Five Ways to Build Predictability Coupled with Flexibility to Offset Trauma Responses After Breaks (Yes, that is a mouthful)

When the year is in full swing and the interruptions many, it can feel like a series of fits and starts that always result in loss of rhythm and predictability. Holiday breaks are fraught with peril for some of our students. Food instability, insecure housing situations, and being around family and friends with little supervision can create or exacerbate anxiety. This anxiety can be seen in our rising hallway behavior issues that correlate with long breaks from school, both leading up to the break and immediately after. It can be seen in the moodiness, withdrawal or acting out that occurs in high frequency after a break from school. It can be seen in the eyes of our students as they try to reacclimatize to school and to us. 

This unpredictability can wreak havoc on our students suffering under chronic trauma. Predictability coupled with flexibility are paramount to student success under circumstances such as these.  How can we build that predictability in but still keep class interesting? How can we help ease the load for our most vulnerable students? How can we help them readjust?

  1. Reinforce Routines: It helps lower the affective filter and eases student’s load to be able to rely on familiar routines. I remember having a bit of an epiphany one day in a language arts class when it dawned on me as a few students complained about having to read silently for the first ten minutes of every class, that that very action was probably the most predictable thing in their lives. That coming to class, sitting down with their chosen novels, and reading while Miles Davis played softly in the background was probably a routine that brought them comfort and ease in their day for the very reason that it was consistent.
  2. Build in Room for Love: It helps students handle the break if they know that when they come back you will be there waiting for them. It may seem silly to say it, but it isn’t silly at all to our students who need that reassurance. Be explicit. Look in their eyes when you tell them and repeat it, once more with feeling . . .
  3. Connect Before the Break: Make sure that you have built that relationship with your students before you head off on that break. Do they know that you care about them? Have you shown interest in what they will be doing over the break? Have you built that rapport?
  4. Create a Feedback Loop: Look ahead so that invisible thread is strung over the time apart. Make sure that your unit and lesson plans are evident to them. It may be that before you leave for the break you set up the calendar and preview it with them. If you are planning on tackling tessellations or The Great Gatsby, make sure that it is on the planner. Maybe you decorate your bulletin boards ahead of time for the upcoming unit. And frankly, this is a great way to head into your break with less on your mind about your return as well. A win win, as they say.
  5. Make Space for Honesty: Sometimes we need to just say it out loud. Sometimes we need to be able to complain or vent or share our fear or anxiety about the upcoming break. Make room for those conversations to happen. Sometimes I pass out worry slips which are basically scraps of paper left over by the paper cutter that kids can jot down their worries on. I collect them in a bin at the end of the period and promise to burn them when I get home that day. Or we read them aloud. Or we share them with a partner. Or we make a paper chain of those worries and string it up in our window. But the act of writing it down helps to get it out of our mind and on our gut. Writing it down makes it real but at the same time takes away some of the power we had given it.

We all have techniques we use in our own lives to ease our burden of stress and worry. We all have our go to’s for those dreaded events or people that we can not avoid. Help your students learn coping techniques for these situations. Help them to ease their own burden and show them that helping each other is one more part of our best self.