Over the past ten years of being an assistant principal at the middle school level, I’ve come to realize how every meeting in my office—even the timeouts for disruptive behavior—have become “time-ins.”

What is a “time-in”? Let’s go back to an early stage in my educational career when I was teaching biology and coaching the varsity volleyball team. We were a top-ranked team that year. At the conclusion of that particular season, we found ourselves playing for the championship against a team that had already handed us our only three losses of the season. With the match on the line and each team with a win, we took an early lead of 10-4 in the final game. Victory and a state championship were within our grasp. Then our nemesis began to rally back. With each kill and point scored, slowly they were siphoning the momentum from our performance. Before long, they had outscored us 8-2, tying the score at 12. With emotional triage needed, I used our last timeout. I could see that each athlete was frustrated, sad, and heartsick that we no longer had our comfortable lead. Their stress was expressed in complaints toward each other and insecurities in themselves.

Then came the moment that changed everything. My speech in our huddle went something like this, “Guys, it doesn’t matter what happened in the past 12 points. The match will be decided by the first team to score three points.” As we cheered and exited the huddle, I could see focus, hope, and renewal as the girls took to the court. Long story short, and 13 serves later, we had emerged victorious and were crowned the 5A State Volleyball Champions. It was exhilarating and emotional. As I pause and reflect on the myriad emotions that are felt during such an experience, I realize that it was the time spent together during the timeout, which was really a “time-in,” that ended up making the biggest impact.

Timeouts are used in various ways in our lives—in sports, but also in parenting and education. In sports, a timeout is called when a break from the action is needed, a break that provides athletes with the opportunity needed to refocus, re-center, reflect, and regulate prior to reengaging on the court. My athletes benefited from that “time-in” so many years ago. Just like in sports, a timeout in education, if treated like a “time-in” with an adult who cares, will allow students to refocus, re-center, reflect, and regulate their emotions, allowing them quicker access back into the learning environment.

Over the past 25 years in education, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with hundreds of students, parents, colleagues and friends. But fully understanding the power of the “time-in” came during the COVID-19 school building closure this past spring. Our administrative team spent one morning a week sharing something we had professionally read or learned in our administrator professional learning community. As I was interested in learning more about restorative practices, I came across a Ted Talk by Katy Hutchinson in which she briefly speaks about her father’s style of parenting. Instead of sending her and her siblings to timeout when they made a mistake, he took the time to teach and reteach her and her siblings. This concept resonated with me and fit my style as a parent, administrator, and educator.

Students often are sent to the office because their disruptive behavior interfered with the learning environment. Some teachers are quick to relinquish their power so they can have a reprieve from the troublesome student behavior. I have learned that behavior is more likely to change due to strong relationships with teachers than through punitive consequences from the administration. Relationships are strengthened and teaching moments are more powerful when a “time-in” approach is fostered. There is always an underlying reason for a student’s behavior.

My “time-in” strategy with students has been received by some teachers as frustrating because the consequence was not harsh or punitive enough, while others have responded with an “ah-ha” moment that has led them to work more deliberately and on a personal level with their students. On occasion, some teachers have been vulnerable enough to say that they were part of the problem by triggering the student that misbehaved. Vulnerable moments like these become tipping points between educators and students, which allow relationships to grow in the right direction. The relationship that is nurtured has the potential to be an extraordinary part of the learning environment.

How do you know if a “time-in” has been successful? Feelings of understanding and healing will be present. If we value the “time-in” concept, we must make time for them. Remember that this strategy provides opportunities to teach, reteach, refocus, re-center, reflect, and regulate prior to reengaging in the world. Classroom communities can heal faster and learning can take place.

When a timeout is taken in sports, it provides athletes a much-needed opportunity to refocus, re-center, reflect, and regulate. When one is taken on the floor of life, it really means that an opportunity for a “time-in” is right around the corner if we will only take advantage of it. Wouldn’t the human race benefit from more “time-ins”?

Audrey Fish is the 2020 Utah Assistant Principal of the Year and an NASSP Assistant Principal of the Year finalist. She is starting her 26th year in education and is currently an assistant principal at Fort Herriman Middle School in Herriman, UT. She is the proud mother of two boys who are in fifth and sixth grade this year, and her amazing husband is a physics teacher at one of the local high schools. Together they love all things Disney, along with camping, swimming, playing basketball, and spending time with family.


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