I realize schedules are needed to keep the flow of any school orderly. We are required to adhere to the "hard breaks" in our daily routine. The hard breaks are non-negotiable. They're lunch times, special class times, recess times, dismissal time, etc. But how many of us realize that we control many or all of the "soft breaks." The soft breaks are the ones that we have created. For example, perhaps you teach language arts every day from 8:15-9:30 (soft break). After a brief bathroom break, you begin math instruction at 9:35. This lesson ends at 10:25 because your students need to be in music class by 10:30 (hard break). We sometimes become so accustomed to the routine that we rarely change it - even though we have the power to do so
Over the past few years, I have become a much better monitor of my lessons, and more times than not, the students determine when one lesson ends and another begins (even though they don't realize it). One example happened when my students were involved in a word work lesson. They were working in groups creating similes. I had planned for them to work for about 20 minutes in small groups, and then reconvene as a whole class to share their original similes. Well, the kids were highly engaged, helping each other, working out word choice issues, and raising their hands to summon me to their group so I could hear their creative similes. It was obvious that they were learning and having fun. These moments are why we teach aren't they? We dream of lessons where students are excited about learning, while demonstrating proper social skills by being cooperative and encouraging each other. Imagine what my students' reaction would have been if I had stuck to my original plans and cut their group time as intended. They ended up working an extra 15 minutes before we began our whole class session. Because of this extension, my science lesson was cut to 20 minutes, but it was all worth it.
The bottom line is that no one in your school knows your students better than you do. Excellent teachers(like you) have their feelers out often. They have their finger on the pulse of their classroom. How are my students doing? Do they understand the concept? Do they need to regroup? Are they learning? Do I need to reteach this in a different way? They make adjustments throughout the lesson. Every successful basketball coach knows the importance of good clock management. Effective teachers do too.
I encourage you to let your kiddos go at times (if you haven't already). Let them work through the barriers of soft breaks when things are flowing. Ask yourself if the soft breaks have become hard though the constant repetition of a routine. You have the power to change them. It's one freedom that most elementary teachers still possess. I know teachers in high school and middle school who envy us for this reason. But then, they get a real planning period right? :)
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