Brain Breaks Essential when Teaching Online

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In general, teachers have an unwavering commitment to their profession and an unparalleled work ethic; when COVID-19 hit, they applied this to online learning. However, the hours spent learning how to teach in this new environment have taken a toll on both their mental and physical health. Many teachers have had to strike a whole new work-life balance.

During an in-person lesson, it is natural to take a break, whether that be leaving the room briefly or stepping into more casual conversation between teachers and students. But what happens in the online classroom when we take a break? For most of us, continuing our work is the norm. How does this ultimately make us feel? Are we better off working through our breaks for the benefit of our students?

My answer is no. Working through my break does not make me feel better. There is always something else to look up or add to my teaching plan. Then I am tired going into my lesson.

So I learned how to work more efficiently. Of course, this came with experience and putting less pressure on myself and my students to do things perfectly.

There was an added complication too. To be honest, I did not know how to take a break. I grabbed coffee and petted my dog, but I still felt wound up going into the afternoon lesson. I realized that I needed to take a “brain break.” I was still thinking of what to teach or resolving some administrative issue. I needed to set that aside and address it later. So I went on a journey to explore different things that I could do for ten minutes during my lunch break or between classes.

Some things were more effective than others, but there were a few commonalities. First of all, the activity could not be too mentally taxing. It also had to be enjoyable and motivating. Finally, I found that transitioning to a relaxing activity and then coming back to work was more effective than forgetting work or trying to relax.

Over time, I learned to notice what I am really passionate about and use that as a brain break. My passions include writing, animals, and learning about new things. It helps me come back to class and re-engage with my students with more energy. It also helps me keep things in perspective and makes my day brighter.

Here are some examples of brain breaks that helped me feel refreshed and re-energized:

  • I tried mindfulness breaks and relaxing stretches, but what I found relaxed me the most was active walking in place and later incorporated weights and a stepper.
  • Playing music on my room speaker can help set the mood. It depends on how I feel. Sometimes lively Classical music, such as Mozart, works better for the daytime. More modern music can make me feel like I’m in a club, so I save that for after work to me transition from work-mode to life-mode.
  • Over time, I have picked up lots of fun activity books, such as word searches, colouring books, connect-the-dots, and origami. You would be surprised how focusing on a creative task makes you happier and gets your mind off work.
  • For many people, social media is a space for news and other things that may be toxic. I recommend creating an account just for “fun” things. For example, you can log in to Twitter and follow dog and cat postings or flowers without being bombarded by news or negative messaging.
  • Finally, take time to talk to someone. Whether it be messaging a friend or talking to your family, take a minute or two to tell them how your day’s been going. Try to keep positive and not complain too much. This includes checking in with my pets, which can also be cute and up-lifting.

How do you take a brain break?


Walk at Home by Leslie Sansone. (2015, February 9). [Video]. YouTube.






My name is Svjetlana Vrbanic—Lana—and I am a newly certified adult ESL teacher. I completed a degree in English and worked as a teacher and newspaper reporter/editor. Work has allowed me to travel from Labrador to Alberta and enjoy many great experiences. I was born in the former-Yugoslavia, but lived in Toronto most of my life. I can speak Serbo-Croatian, but primarily use English and love sharing what I know with students from all over the world. I like to have a good time and enjoy pursuing interests like cooking, running, volunteering, learning about health and psychology, and spending time with my niece, two rambunctious Jack Russell terriers, and a shy, but loveable cat. I am excited to blog about my experiences which will hopefully inform and entertain, as well as help support a vibrant teaching community. Wishing my colleagues many happy adventures in teaching.


2 thoughts on “Brain Breaks Essential when Teaching Online”

  1. You’ve shared a variety of helpful ideas! I go out for a 10-minute walk during my morning break, rain or shine. There is a lot of research showing the positive effects of being out in nature. It helps me gain perspective.

    1. Even better, try mindful walking. Checking in with your body and slowing down. There are many apps to download.
      You idea is great! Thanks for sharing Robin. I am glad you liked the article and could identify your brain breaks.

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