New York

Advice: When Furniture Flies

What should I do when a student throws a chair or a desk? -- Anonymous, NYC Submit a question for Principal Levy. To paraphrase medical ethics, first do no harm. This means that in most school safety situations, the primary goal should be to keep a bad situation from getting worse. This means to look for de-escalation opportunities at every possibility. Prevention The best way to prevent this incident from happening is to look for the warning signs before the explosion. Typically, a child will throw (or shove over) a desk or chair because of a deep-felt anger. That means that preceding the event, there may be "early warning signs": heated words, an argument, or hostile body language. As you move around your classroom, keep your line of vision on your students. If you confer with a group at the side of the room, keep your back to the wall so you can check on your class. Look for those signs, but be optimistic — they might not be there! Response When a student throws or shoves furniture in a violent manner, your immediate goals must be to determine whether anyone has been hurt and to prevent any more chairs or desks from being thrown. Finally, you'll want to get assistance from school personnel. Remember: You must document every situation that occurs. Take notes immediately afterwards and record all relevant information while it is fresh in your mind. As soon as possible, write the formal report. If someone is injured, you need to send a student to track down a school administrator and/or the school nurse. If no one is injured, you need to do a quick risk assessment. Is this child likely to repeat this behavior?