Back in the day, my 5th grade class was scheduled to go to lunch at 12:45 and then head out to recess at 1:05. The recess block was mine, all mine. Thirty minutes of pure, teacher bliss – time to restore, refresh and re-energize. It was my first chance of the day for a bio-break, a quick lunch and a moment to rest. It was also my opportunity to organize materials for the afternoon, catch up with friends and colleagues, and maybe check my mailbox and inbox. Relax, recoup and revive? Probably not. Those thirty minutes went by so quickly.
The transition from in-charge and on the go to settling and restoring was not easy. If I could train
myself to take just five minutes before my students returned, I might be able to pause, breathe and shift, but not on most days. More often than not, I just kept going and going and going. Day after day, we all paid the price. Our afternoons were tense because of my inability to prepare myself. They needed a teacher who gave herself a break, and maybe gave them one as well.
My students returned to our room with recess still on their minds and in their bodies – recess
intensity, outdoor volume, social boldness and scattered attention. “We’re back now! You are no
longer at recess!” My volume started out high and just increased. “Come on, let’s settle in, we have work to do!” I couldn’t shift (model that behavior), why should they?
When stern tones didn’t work, I would try whisper-yelling, deal-making, detention-threating and
finally point-promising. They wouldn’t even notice that I was there, that their situation had changed. I was agitated and so were my students. Transitions were clearly OUR most challenging periods of the day. I wish I knew then that shifting, adjusting, regulating and being flexible are indeed executive functions. These social, emotional learning (SEL) skills are critical, mental processes that can be honed, with awareness, understanding and practice. Managing transitions skillfully is invaluable at every age (from childhood through adulthood). But change comes hard for many of us. Some even succumb to the personal identification (the fixed mindset) of being generally uncomfortable with change. “I am who I am, I don’t do change. New stuff freaks me out. It always has and always will.”
We can see that tendency (and hear those affirmations) in ourselves as well as in others.
But research has now shown that we can shape our own capacity for handling transitions and change. This ability is teachable, learnable and practicable. The first step is exploring the need for flexibility as we move through different situations and environments – these all call for different responses from us – whether in the classroom, at the dinner table, out on recess, on the subway, in the library, or at home with friends.
The simple (yet challenging) steps of 1) briefly pausing, 2) carefully noticing, and 3) thoughtfully
adjusting to fit changing situations can be developed. Teachers have found success by leading
students in engaging activities that: mimic relevant situations, require practicing awareness, and invite students to act-out fitting responses.
Fit the Sitch is behavioral code switching made FUN! Through rhyme and rhythm, Blazer Fresh
invites us (students and teachers alike) to pause, become aware of our surroundings and decide what response fits best. We can all practice, play and get better at Fitting the Sitch!
Wynne taught in her own classroom for 16 years and has been generating mindful, social emotional tools (curriculum and trainings) for teachers and their students through Wellness Works in Schools since 2004. She also creates content for GoNoodle’s FLOW, Think About It, Maximo and now Blazer Fresh SEL channels.