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Brain & Body Breaks in the Classroom

Ashley Gibbons joined the Kansas City Teacher Residency Cohort 4 in the summer of 2019. After completing the Residency, Ashley took a full time position and is continuing to teach as a full time teacher of record.

 

Teaching in a classroom has its own ups and downs and stresses, but teaching virtually is a roller coaster of stress in its own category! As a first-year teacher, I expected twists and turns and possibly even bending over backward. I did not however expect to: 

        • Have to teach virtually 
        • Not be able to be in my own classroom
        • Not see my students in person
        • See spectacular views of the inside of student’s nostrils

 

Teaching virtually most definitely has brought on added stress for me as an adult; I can only imagine the stress and confusion it has brought for students and parents. The added stress of virtual teaching and learning has meant that I have implemented specific techniques and strategies to combat the feelings of stress for both myself and my students. One of these strategies is including regular brain and body breaks.

 

Over the first six weeks of being in school I have gotten to know my students and know that they can be frustrated as much as any adult. I have started to incorporate brain breaks and body breaks to help my students. I have learned to tell when my students are frustrated without them having to say anything or disrupt class and will usually incorporate a body break at this moment. Then there are other students that I realized early on benefitted from brain breaks at different times. Some students benefit from early morning calming brain breaks and others simply need a minute to breath from staring at the screen — after all, 90 minutes of e-learning is rough! In short, I learned that I had to be intentional and purposeful in implementing and executing brain and body breaks. 

 

When I think of purposely implementing brain breaks, one particular student comes to mind. For the first couple weeks of school he was constantly upset in the morning and refused to participate. Being virtual, his mother was sitting next to him and I could hear the frustration in her voice as she begged him to calm down and answer questions. One particular morning I could hear her frustration more than ever and see him reacting negatively as the seconds ticked by. I stopped in the middle of my lesson and immediately found a calming video that helps students breathe. In the video I found, students imagine a balloon of the color of their choice (there is a balloon that changes color on the screen).  Students imagine holding the string of the balloon and gently pull the string of the balloon while breathing to each pull. 

 

By the end of the video, you catch the balloon and gently let it go. At this point the balloon floats away. After playing this video, my student’s demeanor instantaneously changed and he began participating. I took this as a learning opportunity. Every morning session I have with this particular student, I start our day with ‘the balloon video’ as he calls it. One may wonder why I knew that this would be a good move for my student and let me tell you, it takes trial and error. One major give away for me that a brain break would be helpful over a body break is that my student wasn’t wiggling or moving around as many young students are prone. The other clue for me was the student refusing to answer any questions or if he did, he would intentionally answer the questions wrong, he was also whining. I knew that with these behaviors there was no chance of participation in the rest of the lesson unless he could calm down; I also knew that simply giving his brain a rest from having to think would help him regain his focus. While this is an example of a calming brain break, there are times in which a wiggle body break is more effective.

 

As an adult, I have a hard time focusing and staying in my seat while teaching virtually, it is unrealistic to expect young students who are still developing mentally, physically, and emotionally to sit still for extended periods of time without some type of break. This is another time in which to be intentional with a body break. I know I am not the only teacher who has to give district assigned assessments three times a year to students. I have recently had to give the beginning of the year assessment to my students and it was too much thinking for my adult brain. 

 

I have a female student who has the sweetest smile that could light up a room. It truly is an infectious smile and I can’t help but smile while I sit here and type about her adorable crooked grin! I can honestly say as I tested this little girl, my heart broke watching her frustration mount with each question as the questions got more and more difficult. She eventually began putting her feet on the wall, rolling around the bed she had previously been sitting so patiently on, hid her face and started fidgeting with her sparkly rainbow unicorn pillow. I really did not want this little girl’s light to snuff out or see her shut down altogether and knew that she needed a break. 

 

In this instance, I knew that a body break was a better option than a brain break. I shut the test off and stopped sharing my screen so there were no extra distractions and all she could see was me. I talked to her for a minute and gave her a good amount of praise so she knew she had done nothing wrong. I then told her she had done so well she earned a good wiggle dance break! Before sharing my screen again, I pulled up Youtube and searched wiggle breaks, then shared my screen and gave her the option to pick which one she wanted. 

 

She chose a Trolls wiggle break with lots of bright colors, sparkles, kids that looked like her dancing and of course a myriad of different trolls. Watching her dance and giggle I couldn’t help but move along in my seat as I watched the stress of the test melt away. After the wiggle break was done I asked if she felt better and was ready to continue. She wrinkled her nose a bit but firmly said yes, we continued the test and she was able to answer 10 additional questions! Contrary to the little boy who needed a calming break, this girl was wiggling and fidgeting so much. This was my cue to tell me her attention and thoughts were anywhere but the screen and moving her body was the best option to give her mind and body a break from working. 

 

Implementing calming brain breaks and wiggle body breaks is absolutely an intentional practice. A great teacher gets to know his or her students by building relationships for sure, but he or she becomes even better at the art of teaching by learning and responding to students unspoken needs. Being purposeful and intentional in incorporating body and brain breaks does not necessarily mean that these breaks need to be planned and inserted into lesson plans. Rather, knowing that your student’s fidgets on the carpet or chatter with one another isn’t them being disrespectful or uninterested. This is usually their way of letting you know “Hey, I’m having trouble focusing!” These are the best times to throw in a random wiggle break. On the other hand, when you see your students shut down and stop responding or putting their head down or showing signs of anxiety, they may benefit from a calming brain break to refocus and bring their attention back to where it belongs. Part of building relationships, trust and respect with students is understanding their demeanor and what they are saying when they are not actually speaking. 

 

Brain and body breaks change the day for not only students but for teachers as well. I love to teach, but there are certainly times of the day that I can count on to make my day even better! My favorite part of the morning is hearing my student say “bye, bye balloon” as it floats away. His gentle voice uttering these simple words brings a smile to my face every day. Just as the balloon video helps calm my student and prepare him for a great day, seeing the joy on his face as he waves goodbye to an imaginary balloon boosts my mood and sets me up for a productive day of teaching. On the flip side, when I give my students, and especially my little wiggle girl, a wiggle body break it changes the route of the lesson for the better. The shaking, squirming, giggles, and moving all give my students the ability to refocus their attention and energy on the lesson; the breaks also keep me motivated and give me a quick pick me up of energy to push through the afternoon slump I inevitably experience.  

 

Brain and body breaks change the day for not only students but for teachers as well. I love to teach, but there are certainly times of the day that I can count on to make my day even better! My favorite part of the morning is hearing my student say “bye, bye balloon” as it floats away. His gentle voice uttering these simple words brings a smile to my face every day. Just as the balloon video helps calm my student and prepare him for a great day, seeing the joy on his face as he waves goodbye to an imaginary balloon boosts my mood and sets me up for a productive day of teaching. On the flip side, when I give my students, and especially my little wiggle girl, a wiggle body break it changes the route of the lesson for the better. The shaking, squirming, giggles, and moving all give my students the ability to refocus their attention and energy on the lesson; the breaks also keep me motivated and give me a quick pick me up of energy to push through the afternoon slump I inevitably experience.  

 

I encourage you to be intentional and purposeful in using brain and body breaks, boost student engagement and attention while also giving yourself a mini breather as well. 

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