Time of Day Matters (A LOT) to Mood and Performance

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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While there may only be 7-8 hours of time in the typical school day, how do we use that time well? Inspired by Dan Pink‘s When (2018) I culled together advice and actions that can inform our work with students and colleagues.

1. Time of day matters to everyone in school.

Take a look at the research reported by Dan Pink and consider what it might imply for school scheduling. What if school schedules were rotated vs. being fixed? (e.g., reading block in a second grade classroom, what block of time a student takes Biology in high school). What if we acknowledged the predictable rise and fall of emotional balance and scheduled accordingly? (e.g., What time of day do you typically have faculty meetings? What time of day do you see your students wake up in the morning and engage with one another?)

2. Being real on who our school schedule favors.

Take a look at this next graphic and compare this to your school day.

Want to figure out your chronotype? When you don’t have school and limited obligations in the afternoon/evening, what time of day do you typically wake up?

  • Larks: early risers (wake up at same time regardless of school day)
  • Third Birds: later risers (sleep in a little)
  • Owls: late risers (what my 17 year-old son does and many teens who would happily sleep through the morning hours)

There are high schools that are reconsidering start time to honor what overwhelming research shows on correlation of sleep-deprivation and performance. Delaying the start by 30-60 minutes may be helpful but not sufficient.

How can we make high school schedules more flexible to honor peak times of teenagers? If learning is a 24/7 endeavor, what learning activities can we design with our students? How do we help them to better understand themselves? (e.g., keeping an hourly log for a week of what task you are doing and what mood you are in)

3. Power of breaks.

Taking a break helps with mood and performance, but the type of break matters. This very short video from Dan Pink identifies the 5 ways to make our breaks as restorative as possible.

How can we use time to replenish energy? Here are three ideas to get the ball rolling.

  • Mental-gear shifting breaks — Taking a pause from your effort to shift gears and restore a sense of calm. Listening to soothing music, playing a guided meditation, or deliberately focusing on breathing can be done in 3 minutes or less.
  • Moving breaks — For 5 minutes every hour, get the wiggles out and dance, do yoga, go for a walk around the classroom or hallway, do jumping jacks or push-ups.
  • Nature breaks — Go outside and get lost in the experience. One of the remarkable moments I saw in Finland was scheduled nature time: a weekly 2 hour bike tour in the forest to explore the environment (regardless of the weather). While many schools are not connected to forests, being outside and exploring, playing does wonders for everyone (including staff).

What breaks do you use in your classrooms and schools? Email me to add ideas to the list and will share in the next newsletter.

Want to do a deeper dive on the ideas about time with Dan Pink?

Dan Pink’s Website: link to NPR Interview and how to purchase the book.

Audio Interview:

YouTube Keynote:

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