Staff Gains Tools to Help Students from ‘Therapeutic Crisis Intervention’ Training

January 28, 2019

A nonverbal student starts to become agitated and throw glances at the door. A student with social-emotional challenges comes back from lunch muttering about a classmate’s actions. A young pupil with autism grows frustrated over a routine he is having trouble mastering.
Every day, special education staff at PNW BOCES face a variety of situations that could spin out of control. Although PNW BOCES educators have always sought to prevent problems from growing, they recently have been gaining more tools help students head off crises and develop crucial coping skills in the process. About 25 Educators from PNW BOCES’ schools and local school building programs recently participated in a Therapeutic Crisis Intervention training program taught by four BOCES educators who recently became certified trainers.
“The goal is to give our staff more ways to support our students emotionally and through the school environment,” said Kimberly Lotz, a Walden School psychologist and one of the trainers. “We want to teach ways to reduce stress and risk, and help our students develop coping mechanisms. If there is a crisis, we want to use it as an opportunity for a student to learn and grow.”
Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) was developed by Cornell University as part of its Residential Child Care Project in the early 1980s and later adapted for use in schools. The research-based program is based on a philosophy that, in a crisis, what kind of help is offered and how it is given will mean the difference between a student learning from the experience or suffering a setback. Using the right skills and tools to help students dealing with anger or frustration – or in a full-blown crisis – will help them develop emotionally and even learn how to head off destructive behavior. About 30 PNW BOCES staff members were trained earlier in TCI by outside trainers.
During the training, Lotz and her fellow trainers, Walden staff members Michael DiTaranto, Meaghan Capellini and Justin Lundstedt, taught the TCI framework, which includes strategies for preventing crises, de-escalating potential crises, effectively managing acute crises, turning crisis situations into learning opportunities and reducing injury to students and staff.
Staff learned about how to recognize potential crises in their earliest stages and how to help students identify their own feelings and how they are affecting their actions. Building relationships with students is key, the trainers said, because students must trust staff members when they are exploring difficult negative feelings and coming up with their own ideas and plans to deal with them.
Fox Meadow High School Principal Nicole Ginexi, who attended the training, said “knowing your students” was an important part of TCI. While that tenet is already part of the Fox Meadow culture, TCI demonstrates how to build on that by encouraging staff to develop individual crisis plans for each student. Ginexi said the training also stressed the importance of not forgetting a negative incident – but going back to it with the student to help them grow.
Capellini said the TCI training also encourages staff to be aware of their own feelings when dealing with a student in crisis. Taking a moment to breathe and be aware of emotions can help a teacher or aide be more effective in diffusing a situation.
“The kids feel it when you are calmer,” she noted, “they are very astute.”
As more staff is trained in TCI, the common language and strategies employed by staff will help students because individual plans for diffusing and coping with crises can be more easily shared, Lotz said. Students should also grow more comfortable connecting their feelings with their actions and devising their own ways to stay in control.