Re-Boot with Some Classroom OT!

Imagine that it is the middle of the school day.  You are tired and have a million different things floating around your mind.  What’s for dinner? I need to pay a bill tonight.  Will I ever catch up on emails?  You are trying to concentrate on one thing at a time but we all know that is impossible.

Now imagine that you are a child.  You have all the same tired feelings and the same number of worries floating through your brain but you have one tenth of the coping skills to manage your day.  You don’t know that you need help much less how to ask for it and you feel like you may shut down or crash at any moment.

Being Proactive

As educators we need to be in tune to our own feelings as well as those of our students so that we can anticipate these moments and be prepared to deal with them.   I am fortunate enough to have worked with some wonderful OTs who have helped me try to be the teacher with the never-ending toolbox.  I have come to learn that every student has a different way to deal with their stresses and fatigue.  I realize now that when it comes to OT one size does NOT fit all!

OT Strategies

Throughout the school year we have taught students many different coping strategies.  We practiced breathing and yoga.  We worked on chair pulls and wall pushes.  We have provided silly putty and encourage students to get a drink from water bottles.  We created a reading nook and a break space.  We have provided journals and have access to iPads.  Our students identified which strategies help them relax and we provide them as an option on a daily basis.  We thought we were all set.  We slowly started to realize that without prompting, most students continued to internalize their feelings and they were crashing despite our efforts.  The question moved from what should we have them do to how are we going to get them to do it?

We Have to Re-Boot

Finally one day in the midst of a classroom breakdown, I had a breakthrough.  I turned off the lights and yelled FREEEZE!!!  They froze.  I asked them to close their eyes.  All eyes were closed.  Next, I asked them to imagine a computer with a lot of windows open.  The computer is trying to do too many things at one time and is becoming slower and slower.  Maybe your computer totally froze and you lost everything.  We have only one choice.  We have to Re-boot! I told them to click out of each program just like a computer would.  Click out of worrying about that math test or that argument at recess.   Click out of thinking about that birthday party or field trip.  Slowly and quietly one by one click out and shut down.  Shutting down a computer takes a minute or two.  It might even be a physical motion when the students lie down and close their eyes.  I ask them to stay shut down for a moment or two.  Totally clear and turned off.  Now we can reboot.  Turn the power buttons on one at a time slowly.  It takes a while for a computer to re-boot; it will take a while for their bodies and minds to do the same.  Once their “desktop” is restored, every program they were in, every worry or thought they had is gone.  They are a clear screen, a blank canvass.

Kids Begin to Self-Advocate

We have done this a few times as a class activity.  I have even done it one on one with a student who was really struggling.  We have started asking students if they need to “re-boot” and if they say “yes” they have all of those strategies and interventions I mentioned earlier at their disposal.  A few students have even started using the phrase “I need to re-boot or re-start” followed up with a request to do wall pushes or grab some silly putty.  Our goal as educators is always to help the students self regulate their emotions and their behavior.  Our classroom re-boot has slowly started that process and we hope that they continue to use any strategy they need to refresh.

Maybe one of your students can get a drink and feel better but another needs some pressure in their shoulders or fingers to successfully move on.  Teaching them to re-boot helps them to recognize the need while helping you to individualize the strategies making OT applicable and successful in the classroom.  Who knows, you may be re-booting just as much if not more than your students! Happy OT Month!

by Meghan O’Hara, M.Ed.

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