I get hangry. It’s a special state that happens when I’ve been hungry for so long that now I’m mad about it. When I’m hangry, I have very little patience for anything other than food. I’m not at my best when I’m hangry; my decisions aren’t their best either. Once, recognizing I was in the middle of such a state, my husband asked me what I'd like to eat and I actually started crying. Now, he just hands me a granola bar, and we're all better for it. It goes something like this: 


Vulnerable Decision Points

Last month, Vulnerable Decision Points were defined.  This month we are going to build on what we know about VDPs and identify a few, easy to implement strategies; in order to overcome them.  Remember it’s true there are specific times of the day, or emotional states when we are more likely to react intuitively than deliberately. If you can’t think of what your triggers are, ask someone who knows you really well; I bet they know exactly which button to push to get a reaction from you. One of mine is clearly being overly hungry.

If we know which situations are likely to trigger a harsher reaction, we can plan deliberate responses, and start maximizing learning time for everyone. Here's how.

  1. Know your hot buttons. 

When you think about your reactions to student behavior, you probably know the times when you’re less likely to make slow, careful decisions.  Use your data to help you review and action plan around those times when VDPs can be most prominent; such as using the Drill Down Tool to find the problem behavior you refer most.  Next, find out when you’re most likely to refer someone, by looking at the Referrals by Time graph.  I have a feeling if we reviewed these graphs, there might be a pattern within your own classroom or your system for behavior.  My best guess is there could be two things going on: 

  • A couple of times during the day teachers expect students to come into class ready to learn and on-task. Instead, students come in energized by hanging out with their friends making their transition to class more challenging. 
  • Another VDP could be when our teachers are a little hangry and their emotional resources are depleted from the first four hours of the day. Meanwhile, students have started to turn their attention away from the lesson and on to lunch. 

The data give us an outline of the VDP; it’s up to us to fill it in with personal details.

     2. Find an Alternative 

If maximizing learning time in the classroom is the goal, we need to look for alternatives to sending students out of class and away from instruction. When VDPs come up, we need something to remind us to choose the alternative. This is called a neutralizing routine.  An instructional response to unwanted behavior instead of a harsher one. It is a quick, clear, doable action that interrupts the chain of events and keeps students involved in instruction.  Take advantage of all your strong classroom management skills and find an alternative response that works to diffuse a situation rather than escalate it. Simple routines might include: 

  1. If a student refuses to get started on a task, then I will calmly say “Let’s talk at the next break.” 
  2. If a group of students is off-task, then I will take two deep breaths and walk closer to them and see if my proximity gets them refocused
  3. If I hand out a worksheet and a student puts their head on their desk instead of getting started, I will get curious about what’s going on for them and ask about their needs privately.

    3. Make a plan to use the routine: 

An alternative looks so simple on paper, but habits are hard to change. It takes practice. You’re going to need a plan. Treat your neutralizing routine like your own personal pre-correction. If you know you’re about to walk headfirst into a VDP, take a minute to remind yourself of your neutralizing routine. Get it firmly in your mind so when the moment arises (and you know it always arises), it’s fresh in your memory and you’re ready to give it a try. If your routine involves students responding in new, deliberate ways, give them the same opportunity to recall the agreement before the VDP comes up. You could even create a visual reminder in your classroom so when that hot button starts to get pushed, it catches the eye and prompts you to be deliberate.

Get creative. You may not get your response right the first time, but that’s what’s so great about behavior – someone will give you another opportunity to try again.

Janine Gacke
Behavioral Health Team Systems Coach