Brain-Based Learning

9 Minutes That Can Make a Big Difference

Finding the time to connect with students across three short segments each day can do wonders for relationship building.

July 10, 2024
dolgachov / iStock

A renowned neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp, PhD, created the 9-Minute Theory for parents and caregivers showing how emotional connection during specific times of the day can help to shape young lives with predictability; relational contagion, or mimicking one another’s emotions; and the opportunity to strengthen connections with one another and the environment. This occurs every day through three segments of three minutes each. This theory has significant application in our schools.

The first segment begins our days at school and sets up the nervous system for steadiness and learning. The midday few minutes address transitions through intentional breaks, resetting the nervous systems. How we intentionally exit or end the day with the last three-minute segment of connection helps us and our students to feel or experience a sense of closure and calm.

The 9-Minute Theory addresses rituals such as personalized greetings, morning meetings, and community circles that many classrooms already have in place. But it’s more than the traditional bell work. It’s the felt environment that we experience throughout the day that creates a sense of relational wealth.

Our students often bring nervous system dysregulation into school. It’s next to impossible to focus and problem-solve when we feel anxious or any emotional discomfort. Stress behaviors interfere with deep learning. As educators, we have all felt the residual impact this generation of children and youth encountered from the unprecedented societal layers of trauma and adversity that the pandemic added to the existing mental and emotional health crises.

We are experiencing these stress- or pain-based behaviors through an increase of physical and verbal aggression. Our nervous systems prioritize attachment. The physiology of the brain is impacted by trauma, but the physiology of connection can mitigate our brokenness and our disconnect from adversarial and traumatic experiences. Schools are where our children and youth spend much of their time in their developing years. Inside our schools, classrooms, hallways, and transportation systems are where the adults have an opportunity to help students during these short segments to access the prefrontal cortex, where safety and connection reside.

These nine minutes each day can be thought of as warm-ups before learning begins, while resetting our nervous systems at midday and winding down with closure as we exit the school day.

Below are quick practices that we can integrate in the school day with intention as we prepare for learning, testing, and the skills needed to strengthen working memory, emotional regulation, and problem-solving skills that are a part of our executive functions.

Initial 3 minutes: Connection Stretching

1. Paper tearing. Each student is greeted at the door with a blank piece of paper. They are instructed to take the paper to their seats and wait until everyone is ready. The teacher and students then begin tearing the paper into as many small pieces as they can for two minutes. When the time is up, students can partner with each other, or work alone, beginning to create shapes, designs, or anything they begin to see in the torn pieces. After a few minutes, students can share their designs with one another.

Photo of paper sculpture
Courtesy of Lori Desautels

2. Let’s toast. In this practice, we’ve given our students coffee mugs that they can keep at school. A few mornings each week, as we sit in our circles, we begin to toast each other, noting strengths, kindness, and attributes. We fill our mugs with water most days, but on rare occasions we have juice or hot cocoa.

3. Imagination starters. These are fun questions to share with each other as we warm up our brains for learning.

  • If you could hang out with any cartoon character, who would you choose and why?
  • What would you like to be remembered or known for?
  • What sport would you like to compete in if you were in the Olympics?
  • What magical power would you like to have for one week?

MidDay: 3-Minute Station Breaks

Transition segments. This is the time of day when we and our students need a few minutes to reset and begin again. Playing music, hydrating, journaling, drawing, moving around, and having a snack are helpful as we invite students to take this transition time for a few minutes. Some effective activities during this time include the following:

1. My Favorite Vacation Spot. In this activity, students can draw or write about an imaginary place they would love to travel, sharing the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. They can add to this image or story all week long.

2. Collaboration stories. In small groups of four to six students, we ask each person to draw a shape, line, or design of any kind on a blank sticky note. As a group, we decide who goes first. The first person holds up their note and begins to tell a story about their drawing. The next person holds up their note and continues the story with their own work. We move through the group, each person contributing to a fun story. Another challenge is seeing who can recall the entire group.

The Final 3 Minutes: Exiting the Day

In this segment, we can focus on effort and touch points that went well. How we exit with our students helps us all to begin a fresh day or class period tomorrow.

1. Effort moments. Draw or write down something you put effort into today. This is not about a good day or bad day, but a moment when you felt motivated or tried to work out a solution or helped a classmate when he or she was struggling.

2. Video clip endings. Students begin by watching the first half of these clips. They then write or draw their own endings, using their imagination and personal connections to the content, or they guess the endings. They wrap up by finishing the clips, comparing their guesses with the actual endings.

When we are intentional about procedures, we can cultivate strong engagement while we begin building relationships and connections with our students.

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Filed Under

  • Brain-Based Learning
  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School

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