Podcast: How to Stop Student Assaults on Teachers and Other School Staff

Host note:

Not many people have a job that involves running to get to a potentially violent crisis situation the instant they arrive at their workplace.
But that’s exactly what Carleen Doucet did one morning after she walked into an elementary school in Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish School System (LPSS), where she works as a crisis interventionist, and where she has worked to help challenged students for over 30 years.
When Carleen walked into the school, the assistant principal rushed up to meet her.
“We have an emergency! We have a crisis!” exclaimed the administrator, and with those words still ringing down the hall both women ran down the corridor to arrive at a classroom from which all the students had been evacuated, except for one 11-year-old boy.

He had cleared the room by angrily picking up desks and tossing them around, a ruckus he was still causing when Carleen and the assistant principal entered the classroom.
“What are you going to do?” she asked Carleen.
“I’m going to sit,” replied Carleen, and then she sat down at one of the desks that remained standing.
“Why are you sitting?” asked the assistant principal.
“Just be quiet; just be quiet. Don’t say anything,” whispered Carleen.
After a short while, Carleen asked the boy, “Are you done?”
“No, ma’am,” he replied.
“Continue,” said Carleen, calmly.
And with that the boy stopped throwing desks and came and sat in a desk next to Carleen’s.
“Babe, I'll come talk to you anytime you need. It's easier to talk than to throw desks around. It’s your choice,” explained Carleen.
“I’m so sorry,” said the boy.
"Well, I'll help you pick it up. Let's get it all up, and let's get on with things," replied Carleen.
Later, after they had cleaned up the classroom, Carleen spent some more time talking with the student, gave him a Chill Card (explained below), and to date, he has not acted out or disrupted a classroom again.
The story above is only one example of the hundreds of challenging and potentially violent situations that Carleen has de-escalated over the years, using her own experience and intuition as well as the techniques taught in CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program.

Carleen at Conference

Meet Carleen Doucet & the Lafayette Parish School System
Lafayette, Louisiana native Carleen Doucet has spent the last 33 years of her professional career working for the LPSS. The System is home to nearly 30,500 students, 4,200 staff members, and it includes 23 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, and 7 high schools.
Carleen began her career as a classroom teacher, spending her first 12 years teaching students with behavior disorders.
Carleen’s ability to effectively work with challenging students led to her next position in the LPSS, as Director of the Parish Special Education Alternative School. The site serves students who are removed from their base school for possession of drugs, weapons, and/or assault against staff or other students. Carleen directed the site for 17 years.
Because LPSS practices full inclusion, troubled students are eventually returned to regular classrooms. (Full inclusion is a term used to describe a prevalent policy in which students with disabilities receive their education in a regular education classroom at their home school.)
Because of this practice, a roving crisis interventionist was needed at LPSS. Carleen's skills were uniquely suited to the position, and so for the past seven years she has worked in this role for seven schools in the LPSS. One of her key responsibilities is facilitation of CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training for other staff members.

CPI training at LPSS 

Back in 2001, the LPSS needed help because of the high rate of serious behavioral incidents involving assaults on staff members. To help remedy the situation, the LPSS began providing CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training to staff members. Carleen was the very first person trained; she also became LPSS’s first Certified Instructor.
Reaction to the training was so good that plans were immediately made to increase the number of staff members trained. The LPSS currently trains over 1,000 people a year. Carleen has trained well over 1,000 hours since 2001, and her experience and attitude have earned her CPI's recognition and designation as a Meritorious Instructor.
Per Louisiana state law, crisis prevention training is required for all paraprofessionals, special education teachers, counselors, and administrators. But LPSS makes it mandatory for every employee. According to Carleen, “We've trained all paraprofessionals in the district, regular education teachers, all the special education teachers, bus drivers, custodians, the school support officers, secretaries, and I even have a few parents that have come in. . . . If you put your hands on a child, you must be trained.”

Positive outcomes associated with CPI training at LPSS

Carleen has seen Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training make a dramatic difference in successfully de-escalating challenging behavior in the LPSS, and the training has produced measurable, positive outcomes.
According to Carleen, favorable outcomes for the 2015–2016 school year, measured against the 2014–2015 school year, include:

  • Restraint use declined by 42%.
  • Workers’ Compensation claims decreased by 49%.
  • Graduation rates increased by 7%.
  • Office referrals decreased by 60%.

Carleen is quick to attribute the 60% reduction in office referrals to a recent enhancement in Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training, the Decision-Making Matrix. The Decision-Making Matrix is a powerful decision-making tool that helps staff reduce the negative outcomes associated with challenging behavior by providing a graphic by which to measure risk.
Carleen explains how she uses it for office referrals. “Whatever behavior you're seeing in your classroom, you weigh it out on the Decision-Making Matrix. If it's a low-level risk, you don't need an office referral. That's classroom management. In this school I was telling you about, we put it up; we blanket the school with the Decision-Making Matrix in every classroom. They're showing a 60% reduction in office referrals.”
Carleen points out that this dramatic reduction in office referrals has an additional positive effect in that it helps improve staff retention. Less time spent in their offices dealing with behavioral issues means that administrators have more free time to access the hallways, classrooms, and grounds to observe what’s happening in a school. According to Carleen, that increased administrative presence helps to build relationships, and that helps retain staff at at-risk schools. 

CPI’s Decision-Making Matrix can help schools retain staff by building relationships.
Another influential practice schools can take to retain new teachers is to train them to recognize and de-escalate challenging behavior. According to Carleen, “You can have the best academic curriculum that you want, but if you don't have a behavioral component, and a strong behavioral component such as CPI and those techniques, they [new teachers] fail every time. It's amazing when you get those new teachers (and we try to get in within the first two weeks of teaching to train them), that they say, after a year, ‘My god, this saved my life. This saved my career.’”

The Chill Card

In addition to teaching the de-escalation techniques presented in Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training, Carleen is also a successful innovator of similar techniques. One of her enduring creations is something known in the LPSS as a Chill Card. The concept is simple: when a student is known to have behavioral issues, they are issued a Chill Card to use at their discretion.
Then, when the student is upset and feels the urge to disrupt a class and act out, they have the option of simply walking up to the teacher, handing them the Chill Card, and leaving the classroom to go see a counselor. Neither the teacher nor the student need say a word.
After the student has had an opportunity to see a counselor and cool down a little, they often regain their composure and rejoin their class. According to Carleen, the Chill Card has worked very successfully throughout the LPSS.

The ripple effect of a caring educator in a community

Because of her length of service and the strength of the relationships she builds working with students in the LPSS, Carleen often encounters friendly alumni in and around Lafayette. Check out the podcast to hear what happened recently after she pulled into a fast food drive-through and was greeted with the words “Oh, my second mama.”