"I'm feeling creative...I wonder how the colors red and orange mix together."
"I just really want to talk."
"I feel my brain!"
"I feel a little tired, and calm...like reading would be good."
These are the voices I heard yesterday during Flex Time, as students were learning how to reflect on their current state, what they need, and how to make best use of their time. This is one of my favorite parts of the school day - the time when kids are not in a structure created entirely by someone else, and have to reckon with a question that challenges many of us adults - what is the highest use of my time right now?
As a school, we know this is one of the most important times of the day, when middle schoolers develop executive function - the abilities to plan, set and monitor goals, reflect, organize, and focus their time and attention. After a brief mindfulness exercise, we ask them to "go inside" themselves and sense what impulses are coming up. As anyone who has worked with middle schoolers knows, ignoring these impulses is a fraught path, at best. So is following them blindly. The key is becoming aware of them; recognizing that the girl who is dying to talk may want to chat with a friend or advisor before she's going to become focused on another task.
After this "going inside" exercise, each student decides what the highest use of their next 45 minutes is, and posts that on a sticky note next to their name on the wall. Then, off they go - some pick up laptops and begin working on a science project; others pull out the book they're reading in their humanities quest; some meet with their advisors to discuss something or review a project they're working on. Along the way, they're learning a practical form of self-awareness, as well as the ability to plan and use their time effectively and meaningfully. Something we as adults are certainly always working on as well!