It’s one thing to be a school leader and cognitively know that students on your campus would benefit from having break areas in their classrooms. I shared a rationale for break areas in this post. It’s a whole other thing to help a learning community see the importance of them, dedicate a space in their rooms, teach a protocol to students, and facilitate appropriate break area usage. That is second order change. But these pointers should get your staff closer to reality where all students have tools to self regulate and return to learning, without leaving the instructional environment.
1. Know the purpose.
A break area is a designated area in the classroom for students to go, where they can get space, remain in the classroom environment, practice self regulation, and return to learning. A break area is open to all students who demonstrate need.
A break area is not a punitive timeout consequence for children who misbehave in the classroom.
The Center for Responsive Schools explains the purpose of a “take a break”strategy is, “a positive, respectful, and supportive teaching strategy used to help a child who is just beginning to lose self-control to regain it so they can do their best learning. An equally important goal of Responsive Classroom time-out is to allow the group’s work to continue when a student is misbehaving or upset. Giving that child some space from the scene of action where they can regroup while still seeing and hearing what the class is doing accomplishes both of these goals.” That is well said.
2. Pick a space.
A break area can be created with as little as A) a 3X3 space on the edge of the room B) a soft pillow C) some painter’s tape and D) a small poster detailing “Take a Break” protocol. Of course, there are additional ways to adapt the break area to fit your context. And over time, teachers may want to add tools that help children self-regulate, calm and focus their brains. But creating a designated space is a huge first step!
3. Pre-teach break protocol.
It’s important that all students are clear on expected behaviors for taking a break, before the dysregulation occurs. In each classroom, it may look a little different. But teachers may consider a nonverbal signal, options for helping a student refocus and calm their brain (concrete options coming in the next post). Using a timer will help students and staff know that the break is not indefinite. It can signal time for a “check in”- a powerful trauma-informed technique. Finally, students coming from a break should know what it looks like to re-integrate back into the learning space. Other students should be encouraged to welcome the now-regulated learner back into the learning space, without judgement.
4. Tweek procedure as you go, and for specific students.
Like any other classroom procedure, this one will need explanation, modeling, and practice. We shouldn’t expect perfect utilization right away. One student may spend too long there. Another may try to visit the break area multiple times in a day or hour. If we embrace this process as means to support individual students, at the moment of need, we will work through the kinks. We will work with students to use the break area to augment and support their learning experience. And we will realize the benefit of this added support in our classrooms.
5. Celebrate the changes you are making on behalf of students you love.
Remember that students using the classroom break area appropriately is a good thing. Push away the voice that tells you these students are trying to avoid work or ‘game the system.’ Remember that adults self-regulate in various ways in order to persist through long meetings and conferences that have us sedentary. We check out with a bathroom break or a quick under-the-table-cell phone scroll, just to get a our brains reset. The reality is that kids may need a reset too. Some need them more than others. Here’s what we should celebrate: When students are using the break area appropriately, we have a larger contingent of students ready to take on high levels of learning!