HomeSafetyFan Favorite Mulick Provides Student Transporters Tips for De-Escalation

Fan Favorite Mulick Provides Student Transporters Tips for De-Escalation

INDIANAPOLIS — Patrick Mulick, behavior specialist, discussed the stages of escalation and techniques to help de-escalate students on the penultimate day of STN EXPO Indianapolis.

Mulick, who is also a board-certified behavior analyst for Auburn School District in Washington state, explained that there are times that people act without thinking, they’re instead full of emotions. Often the result is less desirable.

However, he noted, people don’t just go from zero to 100. instead there are stages that they go through before getting to the peak behavior challenge. Mulick cautioned that before talking about a student’s escalation’s cycle, look at your own.

What are your triggers? What behaviors do you engage in when you escalate? What helps you de-escalate? He asked. For some people, he advised taking the WAIT (Why Am I Talking) method. He noted that sometimes it’s best to back up, take a deep breath and better analyze the situation. We are prone to escalate and that mixture of an escalated adult with an escalated student never ends well, he said.

In terms of the equation of an escalation, Mulick noted, that you can’t control what’s going on, but you can influence it. He advised attendees to recognize the role that they have. The first step, he said, is by taking care of oneself. Self-care and prioritizing yourself is paramount to being the best you can for the people around you.

Do your staff know their triggers? Do they know how they escalate? Do your staff know to get themselves back under control? How are your staff doing with self-care? How are you modeling awareness of the cycle and the need for self-care? He asked, adding that their needs to be a balance between feeling and thinking when talking about behavior.

The Stages of De-Escalation & What Adults Can Do to Help Students

Level 1: Calm
This is the most important stage, Mulick said, adding that when kids are calm, a foundational relationship can be laid. During this stage, students may be responsive to directions, happy and centered, socializing with peers and ignoring distractions.

He advised building relationships every single day of the school year and having positive interactions with students. He noted that this is when adults can call out things the students are doing well, greeting and acknowledging them, and connecting with them on what they like. “A student who feels heard is a student who is better equipped to listen,” he said, adding that at this stage adults should try and keep an eye out for anything that might trigger them.

Level 2: Trigger
He said triggers are tricky because they differ student to student, and it could encompass a bunch of different factors. He noted it’s also tricky because usually the bus driver doesn’t know what the trigger is. The trigger could be conflict, undesired peer interaction, basic human needs not being met, being yelled at, breaking or losing a personal item or an unexpected change.

Level 3: Agitation
In this stage, he said it’s never the time to tell someone to “Calm down,” as that phrase makes people more upset. Instead, he advised offering a drink of a water or suggesting deep breaths.

During this stage students may appear angry, depressed, on edge, they may have increased hyperactivity or eye moment. Perhaps decreased eye contact, conversation and overall engagement.

Adults should focus on getting back to baseline, maybe moving the student’s seat and empathizing.

Level 4: Acceleration
This is when the triggered individual is seeking others to recruit toward the misery. He said at this time the person/student is making the incident personal and poking and prodding at others to get a reaction. He said drivers need to recognize that at this stage, students are almost at level 5, so de-escalation needs to happen and fast.

In these moments, he said, one tip is offering the student choices, so that they can feel in charge of their decisions. Shouting or arguing back with the students is not helpful during this time, he added. Other things to do is explain the positive consequences to complying or engaging in short positive statements.

Level 5: Peak
At this point, there’s nothing anyone can say or do to de-escalate the person, he said. Mulick noted the student could be engaging in physical aggression, self-injury, or property destruction. He advised giving the student time and space for the escalation to run its course while also maximizing safety of oneself and of all students.

He also advised avoiding hands-on at all costs and cautioned that some states have laws prohibiting the use of restraints. He added that the adult could also stop talking until the student is ready to communicate.

Are your staff members making efforts to make connections? Do your staff know what supports are needed for students with disabilities or targeted students? Do staff know their student’s triggers? Does your staff have a plan in their mind of how they will react when things escalate? He asked.

He added that the Three Rs of de-escalation are as follows: Regulation, Relationship, and Responsibility.

Mulick noted that when motivating students, adults should ask themselves if they want the students to be motivated because they feel like they are being chased by the police, or because they are cheered on throughout the school year? He said student behavior is not defined by how they perform in our presence, but instead in our absence.

“If all we do is talk to them about the negative behaviors, that’s going to carry with them and define them,” he said, adding that every behavior problem is an undesired response to another problem or trauma the student may have experienced.

What mindset does your staff have about addressing behavior? How are they being trained, supported, and reinforced to address behavior in a positive way? How are we glorying when things go right? He asked.

Mulick reiterated the fact that no one can control an escalation, but they can influence it. “We influence those that we transport every single day,” he said. “I know there’s limited things to do, but ask yourself, how can we take that to the limit.”

It starts with those connections, relationships and working from a perspective of connection to make that difference, he concluded.

Donna Mayo, a school bus driver for Dexter Consolidated Schools in New Mexico, said Mulick’s talk was comforting as it confirmed technique her district is already doing to calm students. She noted that a 45-minute bus ride isn’t enough time to build a close personal relationship with every student, but she can focus on being positive from the minute they step on the bus.

Deona Anderson, also a driver for Dexter Consolidated, added that Mulick’s talk put into context why kids are acting certain ways. “This is why kids are acting like this, or this may not be working because we’re probably not doing it right because we haven’t been taught it right,” she added, noting that a lot of the school trainings focus on teachers and never about what school bus drivers can do on the bus.

“I’ve had several incidents with a couple of my problem kids and this year I’ve tried to take it to a more positive place, … and with some of our troubled kids, I’m seeing a difference in the way they were acting,” she continued. “This is reassuring.”


Related: Navigating First Impressions in School Transportation
Related: Transportation Leaders Take ‘Journey of Self Discovery’ at STN EXPO Indy
Related: TSD Conference Opening Keynote Prompts Attendees to Cheer for Themselves, Students

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