A few weeks ago I attended the amazing NAESP (National Association of Elementary School Principals) Conference in Orlando. I brought back ideas that I can implement at my school and made and reinforced connections with leaders throughout the country. It was a great way to rejuvenate during the summer. One of the highlights was Dan Pink’s keynote speech. I read Dan’s most recent book, “When”, earlier this summer, so I was thrilled to hear him explore some of the concepts even further. “When” goes into the science behind timing, how we can take advantage of time and how we can be intentional about when we do things. As I related his keynote and book to my own work, the following slide highlights some takeaways that I would like to delve into a bit:
1 – This first part is about our mindset. Breaks must be a part of learning. We have to believe this. So often we think that we don’t have enough time in schools. And, truthfully, the school day is short when you consider all of the material that we are expected to cover during a school year. However, breaks allow learners to process what they were just engaged in. Your students will benefit from a few minutes to recharge.
2 – Intentionality. If we believe that breaks must be a part of learning, then we must plan ahead for breaks. Just like I believe that we must intentionally plan the questions that we use in classrooms, we must also plan for breaks. This is easier in elementary schools where one teacher controls the order of the day, but all teachers need to incorporate breaks into their blocks of time. Give students the opportunity to reflect and to rest their minds before introducing a new concept or assessing them. This is especially important before tests. Pink states that “A 20-30 minute break improves average test scores…Our results also show that low-performing students are those who suffer more from fatigue and benefit from breaks. Thus, having breaks before testing is especially important in schools with students who are struggling.” His research shows that students who take a test after a 20-30 minute breaks produce scores equivalent to spending three additional weeks at school. With information like that, how can we not be intentional about scheduling breaks for our students?
3 – Recess. Very simple. Never take recess away from students. If you feel like you don’t have any other avenue to take for discipline? Never take recess away from students. Recess is not a reward for good behavior. Recess is a necessary part of a student’s day. Those students who you would like to have sit out recess or walk around the field during recess? They need recess even more. One more time – never take recess away from students.
4 – Teacher breaks. This is one that I want to work on this year. Breaks for teachers was my first takeaway after reading When and something that I sent a message to my Assistant Principals about. A teacher’s day is jam-packed. Lunch and planning time exist, but do teachers truly take a “break” during these time periods? How can we help teachers take the “right kind of break” more often? I love what Pink says about these types of breaks: “something beats nothing; moving beats stationary; social beats solo; outside beats inside; and fully detached beats semi-detached”. We need to have conversations with teachers about the types of breaks that would benefit them in the long run. Teaching is very hard. Be mindful of the power of breaks. If you are an administrator, help your teachers take the right kind of breaks. If you are a teacher, give yourself a break. Move. Detach from the school day. Have a conversation about non-work topics. Walk outside. Science shows it might be the best thing you do for yourself.