Refocus- a management lifesaver

Happy New Year! I hope this is the year all your Little Darlings behave like perfect little angels, but just in case, you might want to tuck this management strategy into your back pocket.

You’ve probably never had a student who’s tap dancing on your last nerve, and you’, right? They’re pushing all your buttons and you just need a break so you don’t snap and say something that will really get you in trouble. You want to walk out to compose yourself, but there’s still 40 minutes left in class and 32 Little Darlings staring at you. What to do?!

Enter “The Refocus”. This is a brilliant strategy that will buy you some time and give The Little Stinker a few minutes to unwind. My friend and colleague Julie (who actually retired a few years ago and now is back on her Comeback Tour, teaching Spanish right across the patio from me) introduced me to this strategy and it’s really been a lifesaver this past semester.

Before there’s a problem:

There’s a little bit of legwork you need to do before there’s a problem, but I promise, it will be worth it! You need an ally or two. That’s who will receive your Little Stinkers to who need a “reset” and who can send their Little Stinkers to you. It doesn’t have to be a language teacher, just a teacher who is on the same page, and physically close by. You don’t want to send your Little Stinkers on a cross campus trek, because they might get lost or distracted on the journey. Next door or across the hall is ideal.

Everyone who will participate in the “refocus” strategy will need a stack of these Refocus Forms, copied and ready to go in their own classrooms, and an understanding of how the sending and receiving of Little Stinkers works. Here’s what the form looks like and I’ll explain how it works:

When you’ve got a student who needs to “refocus”:

You’ve got a Little Stinker that’s just gone too far. It’s not “write up a referral and send him to the office” worthy, but he’s driving you crazy and you’re probably irritating the daylights out of him too. A power struggle is a-brewing and it won’t be long before you lose your cool. Instead say, “So and So, would you please head over to Mrs. Lozada’s room and let her know you’re there to refocus? Thanks so much!” The Little Stinker leaves the classroom, not exactly sure what’s happening, but thankful for a chance to escape and you carry on with your lesson. Breathe a sigh of relief. Crisis averted. You know that he’s in good hands and he will come back to class when he’s refocused and ready to learn.

When he comes back to class after a while, just smile, nod and keep going. You can certainly touch base after class is over, but I prefer to touch base with the Little Stinker before the next class, after we’ve got a little distance from the incident and we’re both thinking clearly.

And you might be wondering, what if he Little Stinker doesn’t comply? I’m not sure…this hasn’t happened to me yet! I’d probably say, “You can head to the office or take a break in Mrs. Lozada’s room…which would you prefer?”

When a student comes to you, needing to “refocus”:

The Refocus Strategy is a two-way street. You’ve got a place to send kids, and likewise, you’ll get students who need a place to refocus. Here’s what the other side of the coin looks like:

A kid walks in the door mid class, and says something along the lines of “I’m here to refocus”. Smile, welcome them in and show them where to sit. You’re kind and generous because this kid isn’t on your last nerve…heck, you don’t even know him from Adam! If you’re in the middle of teaching, just have them sit down and wait for you until you can help them. Really, there’s no rush, because you know that you colleague across the hall needs a break and the kid does too. Once you get the chance, grab a “Refocus Form” and a pencil and ask them to fill it out. Go back to teaching. Do your thing. Load those Little Darlings up with all the Comprehensible Input you can muster.

After 10-20 minutes, when you’ve got a minute to check in, chat with the kid. Ask what happened. Your goal not to arbitrate but rather to feel out the situation…is the kid calm and ready to head back to their classroom? Or do they need a little bit more time to cool off? If you feel like they’re in a good headspace, sign their paper, and send them back to their classroom with the form. If he’s still fuming and angsty, give him space and some more time to unwind. As long as he’s not causing any trouble, just leave him be.

During the check in, I also try to help the student understand that the “refocus” isn’t a punishment, it’s actually a good thing. “Your teacher sent you here because she knew you needed a break and didn’t want to send you to the office. She’s doing you a favor, because she doesn’t want this to be a big deal and get administration involved, you know what I mean? This is just a chance to unwind before you head back to class. How are you feeling? Do you feel ready to return to class do you need a bit more time in here?”

What I love about this strategy:

  • It gives everyone what they need: a chance to calm down, take a few deep breaths and regulate so we all can make better decisions.
  • While the student is refocusing, he writes in his own words, what happened, what he needs and what he’ll do back in class…hello documentation! I save these papers, add a few notes (if my perception of what happened differs significantly from the student’s) and file them away. I don’t do anything with them, unless we’re seeing a pattern and the behavior becomes a bigger issue that needs intervention. If we need a parent conference or a counselor meeting, the refocus forms are gold!
  • Partnership with a supportive colleague is a treasure. Teaching is hard and teaching is impossible if you’re an island. We’re in this together and we can’t do this alone. Reaching out to your colleagues for support requires vulnerability and can be scary…but I hope and pray that you’ve got someone on your team that will partner with you and you’ll both benefit.

I hope your 2023 is off to a great start! Today was supposed to be my first day back with the Little Darlings, but SNOW DAY! I couldn’t be happier, cozied up next to the fire, typing out this little post. Stay warm, my friends!

This is the view from my couch. You had no idea that Northern Nevada was so beautiful, now did you?


  1. I use a form that’s very similar to this but instead of going to another teacher’s classroom, the student goes out in the hallway to fill out the form. I like your idea of doing it together with a colleague and knowing someone else is there to help you and the student. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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