Friday, 30 March 2012 21:50

Pausing Power

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Two summers ago at the annual Elementary Physical Education Workshop held on the campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, presenter Pat Vickroy shared a wonderful journal prompt. Last week, I asked my students to respond to the prompt as part of their weekly homework packet. The prompt reads as follows: “If you could give yourself one superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?”


My third graders came up with a wide variety of creative responses. These include the ability to fly, x-ray vision, and the ability to become invisible. One response that caught me by surprise came from a terrific young man who frequently has difficulty exercising sound judgment and making mature decisions. He wrote that he would give himself “pausing power,” which is the ability to stop time before bad things happened so that these bad things could be prevented.

It occurred to me that “pausing power” is actually a terrific definition to use with children when talking about issues of maturity. The more I think about it, this ability to stop what we’re doing and think before we act is often what separates mature, thoughtful behavior from impulsive behavior.

Even though the boy who wrote this response certainly didn’t intend the term “pausing power” to be applied to issues of student behavior, I started using the phrase whenever he and I spoke privately about some of the things he had been doing in class and on the playground. When, for example, he became physical with another student at recess, I explained to him that had he used his pausing power before he did it, he probably would have realized that it wasn’t the right thing to do and acted differently. Now his mother is also using this construct with him at home and reporting positive initial results.

The main point I shared with him is that “pausing power” is no superpower; it is an ability that all of us have and all of us need to use before we say or do something that we might later regret. With his permission I now use this term with the class, and I credit him with the phrase’s creation. As a result, he can take pride in his idea and its potential to help others, instead of getting down on himself on those occasions when he acts impulsively and doesn’t use it. The term is, thus, building up his self-esteem and becoming a powerful reference point that we can use for the rest of the year when discussing matters of student behavior.

Even though it can be so difficult (for both children and adults) to stop and think during that critical split second between the time we get an idea and the time we execute that idea, we can all do it, and now we have a term to guide us as we try to become more thoughtful decision-makers.

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