Podcast: Why Charter Schools Need Flexible De-Escalation Training

For Indigo Education, there is no substitute for CPI’s blended learning option

Candace Burckhardt is a special education coordinator for Indigo Education, a non-profit organization that assists over 80 charter schools throughout Minnesota. She facilitates CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training at over half of them, and raves about being “blown away” by CPI’s blended learning delivery option (previously called Flex) and the way it improves how participants understand and remember essential behavior management concepts. What’s more, blended learning saves schools money by training more people in less time and by eliminating the need for hiring substitutes when teachers and other staff take refresher training.

How Indigo Education helps Minnesota schools

Indigo provides special education administrative staff to client schools. Minnesota law requires every school to have a director of special education, and in some schools, it doesn't make fiscal sense to employ a full-time director. So just as a special education teacher has a caseload of students, each member of the staff at Indigo has a caseload of charter schools they support through collaboration, mentoring, and an unwavering commitment to teaching and learning. Indigo also supports charter schools through direction and assistance with fiscal policies and procedures. 

In addition to offering CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training, Indigo Education provides support and professional development to schools on special education topics such as building trauma-informed classrooms, English learners, brain-based teaching strategies, mindfulness and meditation, and behavior management
Indigo is an evolving, growing organization, “determined to provide integrity driven leadership and exceptional educational services,” which is their mission statement. Indigo currently employs 16 staff members and a board of directors with three primary roles: director of special education, special education coordinator, or school psychologist. “In addition to some of those services that we provide, we also provide a lot of special development to education professionals. So, we do CPI training for our client schools, due process laws, trauma-informed classrooms, early childhood special education programming, and all those sorts of things that would fall under that umbrella. And then, we work with charter schools all over the state, in urban, suburban, and rural places,” explains Candace. (3:30)  

How Indigo provides CPI training as a district model

Indigo often receives calls from school administrators in search of verbal de-escalation training, and Indigo is equipped to provide it. Candace explains: “Right now, we're able to provide CPI training to any of our schools that contract with us. It's kind of similar to thinking about a district model, much like a district would provide CPI training to schools within their district. We sort of serve as a district in that way. So, certainly it would be common for an administrator to call and say, ‘I'm really looking for this sort of training,’ or, ‘I'd like to have all of my staff trained in the CPI basic verbal de-escalation. Could you come out and do that?’” (4:12)

Why choosing a charter school is a good option for parents

During the interview I asked Candace why a charter school might be a desirable option for parents deciding where to send their kids. “What I love about charter schools is that they give parents and families another choice about where to send their child to school, and that choice is not limited by the neighborhood they live in, how much money they make, or even the disability that their child has,” says Candace. She also points out a false impression some people have about charter schools. “So one common misconception is that charter schools can actually deny admission to students in special education. But this is not true in all [states]. All charter schools in Minnesota are required to accept all students regardless of the type of disabilities that they have or level of need,” says Candace. (7:12)
She goes on to explain other benefits this option provides: “Many charter schools have unique missions or types of curriculum, which could benefit certain types of special education students. For example, we work with several charter schools that are project-learning based or spend a significant amount of time learning in special environments like the outdoors. I could see that being a really great fit for a student with ADHD perhaps, rather than a traditional classroom setting.” (7:43) Candace adds that Indigo also works with schools that have more of an arts or performance focus, and she has seen these schools be incredibly healing for children with emotional or behavioral needs or who have experienced trauma.
Another positive aspect of charter schools is that they can design curriculum around specific groups. “There's also schools that specialize in welcoming specific cultures, such as Spanish immersion, bilingual schools, Hmong, Malay schools. I really just think it's another great option that parents have when considering the unique needs of their child,” says Candace. (8:23)

Why CPI training is rewarding

Candace has been facilitating CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training for over 2 years, at 45 schools with more than 400 participants. I asked her what she found most rewarding about facilitating the training. She didn’t hesitate to answer. “What I see as most rewarding about facilitating CPI is that moment in training when participants start to understand the concept of an Integrated Experience,” says Candace. “As adults, you know, we have so many tools through CPI that we can use to really help you exploit a crisis through our nonverbal gestures, our verbal language. And when participants begin to realize that student behavior is an alternate result of those Precipitating Factors such as their trauma history, then they can begin to really treat the student in interventions and in a more open, exploratory, and loving way, other than viewing CPI as a punishment or a punitive sort of a training.” 

