Years ago I read about an Oakland school that was having increasing issues with student behavior. Fights and disruptions would break out with regularity and teachers were struggling to create an atmosphere conducive to learning.
The proposed solution was simple. Give the kids a break.
Many of the children were carrying to school not just their backpacks but the stress and trauma from difficult circumstances in their homes and neighborhoods. Imagine, for example, coming to school a day after someone had been shot on your street and trying to learn.
Administrators devised a plan where each day upon coming to school students would all gather in the gym and be asked to just sit quietly. A reflection would be led by a school counselor in the hopes that it might allow the space for the students to break free of that stress. It was setting the expectation that the school itself could be a much needed break from what happened outside of its walls – if only for the few hours they were there. Creating a few moments to let go, relax and reset before the school day began.
These breaks lasted only a few minutes but the impact was remarkable. Incidents of fights and disruptions declined significantly while student performance improved.
Schools at their best, unlike other parts of society, incorporate breaks routinely. There is recess, lunch break, quiet time, summer break, winter break, and spring break to name a few.
As adults, our breaks are not as easily woven into the patterns of our lives. Even our children’s breaks can feel anything but for parents.
Last week was spring break for my children. We mostly stayed local, interspersing day trips into New York City and Philadelphia with other activities like bowling, movies, going out to eat etc. In addition, I painted one of my daughters’ rooms and put together several pieces of Ikea furniture. While I appreciated and enjoyed the fun times with my family – and was delighted to hear them say how much they enjoyed their break – it did not feel as much of a break for me personally.
If you’ve read my previous posts titled Pause, Silence, and Supported, you may notice a pattern. It has been a decidedly stressful two months for me personally. Six of the people I love most in this world have been dealing with serious health issues. Teaching, work and coaching have also had their fair share of stressors. Even opportunities that I normally would be excited about tackling – like putting the finishing touches on two children’s books, a new podcast episode and several magazine articles – have felt daunting.
I remember a simple time when opportunities to just sit outside and be alone with your thoughts were aplenty. When I would give myself regular breaks – both physically taking time for myself and mentally not being so hard on myself for what I wasn’t getting down.
I’m taking a bit of a break today. After writing this and before getting to other work, I’m just going to sit on my patio, let the spring sun hit my face and listen to the bird songs all around me. Later I’m meeting a great friend for lunch. Afterwards, I’ll do a little more work and then end my day with a massage – a gift from my wife. It speaks volumes that this was a Christmas gift and I’m now just using it in April.
The upside of a break should be obvious but the downside is often forgotten. When we don’t give ourselves a break, we break down or break up. We and most of our relationships suffer. Like those students, we are prone to disruptions and fighting that get in the way of our true purpose and happiness.
I hope you take the opportunity to give yourself as many breaks as you need. I’m sure you’ve earned it.