Give Me a Break: Five Tips to Do More, by Doing Less

Uncategorized / October 13, 2018

Social-Emotional Support (SES)

Teachers need social-emotional support too. FLGI surveys suggest that one of the biggest barriers to teachers migrating from traditional passive instruction to active learning strategies may tie to the need for social-emotional support. Many teachers are simply overwhelmed and teaching on an empty emotional tank. Their deepest social and emotional needs are unmet.

This section focuses on providing the social-emotional support we all need before we even can consider Flipped Learning. This project was developed to be the missing link in the unsuccessful efforts to move more teachers from passive to active learning.

In this section of the magazine, you can either read the transcripts or listen to the episodes of a podcast called Teachers’ Aid, with Jon Harper and Mandy Froehlich. Every topic takes on one of the biggest social-emotional challenges teachers face in search of real answers. We affectionately call this project the FLGI pyramid scheme: Maslow’s pyramid first, Bloom’s pyramid second. Enjoy the transcript below or listen to the entire show at the bottom of the transcript.

Teachers’ Aid

Jon Harper:  I do the best I can to rest and take care of my social, emotional health. I exercise. I try to get a good night’s sleep. I even meditate once in a while. I actually have the app Headspace on my phone. I don’t use it as much as I should, but I still find myself trying to get stuff done while I’m in line, or while I’m waiting at a stoplight. I’ve had times where my wife has had to tell me, “The light’s green, Jon,” while I’m trying to send an email, or check a Twitter feed. Have I lost it, Mandy?

Mandy Froehlich:  No. You have definitely not lost it. I completely relate. There are just not enough hours in the day to get everything done that we need to get done. As much as I want to stop and take a break, I feel like if I do, then I’m just wasting time that’s necessary. It’s time I could’ve spent getting stuff done. Today we are speaking with author Dan Pink who recently published a book titled When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, and I’m hoping he can help us out with this.

Jon Harper:  Why are you chuckling, Dan? I know you’ve got some stuff for us. I know you have good stuff.

Dan Pink:  Well, yeah. Yeah. No, I think it’s an interesting conversation because I feel your pain. I share your perspective, or I shared your perspective, particularly when it comes to something like breaks. I think this is a classically American affliction, so that in America no matter where in the world we came from, our ancestors came from, whether they came here willingly or not willingly, everybody, every race and creed seems to have absorbed this very puritanical approach to work, and you guys both sound like Puritans in the way you’re approaching your work, that powering through is the way to get more stuff done, but also powering through is morally virtuous. I am here to tell you, and this might be a relief to both of you, that what the science tells us, forget about our mistaken beliefs about right and wrong … There’s a rich science about breaks, and what the science tells us is that we should be taking more breaks, and we should be taking certain kinds of breaks. When we take a few more breaks, and we take the right kinds of breaks, we actually get more done. If there is a moral virtue to me, it’s getting good work done. That, to me, is the higher moral virtue,,,

Jon Harper:  In your recent book… you write about the importance of breaks, but from a teacher’s point of view I’m wondering what constitutes a break? In other words, most teachers, they get a planning period each day, and it’s also considered “their break,” but it’s also expected that teachers work and plan during this time, so it’s not really a break. What constitutes a break in your research and what you’ve found?

Dan Pink:  I think it’s a really, really, really important point that you’re making because if you look at … And this is, I think, endemic to teachers. I don’t think that we treat, “we” meaning Americans, America, our social structures, whatever, treat teachers with the same reverence with which we treat other professionals. I think that’s a colossal mistake. It’s a colossal mistake for our kids. At the outset, teachers do not get enough breaks period, alright?…  Teachers need more breaks. If teachers have a few more breaks, we will have better teachers and kids will learn more, period. That’s the big problem that we’re facing. What constitutes a break? A period where you are planning your lessons is not a break. Here’s what we know about the best kinds of breaks out there. This is true for teachers. It’s true for any human being.

Dan Pink:  The research on breaks gives us a set of design principles about what constitutes a break that restores our energy, reestablishes our mental acuity. Here’s what we know. One, something is better than nothing, and so there’s some opportunities for teachers there. Even a one-minute break or two-minute break is better than doing nothing. Even if you were doing, as you said, a two-minute meditation break, that’s better than no break at all.

Second, we know that moving is better than stationary. A break when you’re moving around rather than being sedentary is more restorative. Three, we know that social is better than solo. Social is better than solo. Taking a break with somebody else is more restorative than taking a break on your own. What else do we know? Outside is better than inside. Any chance one has to go outside for a break is better.

