After-school restraint collapse is real, and teachers can be instrumental in helping to reduce this phenomenon for children when they leave school and go home at the end of the day.
If you have read the post for parents about what this collapse is and how to support our children through it, you’ll see this is not a tantrum state but rather a melt-down one. Imagine this as a massive release when children walk in the door at the end of the day and finally feel safe to let it all out.
Teachers, you have three key opportunities to off-gas this release so it doesn’t get saved up for caregivers and parents at home.
After-school restraint collapse is mostly driven by needing to hold in thoughts, feelings, actions, and words that children wish they could get out during the day. It also comes from a self-discipline to not allow themselves to lose it when they get frustrated or challenged – to be “good” and feeling not in control of much of what is playing out around them.
Did you know that “laughter releases the same energy as tears” (Laura Markam, Ph.D.) and unstructured play is essentially therapy in action?
When people (young and old) have space to move that isn’t scripted or controlled, they can use that movement to “get all their yayas out.” The biggest tools teachers can use to help with this are: open floor space, different styles of seating, and space in the schedule for brain breaks. As a former public school teacher, I know that budgets and space can be limiting, but you just don’t know who will donate a beloved swivel chair or an area rug that will be a game-changer for someone.
I took some of my rigid chairs out and asked the learners how everyone could have a turn on the more comfortable donated chairs. It’s remarkable how much energy a child can get rid of when they’re even just able to swivel back and forth while they work. If that distracts others, put them out of the eye-line of those having trouble with it.
Give the students the opportunity to have a brain break when needed. This requires some decisions to be made by the group on how these breaks could happen to not distract others and so that they actually feel rejuvenated. Stretching and movement are key components of helpful breaks.
Walking activates something called “bilateral stimulation,” which you might have heard of as part of a therapeutic technique called EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). This action helps balance both the left and right sides of your brain. If you have ever noticed that going for a walk helps you feel better, you’re right! The benefits include becoming relaxed, increased attentional flexibility – getting unstuck in your thinking, and feeling less worried.
Essentially this is handing power and responsibility for as much as possible in the classroom to the students. There are a couple of ways of doing this: allowing the governance to be student-centred or giving the bulk of the decision-making powers to students in a learner-driven environment.
Each of these models requires time to set up agreements, systems, and coaching for the use of those systems, so the students know what the expectations are, where any needed items go, and what to do if the system breaks down.
As someone who started a school that uses a learner-driven model, I can’t stress enough how valuable it is to invest the time to make it possible to hand that degree of agency over to the learners. Here are just some of the jobs our learners are responsible for (and pretty good at doing): cleaning, classroom management, answering parent emails, planning events, and creating mentoring opportunities with younger children.
Giving a student agency is about putting problem-solving into their hands, asking questions that spark creative thought, and creating a space where they can practice making mistakes, so the outcome of those is more learning, and less catastrophe. They learn to look at mistakes more as experiments and something not to be feared. As a bonus, children who have more agency get much better at communicating because they need to in order to problem solve to the degree necessary to run things themselves.
Teachers, ask yourself this question: How can I hand more power and responsibility to the learners and provide them with space to release what’s on their hearts and minds?
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