Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Managing Students in Distress


									           Managing Students in Distress:

           Preventing and Responding to Disorderly,
              Disruptive or Threatening Behavior

 An original version of portions of this topic presentation was made available to Flagler College by the
Counseling and Career Development Center at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA. Numerous
                   modifications have been made for local use with their permission.

             Permission was also provided by Virginia Tech to use information published in
             their faculty guide for responding to threatening or disruptive student behavior.
Sun coverage: Tragedy at Virginia Tech
Thousands of Virginia Tech students take part in a mass candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the shootings.

Coverage of the shooting rampage in which a gunman killed 32

people before taking his own life (Getty Images / April 17, 2007)
               Managing Students in Distress

   Heartbreaking incidents of student violence on college
    campuses underscores the importance of finding ways to
    prevent, recognize, and respond to behavior leading up to
   The purpose of this presentation and the handout is to
    help you plan for ways to improve classroom and personal
    safety by:
       Identifying situational and behavioral risk factors.
       Presenting guidelines and strategies for preventing disruptive,
        threatening or violent behavior.
       Presenting strategies for de-escalating threatening behavior.
       Presenting strategies for defusing threatening behavior that is at
        imminent risk of becoming violent.
            General College Violent Crime Statistics
Fortunately, statistics for violent crimes on college campuses indicate
they occur much less than in the general population. The School
Violence Resource Center ( reports that “to
get a fair assessment of criminal activity on the college campus, college
crime rates should be compared with the total crime rates of the United
States, based on the standard population of 100,000.”

The following table depicts the comparison of crime rates on college
campuses with the entire nation in four violent crime categories in
2000*. However, as SVRC notes, “oftentimes crimes on college
campuses do not get reported. This makes it difficult to conclude with
certainty that the crime rates are indeed this low. ”
*SVRC reports that the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that in 2000 there
were approximately 14,979,000 students at U.S. colleges and universities in 2000.
              General College Crime Statistics

          U.S. vs. College Crime Rates, 2000*

Crime                        U.S. Crime Rate              College Crime Rate

Murder                                  5.7                          .13
Forcible Rape                          32.0                        2.4
Robbery                               144.9                       12.9
Aggravated Assault                    323.6                       24.3

*Per 100,000. Source: Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education
and Crime in the U.S. 2000
              Managing Students in Distress
              Characteristics of Troubled Students
Everyone feels upset, distressed or confused at times. However,
when such feelings persist, reach frightening levels of intensity,
and/or result in feeling out of control, the person is experiencing
distress at a crisis level.

Violence and other forms of aggressive behavior is sometimes a
tragic acting out of a person in crisis. Recognizing and responding
to risk factors and indicators of this -sooner than later- may avert
such an outcome.

The next slide identifies risk factors found to be associated
with student violence on college campuses.
                      Managing Students in Distress
         Risk Factors Associated with College Violence*

   1. A history of violence and/or being                     8. Breakup of a relationship.
                                                              9. Alcohol and drug usage.
   2. Threats of violence.
                                                              10. Intolerance of differences.
   3. An obsessive interest in weapons.
                                                              11. Gang affiliation.
   4. A tendency to be isolated.
                                                              12. Poor attachment to school.
   5. The inability to get along with
    others.                                                   13. Exhibiting impulsive behavior.
   6. Excessive anger.                                       14. Making violent drawings or
   7. Job loss.
*Source: Flannery, D.J., Quinn-Leering, K. (2000). Violence on college campuses: Understanding its impact
on student well being. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 24. 839-855.
            Managing Students in Distress
           Characteristics of Troubled Students

Following are a series of related slides identifying three
levels of student behaviors indicative of increasing levels
of distress. These behaviors apply to all forms of
distress. While the behaviors identified at the lower
levels do not always lead to more serious problems,
identifying them early and intervening can help prevent
distress from increasing.
           Managing Students in Distress
        Characteristics of Troubled Students (cont.)
Level One: While these behaviors may not always be troublesome to
others, they signal that the student probably needs assistance.
 Poor academic performance, missed tests, or lowered performance.
 Excessive absences, especially if prior class attendance was good.
 Unusual or noticeably changed interaction patterns in the classroom.
 Depressed or apathetic mood, tearfulness.
 Behavioral agitation, excessive activity or talkativeness.
 Excessive anxiety, fearfulness and/or withdrawal.
 Noticeable change in appearance and hygiene.
 Alcohol on the breath/evidence of substance abuse.
 Inability to remain awake in class on a regular basis.
                 Managing Students in Distress
           Characteristics of Troubled Students (cont.)
Level Two: These behaviors may signify a higher degree of emotional
distress, impacting both personal and academic performance.
 Repeated attempts to obtain deadline extensions or postpone tests.
 A pattern of behaviors that disrupt class or student interactions.
 A pattern of behavior that upsets or alienates others.
 Lack of motivation or effort, especially if this is a noticeable change.
 Inappropriate emotional reactions to situations, including:
       Inappropriate intensity for a situation (emotional over-reacting).
       Inappropriate duration of reaction (emotionally upset much too long).
       Inappropriate frequency (becomes upset on a regular basis).
       Inappropriate emotional response for the situation (e.g. inappropriate anger or
       A lack of emotional response when you would expect one.
                 Managing Students in Distress
            Characteristics of Troubled Students (cont.)

