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6 simple ways you can boost your students’ productivity

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

As a charter school leader, you’ve seen this all too often. Lunch is over and the number of students who have been sent to the office suddenly grows. Teachers are frustrated, and students are angry or upset or just confused. State tests require that you give some tests in the afternoon (or you will never get through them all during the testing window) and yet you know that test scores are generally lower in the afternoons. You’ve felt it yourself. That long afternoon stretch when you just can’t seem to focus or get through your endless to-do list.

What is happening to us every afternoon? It’s called the afternoon slump, and it’s very real. Science has proven it! One study documented how women were feeling throughout the day (they had to choose from 12 adjectives for each episode) and found a surprisingly consistent result. The women reported twin peaks in their daily emotional state: one in the morning, rising to a peak just before lunch, after which the moods crashed quickly, and another rising again in the early evening, only to fall as they prepare for bed.

Afternoons are rough
From my observations as a teacher and school director, I’d say it’s universally accepted that afternoons are rough.

What if you could improve student achievement at your charter school, and decrease disciplinary incidents at the same time, with just a few minor changes to how you operate? Keep reading!


First, let’s define the problem. From my observations as a teacher and school director, I’d say it’s universally accepted that afternoons are rough.

  • Students who test in the afternoons have poorer achievement.

  • Discipline incidents increase in the afternoon.

  • Teacher productivity and tolerance drops.

If this is the reality, how can we improve student achievement and engagement at school?


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Charter school leaders have the freedom to make changes that others may not. You can manage the daily schedule to boost productivity by aligning it with our body clocks and using intentional breaks.

Here’s how:

  • Schedule recess before lunch. A 15-minute recess before lunch can make students hungrier and even cut down on discipline incidents in the lunchroom. They come back to class more calm and settled down after a good meal, and ready to get back to work instead of hyped up from recess.

  • Go minimalist. Recess does not need fancy equipment (a good thing for many start-up charter schools!), and it does not need a lot of structure. Students can benefit from negotiating their own rules and being creative with minimal equipment.

  • Don’t skimp. There has been a trend to reduce daily recess minutes at all grades. Elementary student need to get outside and they need to move. It’s better to give two 15-minute recesses than one 20-minute recess. Although this adds to the loss of instructional time, especially when you account for transitions to and from the playground, it is made up for in the improved quality of learning that will occur as a result.

  • Give teachers a break. Schedule recess duties in shift or allow aides and volunteers to monitor recess times. Remember, teachers are affected by the afternoon slump too. Give them time to refocus and refresh themselves.

  • Don’t replace physical education. Students need both. PE class offers a different kind of learning and students need that time to learn the rules of games, how to play together in teams, and how to master specific athletic skills. Recess is a break from learning.

  • Every kid, every day. It’s tempting to use recess to punish a student or to provide one-on-one instruction while the other students are out of the room. But these students are the ones who most benefit from recess! Do all you can to ensure that every student gets recess every day.

What innovative solutions have worked at your charter school to combat the afternoon slump for students? Share your comments below.


Peggy Downs works with school leaders who want to leverage grants to dramatically increase funding, impact, and credibility for their schools. More info and a ton of free resources are waiting for you at:

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