When a student takes it upon themselves to “do one” out of the classroom (also known as “bolting” or “running off”), it’s a strange situation for a teacher. The education of young people more or less relies upon the fact that those young people stay in the vicinity and don’t go storming off muttering about the unfairness of whatever has befallen them.
But such situations do happen. Here are some ideas on what can be done to try and prevent such an exodus, and how to react to one.
Consistent behaviour management strategies help to minimise flashpoints that can lead to students absconding – but a calm classroom is no guarantee that flight won’t happen.
If you recognise that things are escalating to the point where a student is going to run, try to diffuse the situation before this happens.
Whether you’re successful will depend on a lot of factors, such as your relationship with that student, what the trigger has been, the child’s emotional state and so on.
Identifying escalating behaviour in a student and adjusting your own appropriately (while not acting like a complete doormat) is a difficult trick to pull off, too.
Whether you use humour, a stern word or another method depends on the context and those involved. Finally, you must weigh up the pros and cons of making an attempt to stop a student absconding. The student may well be choosing the least destructive path by removing themselves and it might be the best option for everybody to let them walk, especially if the alternative is some form of violence.
Handling the incident
You tried to stop them, but the student is on their way out of the door. You have got two priorities at this point – the safety of the young person who is doing a bunk, and the safety of the other members of the class.
Having an established system for this type of event is a benefit. If this is the case, follow the procedure the school has already put in place.
Best practice here is floating staff who can be contacted by radio or other means and will track down the student as you continue the lesson. Although, if I’m honest, I’ve rarely seen that in a mainstream school.
If it is down to you, alert a nearby colleague who can watch your class (a trusted student can go and draw attention to your plight), inform other staff members and start looking.
You’ll probably be extremely anxious at this point and imagining all sorts of scenarios. Thankfully, in the vast majority of cases, the student will be found quickly and on school grounds. So try not to panic, be methodical, and do your best not to throttle the student involved when you find them.
Just because they got out, that doesn’t mean you have to drag them back in straight away once you’ve got hold of them. Trying to understand the behaviour, no matter how exasperating it may be, could be the key to limiting the chances of it happening again. Talk with the student about what they did and why they did it (if the opportunity presents itself), as these kind of insights are invaluable when planning for the future.
Don’t rush to get the student back to the class until you’re sure they are ready; doing this prematurely could lead to further bolting. Taking a little time to ready the child means that there is some breathing space, a chance for the student to disclose any underlying issues, and maybe a moment for you to explain what’s going to happen if it occurs again.