Finally, and this is super important, fully-detached beats semi-detached. For breaks, breaks have to be really effective, have to be detached. What does that mean? It means you don’t do work. You don’t talk about work, and you certainly don’t bring your phone with you. My reading of the research on detachment and breaks is that a semi-detached break, a break where you’re only partially detached, is closer to not having a break at all than it is to an effective break. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but if teachers had one, I’ll settle for one 15-minute break every afternoon where they could go for a walk outside with somebody that they like, talking about something other than work, we’re going to have happier teachers, and we’re going to have kids who learn more.

Jon Harper:  Sounds good. As assistant principal, I’m going to try to make sure that that happens.

Dan Pink:  You know what? I think a 10- or 15-minute break in the afternoon is doable. Now, I’m not going crazy here. We’re not talking about, “Oh, let’s return to a siesta culture for teachers.”

Jon Harper:  Just take a nap.

Dan Pink:  Yeah, every teacher has, like 11th-grade teachers get to have a 45-minute nap in the middle of the day. I don’t think that’s going to go over very well. But that is actually within our fingertips, but it goes directly to what you guys were talking about before which is embedded in your conversation is a certain approach that, “Oh, breaks are a concession.” You know what? In some level, like in collective bargaining agreements, we think of breaks as a concession. It’s a concession that management makes to labor, but breaks are not a concession. Breaks are not a weakness. Breaks are not a deviation from performance; breaks are part of performance. Great musicians know that. Great athletes know that. And to my mind, as the son of a public school teacher, I put great teachers in the same category as great athletes and great musicians.

Mandy Froehlich:  This is so interesting to me… People think that people need breaks because it helps them emotionally and all of these things. I love it when basically brain-based research kind of backs up the things that we’re supposed to be doing, right? Why do you think that people continue to ignore the research on breaks even though this is what the research is saying?

Dan Pink:  Yeah, it’s a great question. I’m not sure whether they’re ignoring it, or whether they just don’t know. A lot of these beliefs are very hardened. We think there’s a certain way to do things. What I’m trying to do in this book in part is present the research and say, “Hey, guys. We can do this differently.” It isn’t a matter of ideology. It isn’t purely this kind of touchy, feely emotional thing.  Every piece of research we’ve seen … Not every piece, but a huge portion of the research on performance suggests that breaks help performance. In fact, there’s some great research, and I think a lot of educators are aware of the research of a fellow name Anders Ericsson, who came up with the concept of deliberate practice. What Ericsson’s research has shown, especially looking at things like high performers among musicians, high performers in fields like music, for instance, take more breaks than lower performers.

I actually, my hunch, maybe I’m wrong, is not so much that people are ignoring the research. They just don’t know about it. I’m hoping that by bringing the research to them and trying to explain it in a non-touchy feely way, they’ll start to make small changes in their own midst that will make things better for teachers, and ultimately better for students.

Jon Harper:  No, I mean it makes sense to us, but I guess we know the research. I’ve got a question. I’m going to come at this from a different angle.

Dan Pink:  But it’s building principals like you who can really be the catalyst here.

Jon Harper: No, that’s true. I’ve got to make sure that when I walk through a teacher’s room and they’re just sitting with their eyes closed, or they’re chilling, and I don’t say, “Are you planning your lesson?” You’re definitely right about that. Here’s what I’m thinking…  Maybe, I’m kind of playing devil’s advocate with this, maybe some of us don’t need breaks. In other words, I’ve encountered folks, in some ways I’m this way, where if I’m not working on something productive, then I just worry more. Sometimes, like I said, I’ve tried to meditate, but as I’m meditating I’m sitting there, and I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do this,” and so the break that I’m trying to take is actually making me more stressed. Is it possible that breaks may be counter-productive for some people?

Dan Pink: That’s a great point. My answer to that is, in the long run absolutely not. I think in the short run–you raise a really important point–let’s take meditation for instance. Meditation is really, really difficult. We can’t expect someone like you … I have such respect for principals. You’re the head of a building. You’re a principal.  You’re running around like a madman all the time. You’ve got all these constituents. Nobody’s ever happy at the same time. You walk into school on a given day planning to do X, Y, or Z, and suddenly Q emerges out of nowhere and you have to spend the whole day dealing with that. I totally respect that, but I think what we need to do is we need to recognize that we need to get better at actually taking breaks.




Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.

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