“What’s that?” I asked my teaching assistant.
I glanced over her shoulder to see a two-columned chart with students’ names on the side.
“Oh…I’m making a bathroom chart to help us curb all of these bathroom breaks. I think the kids should go once in the morning and once in the afternoon…and that’s ALL.”
“But why?” I asked, knowing what the answer would be.
“Because of Donald*, of course! That kid goes to the bathroom more than any kid I’ve ever seen. And I’ve watched him as he walks down the hall. Sometimes he doesn’t even go INTO the bathroom. He just looks at bulletin boards or gets a drink. We need to put a stop to this,” she said indignantly.
Her intentions were good. She wanted Donald in the classroom so he wouldn’t miss instruction…which made my words even harder for her to swallow…
“Yes, I realize he’s not actually going to the bathroom,” I told her, “but we’re not going to limit his requests.”
“WHAT?” she asked, incredulous.
“Donald needs those breaks. Between his ADHD and his anxiety, sitting for a whole reading group is just too hard for him. He’s figured out that he can regulate himself by taking these short breaks…this prevents him from having meltdowns, and helps him focus better.”
My assistant rolled her eyes and sighed, obviously irritated with my decision.
But I didn’t mind…because these breaks were just what Donald needed!
We’ve all had situations like these…in classrooms, Sunday School or youth group. Be sure to consider the function of kids’ behavior as you manage the students in your care. Some kids might need an opportunity to stretch their muscles because of a physical condition; others may experience mental fatigue and need a moment of quiet. In Donald’s case, the “bathroom breaks” provided an opportunity to calm down and refocus; limiting breaks to once every three hours would have exacerbated his difficulty.
While breaks might be completely necessary, sometimes it is necessary to add some structure, especially if students’ progress or participation suffers because of the frequency or duration. However, this structure needs to be flexible and reasonable. My well-meaning assistant’s suggestion of one break would not have worked for Donald! One way to assist them is to offer a pre-set number of hall passes (tickets, post-it notes or index cards can work well for this purpose!) Allow them to use those passes as necessary…but when they’re gone, they’re gone! This can help kids to think through their need for a break, and help them to use those breaks wisely, and only when truly necessary.
When offering this kind of support, continue monitoring the student’s behavior and participation ensure that the strategy is working.
For Donald, this worked like a charm. He continued taking breaks during class…and he continued to make both academic and social progress.
And every once in a while, he’d come back into my classroom and give me a wink and a grin…and then settle right back into his work.
See you in the hallway!
Photos: Medaviesmallsteps.com; YoungTeacherLove.blogspot.com
*Name has been changed.