The triangle of action, below, shows a range of interventions you can make that vary from being directive to non-directive in how you respond to a student. It is based on the ideas of John Heron; details of his work can be found in the Resources section.
Depending on the situation, you will need to decide where on this triangle you need to intervene. At the directive end, you will be required to do something. The bottom half is more supportive and aims to allow the student to help themselves. You may move around the triangle, especially if the student is one with whom you are in contact regularly. The important thing to remember is that you have a range of responses and to keep the student alongside you in the process.
Select the pink markers on the image below.
Call for help, enlist the support of others, keep the student safe and reassured.
Keep calm and tell the student what you are doing.
Convey to them that you want to help them, but need some help of your own to do so.
Keep statements simple but clear. If necessary, try to allow the student some privacy and dignity during this process.
Tell the student what you think they need to do. If necessary, help them do this. This may be by:
You are taking the lead for the student, but need to negotiate it and use your relationship with them to reassure them.
In this instance you are being quite active.
Give the student some information about things they may need with which to help themselves. Tell them about university services or other information they may not know about.
This could be practical information: a leaflet or website. Try to help empower the student to take the lead to solve the problem themselves, and if necessary ask them to let you know later how it has gone.
Often students think that they are 'the only one' to experience this problem, when in fact you know it is quite common. Try to convey this to them to normalise the situation.
Listen and be empathic to what the student is saying. See what other support they have. Be kind and warm and just let the student say what’s bothering them. The extent of the problem the student is struggling with is not always clear, but be respectful of what they say and show them you want to support them.
Be a 'kind ear' to what they say and help them feel supported. Show them that you care about their wellbeing. Keep the door open if they want to return (and maybe move into the information level). This could start as a kind 'hello' or acknowledgment if you see them upset; or just letting people know that you are available for them should the need arise.
Traffic light approach
Sometimes, just allowing the support level to be conveyed is all that is needed.
It shows students that you are aware and approachable. We are all sometimes in need of any one of these levels of interventions. However, recognising and thinking about them at the amber phase of the traffic light approach will help us to pitch our response according to what we are presented with.
Being one step ahead in terms of thinking about our responses will help us be less reactive and more considered. This calm approach helps diffuse panic and uncertainty in the student and ourselves, and keeps us focused and not caught up in what can be pressurising situations.