Level Three: These behaviors indicate that a student is in
crisis and needs emergency intervention.
   Threats of violence, aggressive behavior toward others, destruction
    of property, other extremely disruptive behavior.
   Obvious loss of contact with reality (e.g., hallucinations, thoughts or
    behavior inconsistent with reality).
   Disturbed speech or communication content (incoherent speech,
    disorganized thoughts).
   Suicidal or other self-destructive thoughts or actions (any reference
    to suicide as a current possibility).
   Homicidal thoughts/threats.
                     Managing Students in Distress
                     General Guidelines and Strategies
Because people and circumstances differ, and because distress can take different forms, there
is no one approach for every situation. Following are some general guidelines and strategies
to help prevent/reduce distress and redirect a student toward constructive action.

    Guideline: Be approachable and accessible.
    Strategy: Let students know you are available for help through your actions and words.

   Guideline: Act sooner than later to prevent a problem from escalating.
    Strategy: Don’t ignore signs of distress, big changes, or inappropriate behavior. Take the initiative.

   Guideline: Minimize defensiveness and embarrassment for the student.
    Strategy: Request to see the student in private or semi-private (assuming you feel safe).

   Guideline: Communicate that you are aware and care. This can reduce feeling isolated,
    angry or desperate.
    Strategy: Listen carefully (“actively”). Demonstrate an effort to understand what the student is going
    through. Be nonjudgmental without necessarily agreeing.
                  Managing Students in Distress
                  General Guidelines and Strategies
   Guideline: Help the student clarify the problem.
    Strategy: Identify the problem in a concrete manner. This can help to make it more
    solvable and develop a constructive problem solving approach.

   Guideline: Help the student identify constructive options and steps to take.
    This can restore some sense of control and help put things in perspective
    Strategy: Discuss resource options and help the student get help. Make the call, walk
    them over. Follow-up with the student.

   Guideline: Involve yourself only as much as you feel comfortable.
    Strategy: Avoid becoming more deeply involved than time or skill permits. Don’t make
    promises you may not be able to keep. Once a student is getting help elsewhere for a
    problem, be cautious of your level of independent involvement.
              Managing Students in Distress
              General Guidelines and Strategies
    If you have questions, the Counseling Center staff may be
    reached during working hours at 819-6305, and after working
    hours by calling Campus Security at 819-6200. The Counseling
    Center is located in the Palm Cottage at #8 Valencia Street, set
    back between Wiley Hall and Lewis House.

    ACTION by the Police, EMT’s, or other emergency response
    agencies FIRST CALL 911, then follow-up with a call to
    Campus Security 819-6200 (200 from a campus phone),
    appropriate supervisors, and the Counseling Center.
                 Managing Students in Distress
        Disorderly, Disruptive or Threatening Behavior

Flagler College Policies on Disorderly/Disruptive Behavior

Aggressive or violent behavior may be preceded by less destructive behavior that
is disorderly or disruptive. Flagler College has policies prohibiting disorderly or
disruptive behavior. These policies are described in the Flagler College Catalog
under “General Conduct Regulations” in the “Student Life” section; and, in the
Student Handbook under “Safety and Security” in the “Academic and
Administrative Policies and Judicial Procedures” section. Both the catalog and
handbook are accessible on-line through the Flagler College home page. On the
home page the Catalog is an option under the Academics tab, and the Student
Handbook is an option in the Administration/Policies section under the
Students/Faculty/Staff tab.
                     Managing Students in Distress
           Disorderly, Disruptive or Threatening Behavior
Be Prepared

   If you encounter an individual whose behaviors indicate a problem with anger or
    aggression, your options will be determined by many different factors. For example,
    your response will be much different with a student repeatedly getting angry in class
    than with a student who surprises you with violent threats.
        In an ideal situation you may be able to address a problem early through preventative
        In other situations, even with a distressed student, you may have time to gather
         information, consider options, and assist the student in getting help.
        Finally, there may be situations where you have to act quickly based upon a
         predetermined plan or strategies.
   No matter what, being prepared with options, and having a plan/strategies can
    improve your chances of managing a potentially threatening situation .

The following slides provide suggestions for preventing and responding to disruptive
and threatening behavior.
             Managing Students in Distress
        Disorderly, Disruptive or Threatening Behavior
Addressing such behavior before or when it first appears may prevent it
from occurring, or if it does occur, from escalating in the future. Some
suggestions are as follows:
 Make classroom behavioral standards clear from the outset.
 Discuss how practicing tolerance is part of learning.
 When you see evidence of behavior that has the potential to get out of
   hand (e.g., inappropriate anger in class discussion), use this as an
   opportunity to remind the entire class of acceptable behavior and/or
   the challenge of developing tolerance. Don’t wait too long.
 Model appropriate behavior. Reinforce students when appropriate.
 Let students know you are available
 Meet sooner than later when you see a problem.
 Involve others if you feel it is necessary (e.g., department chair, Dean
   of Students, Counseling Center, Behavioral Intervention Team).
                  Managing Students in Distress
          Disorderly, Disruptive or Threatening Behavior
Act Early When Concerned
 Take encounters that cause concern for your personal safety very
  seriously, including phone calls, notes or e-mails.
 Inform campus security, your supervisor, and the Dean of Students of
  your concerns.

