Sometimes students need a break from class.
Sometimes teachers need a break from a particular student.
Sometimes a student needs a break from other students in the class.
It happens, and that’s okay, but we need to make sure this happens mindfully.
Gaining space from stressful situations is an appropriate emotional regulation tool. I wanted to give my students the freedom to take that step when necessary. I wanted to give myself the freedom of asking a student to leave the classroom temporarily when necessary. And above all else, I want to be sure I don't damage the relationship that I built between the student and myself. This is why I developed a mindful student reflection sheet for situations that require students to step away from the learning environment.
What is it?
This mindful student reflection sheet is a kinder way to gain some space from upset students. I used to step in the hallway and wait for me to come out and speak with them. This became increasingly difficult as more students were added to my class and we know that when class sizes are too large for students to learn, and teachers to manage. I didn't have time to give students the attention and processing that they deserved. It was as if I need it to be in two places at once. That's when I decided that there probably was a more effective and mindful way to send students out of the classroom. That's when I developed this letter and mindful reflection sheet. This form is housed in Google Slides with boxes for students to type, but can easily be printed. I use this on my brick-and-mortar school and I am also using it as a virtual teacher.
What do I do with the paper?
When a student initially comes back to class after processing their emotions and having the appropriate wait time I make time to speak to that student one-on-one. We look at the sheet together and I sign off and understanding each section. Then we process the gap between what the student wanted and what the teacher wanted to see how we can improve moving forward. This is something we can share with the student’s adults invested in their wellbeing. Sometimes I also asked them to do an activity in a digital take a break room after they fill out their reflection sheet. This gives me time to do what I need to do as the teacher and students time to self-regulate.
What if students can’t read?
There are still options. This is designed to be done independently for grades 4 and up when developmentally appropriate, but of course, there are students who need more support. A paraprofessional or another teacher can process this sheet with students and record their answers. Students also can use tools such as Snap and Read, or Natural Readers. If students struggle with writing they can use the speech-to-text feature on platforms such as Google Docs. In fact, I'm writing this article with my voice on Google Docs!
When I was in person I chose to print this form out, put it in an envelope, and seal it with a sharpened pencil. As students left the class I wrote their names and pretty handwriting to make it look like a friendly letter. I then asked them to go to the designated spot and fill out the form before returning to class. At that point, in order to get back into the classroom, they had to be willing to have a conversation about the paper.
What if they won’t do it?
I beat them up and take their lunch money. I'm totally kidding.
There is nothing we can do about common (adolescent) behavior. It is okay, it happens, and doesn't make us a bad teacher if a student is refusing to fill out the mindful reflection sheet when they are emotionally elevated. This is what some students will do. However, we gave them an option. We gave them a mindful tool to process emotions. That is the only thing we can control. If I do have a situation where a student's behavior warrants a phone call home, I simply explained how I attempted to handle the situation with the mindful reflection sheet and the student made the choice not to fill it out. It is what it is. I keep a record of even the unfinished sheets so I know what interventions we have tried and hopefully use this as data to create something that works better for that student.
Where do I send them?
In my brick-and-mortar teaching days, I had a TAB (Take a Break) partner. This was a person in the school who agreed to send their students to me and my students to them when a break was necessary. We each had a designated spot in our classroom for students who are taking a break. I thought station there are sharpened pencils and extra reflection forms. The extra reflection forms are necessary because occasionally students are frustrated when they leave one class and will tear up the form on the way. Having an additional mindful reflection sheet in the other classroom just removes one more barrier to actually processing what is happening with the students.
Mindful reflection sheets are a tool in our ever-growing toolbox that works for some teachers and students. Having a plan when it is necessary to ask students to leave class is a game-changer. I now know that I can take a moment to gather my thoughts before speaking to the student and they have time to take a beat and process their emotions.