There have been reports of more and more violent behaviour at New Zealand schools due to societal pressures; students living in deprivation and poverty; and perhaps watching tensions unravel at home for a number of reasons.

These tensions often present in students at school and school staff and other students are often left feeling vulnerable, unsafe and traumatised at what they have witnessed.

At all schools, the safety and wellbeing of students and staff is paramount.

Most schools use positive behaviour management practices to deal with inappropriate or dangerous student behaviour.

At Berhampore School in Wellington principal Mark Potter tries immediately to de-escalate the situation by:

- Removing the child from the environment – or removing people from the immediate vicinity of the child so everyone is safe

- Calm the child and help them get a handle on their emotions

- Deal with the situation in school, but enlist the help of parents if they are in a position to help solve the issue

Children can be referred to counsellors, undergo therapies and other support programmes if the school has the resources.  

In October 2016, the Ministry of Education published Guidance for New Zealand Schools on Behaviour Management to Minimise Physical Restraint, which was developed to help schools address the uncertainty staff experience when faced with a student exhibiting difficult behaviour that may escalate into a dangerous situation.

The guide’s aim is to strengthen the good practice already happening in schools, and avoid the need for physical restraint or the use of seclusion.

Instead, the guide suggests using preventative and de-escalation techniques first.

Some preventative techniques include understanding the student.  

Get to know the student and identify potentially difficult times or situations that may be stressful for them; identify the student’s personal signs of stress or unhappiness and intervene early; monitor wider classroom/playground behaviour carefully for potential areas of conflict.

Respecting the student is vital - demonstrate a supportive approach: “I’m here to help”; be flexible in your responses: adapt what you’re doing to the demands of the situation; be reasonable; promote and accept compromise or negotiated solutions while maintaining your authority; and take the student seriously and address issues quickly.

It is important to preserve the student’s dignity – so address private or sensitive issues in private.

Some de-escalation techniques include putting safety first by creating space and time.

As Potter suggests, remove the audience – ask other students to take their work and move away or give the student physical space. 

Name the emotion in a calm even voice: “You look really angry”, “I can see that you are very frustrated”; wait and communicate calmly and talk quietly, even when the student is loud try to remain calm and respectful

Think ahead in case the situation escalates further and if escalation occurs, move further away. Make sure you have an exit plan, constantly reassess the situation and send for help if necessary.

Things which might escalate the behaviour include threatening the student, arguing or interrupting, contradicting what the student says – even if they are wrong, challenging the student and trying to shame the student or showing your disrespect for the student.

This guide provides practical techniques for teachers and other staff to implement at NZ schools.