CPI training helps #specialeducation staff treat students in a more open, loving way. —Candace Burckhardt
“So, that moment when it just sort of all clicks and I see participants really start to understand just how much they can do to facilitate relationships and healing for their students through CPI while they de-escalate is just one of the things that I love most about training with CPI,” says Candace. (9:46)

How CPI training helps staff reduce restraint use

“I actually think that about 99% of the situations that our charter schools face with students can be de-escalated without the use of restraint,” says Candace. (11:38) That’s a pretty bold statement. Candace explained that Indigo has been collecting data on restraint use since they started CPI training and plan to release the results at the end of the year. (Check back for a follow-up on Indigo’s stats in early 2018!)

Candace refers to CPI’s Verbal Escalation Continuum℠ as a critical tool that staff use to recognize when—and when not—to intervene. “One of the most frequent changes that we've heard repeated over and over by staff is that they used to go straight to a restraint when a student was in the Release stage. So, if you've had CPI training before, then you know that it's incredibly damaging and dangerous to do a restraint during this time because it will likely further escalate the situation and will likely become more violent. Instead, we really want them to be able to have that emotional or physical release and to remove the audience from that situation, so that students have that time to go through that release without potentially pulling others into the conflict. Prior to CPI, some of our school staff were prematurely inappropriately intervening with a restraint rather than allowing the child to have some time for that release,” says Candace. (12:10)

Bringing CPI’s blended learning  to Indigo

When I asked Candace why Indigo chose blended learning, and what the benefits might be, she began by replying, “Yeah, you might have to interrupt me as I go too long on this because I just absolutely love Flex, and as an organization, we have just been really blown away by it as a program.” (14:17)
When CPI first introduced the blended learning option in 2016, Candace recalls going to Indigo’s executive director, Erin Wanat, and discussing giving it a try. Because CPI training up to that point had been so effective, they were reluctant to try a blended program. “But we decided to purchase 10 seats, and within two days, all of the 10 seats were filled up by our charter schools. Everyone really wanted this as an option,” reports Candace. (14:42)
Candace explains that as an educator, she valued the power and control she had while facilitating CPI training. “But I was blown away just by how much the participants had internalized the online curriculum and really found that they were able to ask so much deeper questions about how to apply CPI to individual students that they work with,” raves Candace. “And you know, every time we'll do a Flex training, we ask the participant's feedback, and all of our reviews have just been so powerful. People have really liked it. And in fact, in this spring, we switched entirely to offering the Flex program for our initial CPI training. We will continue to offer a mix of the traditional 12-hour program, but we're also planning to offer a lot of the Flex training to really cater to different learning styles since we've just seen how powerful it is for our participants.” (15:14)

Train more people in less time—and save money in the process

Another benefit Candace associates with blended training is its efficiency. “As a facilitator, the Flex program really allows me to be able to train more people in less time. And this is great for our client schools because I can go up to a school in rural Minnesota and provide both the Flex training and the refresher training on the same day for their staff. This minimizes disruptions to students because staff are out of the building for less time and this greatly reduces the cost for substitutes for those schools,” says Candace. (16:10)
Candace goes on to explain how participating schools can save a substantial amount of money on hiring substitutes when they choose the blended training option. “When we run the traditional 12-hour programs, schools need to get substitutes for either an entire day or a two-day time frame, and then they'll also need to get substitutes for any people that go through an additional refresher training. Sometimes we're looking at two to three days of substitutes. And it's extremely hard to find great substitutes. We have teacher shortages as it is, and especially substitute shortages, especially for our staff that work in special education. By doing the Flex program, we're really able to eliminate some of the burden that comes with the messy transition of having staff out of the building, disruptions to student schedules and needs, [and the] cost for substitutes,” explains Candace. (16:52)

Why blended training was especially meaningful to one participant

Candace concludes her remarks about the blended program by sharing how an Instructor certification participant approached her after class to express how meaningful the option was to her. This participant had her own trauma history and was quite worried that training others about having power over students might trigger an anxious and painful reaction in her because it went against her mindset.
But the blended training option put those worries to rest. “She was just so excited by how much the Flex course focused on relationship building, how it really took into account so many factors like cultural background, gender, mental health. And she actually came to our class yesterday with a whole list of really these advanced detailed questions that we were able to talk about as a group.” Candace feels that with every blended training she leads, “our participants have [a] deeper understanding of the content.” (18:22)

Guest Biography

Candace Burckhardt is a Special Education Coordinator and CPI Certified Instructor with Indigo Education. She provides regular professional development to schools on special education topics. She has worked with schools in the United States, Central America, South America, Europe, and Asia. In addition to her work with Indigo Education, Candace is a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University. Her research focus is on using mindfulness in the classroom as a way to increase self-regulation and social-emotional skills in adolescents with disabilities.
You can learn more about Indigo Education at indigoed.org. You can find Candace on Twitter at @ateachingnomad.