When Kids Need a Break: Hall passes with a purpose


“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.

“Nobody’s Looking:” Michelle Knight’s Message for Me

I browsed through a local consignment store, hoping to find an armchair that would fit my family room (and my budget.) My mind was focused on the floor plan of that space and mentally calculating the family members who will gather to watch the Ohio State- Michigan game in a  few weeks.

As I wandered toward the back of the store, two of the ladies who worked there began chatting. Their conversation focused on Dr. Phil’s recent interview with kidnapping survivor Michelle Knight…



“She said that he tied her up on the bed. She was naked,” one woman said.
“Really?” replied the other. “That’s horrible!”
“I know. And he chained her. He assaulted her and he left her in a room with spoiled food, full of flies…she never got to take a shower…”
“She didn’t? That’s awful!”

Their conversation was punctuated by groans of disbelief. I understood their incredulity. I had seen portions of the interview and was horrified to learn of the unspeakable humiliation and heinous physical abuse endured by the women in that horrible home.

But a different part of the interview stabbed my heart. I stood, motionless, next to secondhand upholstery, recalling her description…

Knight said that her captor used words in an attempt to break her spirit: “Where’s your family? Why don’t you have any? They must not really love you. Your family don’t care about you. You never had a family that loves you. And that’s the reason why I hate you, because I can abuse you and nobody would care.”

And then this crushing blow: “Nobody’s looking — you won’t even be missed when you do die.”

Nobody’s looking.

The gravity of that statement crushed and convicted me at that moment, as I stood in a store full of surplus…searching for extra chairs.

I should be searching for extra people.

Too many people are missing from our neighborhood barbecues, our churches, our dinner tables. They may not be chained to beds in cold rooms, but perhaps they’re bound by loneliness or disability or addiction. Maybe they’re slaves to work, or immobilized by the grief from death or divorce. Whatever has captured them… they’re missing.

I want them to hear us..

Hang on! We’re going to find you….

We’re looking.

We have a chair for you.



My Peanut Butter and Mustard Theory: Student-Teacher Relationships

Peanut Butter is great on a sandwich.



Mustard is also great on a sandwich.



But on the same sandwich?




Not a good combination.

In my years as a teacher, consultant, and mother, I’ve discovered that teacher-student relationships are very much like sandwiches…

Sometimes, we have peanut butter and jelly years…The student’s personality fits well with the teacher’s temperament. They complement one another. The student thrives, and the teacher shines. Meaningful learning  takes place.



And sometimes, we have peanut butter and mustard years…The student and the teacher, both fine, worthy people, each with unique talents and interests, just don’t make a great pairing. Learning still happens, but it’s not as palatable or pleasant.



Those peanut butter and mustard years can be really hard…especially when some people you know are talking about how fabulous the teacher is, and what a great year their kids are having.

It’s also difficult when someone says, “OH…your child has Mrs. Jelly? That’s too bad. We had the WORST year with her…”

And then it’s a delightful surprise when Mrs. Jelly is just exactly what your little peanut needs…and you have a fabulous year.

Of course, there are those rare times when a combination can be toxic, and the sandwich needs to be quickly remade to prevent illness. Those times call for wisdom, discernment and proactive communication.



Usually, though, we can tolerate a peanut butter and mustard year, by focusing on what is good and fortifying, and just learning to swallow (or throw out) the rest.

It’s important to remember  that nothing is bad about either peanut butter OR mustard…It’s just that together, they’re  not a great combination. Peanut Butter and Mustard are both unique creations…valuable and versatile and worthy.

Wishing you lots of peanut butter and jelly years, along with the ability to swallow–and grow from–a bite of peanut butter and mustard now and then.