student said into your own words and repeat it back to him or her. This could mean that you restate the actual content of their message or provide your interpretation of the underlying feelings you picked up on. Once you’ve restated what you heard, give the person an opportunity to respond. Maybe they didn’t accurately express themselves, or you misunderstood something they said. Letting them respond to your restatement allows them to clarify and perhaps even expand their message.

Again, don’t wait for an individual to be in crisis to display these supportive behaviors. I hope you can be committing yourself to this brand of listening 100 percent of the time. If one of my positive classroom routines is a commitment to empathic listening – to allow silence for reflection and restate what I hear – I will likely help keep many behaviors positive rather than allowing them to turn negative or sour.

Many of us are good at “Communication through Touch,” the “Supportive Stance” and “Listening with Empathy” when a student is in crisis. But if you can commit yourself to doing these things all the time, your commitment to relentlessly positive classroom routines are bound to save you from some challenging behaviors – and may even cause you to see some good behaviors instead!

Kevin Mabie, Ed.D. is a Global Professional Instructor at Crisis Prevention Institute, and an educator with over 20 years of experience as a high school teacher and administrator. Dr. Mabie also facilitates trainings for the National School Reform Faculty.

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