Control the Environment When Concerned
 Do not isolate yourself when meeting with someone who has caused
  some concern.
       If in your office keep your door open.
       Inform a co-worker of the meeting so they can “check-in” with a call or knock.
       Establish a code word to let others know you’re concerned/need help.
   Avoid making the person feel trapped or cornered.
       Have access to an exit, but don’t block or stand in the way of it.
       Maintain distance between yourself and the student.
       Do not psychologically corner the student through threats, pressure, etc.
              Managing Students in Distress
       Disorderly, Disruptive or Threatening Behavior
Responding to Increasingly Aggressive Behavior. The
recommendations below emphasize the importance of : noticing
distress indicators early; using strategies to encourage a problem
solving approach; and controlling the emotional momentum of the
 Notice early non-verbal, paralinguistic warning signs (e.g., jerky
   movements, fast breathing, raised voice pitch and volume).
 Ask the person to tell you his/her goals from the meeting.
 Remind the person you want to work with them to help.
 Speak calmly: control your rate, pitch and volume of speaking.
 Use other conversational means to slow emotional momentum
   (e.g., recapping, restating your interest in helping, raising questions)
 Take a short break (bathroom, etc.) this may also be used as an
   opportunity to alert security (819-6200) or co-workers.
                 Managing Students in Distress
            Disorderly, Disruptive or Threatening Behavior
Mistakes to Avoid. Don’t forget that you may be talking with
someone who is not as capable as you of being as rational.
 Do not minimize or ignore early warning signs.
 Don’t let the other person work themselves up more and more.
        Acknowledge you see they are upset; shift to setting goals, recapping, etc.
   Similarly, don’t let the other person set the emotional tone.
        Remember to use your voice qualities to set the tone
   Don’t fall prey to a power struggle with a person potentially in crisis.
        Avoid appearing overbearing, condescending, argumentative, hostile, punitive
         or threatening; instead remind them you want to help.
   Do not assume the usual rules apply.
        Don’t press for “rational” explanations/justifications for their behavior.
        Do not “call their bluff”.
         Managing Students in Distress
     Disorderly, Disruptive or Threatening Behavior
If you have been successful in de-escalating a situation
and identifying what they want/need, inform them that
you will need to involve other resources as part of a plan
to help.
 Inform the student it will be necessary to meet with a
   counselor at the Counseling Center ASAP.
 Let the student know that it will be necessary to
   contact your supervisors to discuss options.

Notify Security/others of your concerns as appropriate.
                  Managing Students in Distress
          Disorderly, Disruptive or Threatening Behavior
Responding to Aggressive or Potentially Aggressive Behavior
If a student produces a weapon, attempt to stop the behavioral
momentum, alert others if possible, introduce doubts, and convince
him/her to choose other options
 Ask them to put it away or down so you can talk undistracted.
 Use your “code word” to alert others without panicking the student.
 Tell the student he/she has totally succeeded in convincing you as to
    how upset he/she is, and it is not necessary to go any further.
 Remind them there are other options to address what they are upset
    about, and that you will do your best to help them.
 Remind them no one has been hurt, and it’s not too late for other
       Similarly, if concerns about the consequences of their behavior come up,
        remind them no one has been hurt yet and that will make a big difference.
   Urge the student to reconsider all of the consequences of hurting
    someone. Remind them it is not necessary.
            Managing Students in Distress
       Disorderly, Disruptive or Threatening Behavior
If you are successful in de-escalating a situation where there is a
weapon, prepare the student for what is to follow.
 Reinforce his/her decision.
 Inform them security needs to be notified, but that you will inform
   them that the student has been cooperative.
 If it seems safe, inform the student that things will go much
   smoother without a weapon present, and remove it if possible.
 Inform him/her it is in their best interest to cooperate with
 If they ask for more details as to what will occur, inform him/her
   you do not know for sure other than people will be trying to help.
 Contact 911 and Security. If you are concerned about calling 911,
   Security will do so when you mention a weapon is involved.
 Follow-up with your supervisor and the Counseling Center.
             Managing Students in Distress
   There are factors and behavioral indicators associated with
    a higher risk of student distress, including threatening
   Take warning signs seriously and address them early.
   Become familiar with guidelines and strategies for
    preventing such behavior in the classroom or when meeting
    with a student.
   Become familiar with strategies to de-escalate such
    behavior when it starts to intensify.
   Become familiar with strategies to defuse a volatile situation
    when the risk of violence seems imminent.
   Have a plan for yourself and co-workers to help you be
    prepared to prevent, de-escalate and defuse a situation.

To top