Managing breaks and non-classroom time

Breaks and non-classroom time are the moments in the school day when students, perhaps particularly those who are vulnerable, are most at risk.

The time is unstructured.

They may be unable to interpret social cues.

They may feel unsafe.

Perhaps it’s also the time when the most inexperienced staff (lunchtime supervisors) are dealing with the most challenging behaviours.

So, in this post we’ll look at how to manage these times of day most successfully for students in crisis.

First, consider how your staff are managing breaks and lunchtimes:

  • Are lunchtime staff suitably trained in behaviour management?
  • Do they know how to de-escalate a situation?
  • Are they aware of the significance of the language they use?
  • Are they able to handle the situation or do they leave it for the teachers to deal with after lunch?

If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘no’, how might you upskill your lunchtime staff to improve their management of breaks and lunchtimes for vulnerable students?

Second, ask yourself whether the pupil needs a certain type of help in unstructured times:

  • Would it be beneficial for them to stay within a smaller group away from the crowds or have a job to do (possibly with the kitchen staff)?
  • Consider this a short-term measure initially and be careful of removing them entirely from social situations. How will they learn how to interact if they are never given the opportunity?

Thirdly, understand whether the pupil is aware of their triggers:

  • Ask the pupil what a ‘good’ break and lunchtime looks like to them.
  • Ask them to tell you what an unsuccessful break and lunchtime looks like to them.

Finally, rehearse with the pupil what they will do when a situation goes wrong at break or lunchtime:

  • How will they react?
  • What will they do?
  • What will they say?
  • How will their body feel?

Practising appropriate reactions with the help of staff when they are calm means that they are more likely to be able to draw on this when they are in fight or flight mode – when the rational part of the brain is no longer in control. They will have a bank of ideas to draw on.

Similarly, act out with the pupil a successful break and lunch. This sends positive messages to the brain and the pupil can experience what ‘success’ feels like. They are then more likely to seek out these feelings independently and know what to do to experience them.

These ideas were co-authored with Inclusion Expert Associate Victoria Obermeir.

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