Trauma Informed Educator Series: Break Areas

Trauma Informed Educator Series: Break Areas

“Now they want us to put a tee pee up in the corner of our classroom?”
“What is education coming to?”
“It sure feels like we are giving children a reason to avoid work.”
“I sure wish I could walk away when the work got hard and get a little rest.”
“What’s to stop every student from using the break area?”
“We already take regularly scheduled movement breaks in my class.”
“There aren’t any break areas for adults, in real life!”

Learning hinges on student’s ability to self regulate.

Human brains are wired for survival. Unfortunately some of our kids are still hyper alert (as if a bear attack is imminent) in our classrooms. I wrote about this regularly occurring phenomenon in THIS POST. Sometimes student hypervigilence and dysregulation looks a lot like willful misbehavior in the classroom. But more often than we recognize, the preconditions for this behavior are occurring before, during and after the misbehavior. What we also know now, through research and years of anecdotal evidence in the classroom, is that stressed out brains cannot learn. Physiologically, they cannot reach the high levels of thinking that we are pushing for, while they are in this state of high arousal and dysregulation.

When we give students tools to regulate themselves, we are actually building independence and self-advocacy skills.

Nobody can push a button and get a dyregulated child back to baseline, though we wish we could. Adults can be with children and co-regulate in proximity (Babies swaddled by their mothers and fathers co-regulate by feeling the slower heart rate/ breathing, and then matching it). More practically in a classroom environment, educators can provide dedicated space, calming options, and relative proximity for a child to soothe and regulate themselves.
Break areas are simply another tool that we can provide our students, to help them SELF REGULATE. At the end of the day, individuals have to build healthy means of regulating themselves to thrive in our environment. Nobody

One small modification can make save time, resources, and heartache.

While making an addition to the classroom environment may feel like a big ask, it’s important to consider the resources that are currently being directed to reactively meet the in-the-moment needs of our most dysregulated students. At our site, we see teachers having to stop lessons and call for assistance. We see children, overwhelmed and dysregulated, walking out of classrooms under the control of their reptilian “dinosaur brain,” wired for survival. We are seeing adjunct staff pulled from critical functions to supervise, coax, and assess students on the run. What if a student, in this aroused state, had a brief area to recalibrate, regulate, and re-focus, in the classroom environment? What if they retreated to an area, did a few calming exercises, and returned to learning? Wouldn’t this be a win for everyone involved?

Being proactive beats being reactive.

By law, we must provide breaks for children, according to their learning needs, and accommodations listed in their IEPs. In fact, I’ve seen this explicitly listed in 100% of the Behavior Intervention Plans that have been developed in our district. What if break areas were already an option in our classrooms, for all students?
We can wait for directives via Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), with legal weight, to make shifts in this area. Or we can proactively create conditions and environments, including break areas, that are good for students. Now; Even in fifteen minutes.

What if every classroom on your campus had a break area for kids?

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