The Importance of Recess and Stepping Away from a Problem

George Couros
4 min readNov 14, 2023

I had been doing the same email format weekly for a few years. I focused on sharing three things every week: something profound (an idea or thought from someone else), something professional (a learning opportunity with me), and something personal (a way to learn more about me as a person). I loved the format, but over the first few months of 2023, I struggled to write it and felt I had lost inspiration. I felt I was filling blanks more than genuinely learning.

So, instead of continuing, I decided that I was going to take a break from it. Not necessarily end the process, but take a step back and see if I wanted to return to it or try something different.

One of my biggest strengths can often be one of my biggest weaknesses. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and you can tell when I am passionate about something. But when I am not, I feel that can also be evident. I know that if I lose the spark for something, it is okay to step away. The thing is that I don’t see it as quitting but just changing directions.

I always need to be doing something, but I don’t always need to do the same thing.

Summer came along, and I felt it was the perfect time to take a break and stop writing the email for a little while. I believe that people need to take a break from education and that recovery often leads to coming back stronger. As much as I needed a break from writing, I also wanted to give the people who read my email a break from reading. You can be all-in on your passion for education AND take a break from it. Just like I think that some of the best athletes benefit from playing other sports, the same is true for educators. To be our “whole” selves in school, stepping away can be hugely beneficial.

As I took the break, I realized I didn’t miss writing the email in that format. Before, I was yearning to get my thoughts out there, but now, I was enjoying the break. In fact, the longer the break was, the less I wanted to return to that format. I knew I needed something different.

Instead of forcing it, I let it come to me. Eventually, the idea was to do a “3 Things” email that would allow me to write about things I was passionate about but not limit it to education-specific ideas. They could all connect to education but not solely focus on the profession.

But that idea would have never come to me if I didn’t step away from writing altogether.

Sometimes, we can’t solve a problem until we step outside of it.

I thought about this in a recent conversation with a teacher in Nebraska. She had shared with me that they were cutting down recess time for her elementary students because they felt they needed more time for “learning” in school, and she was frustrated with the decision (as she should have been). To think that learning doesn’t happen during recess is ridiculous. In fact, some of the best learning can happen when we step away from a more formal approach to education.

The comment from the teacher was sparked by a thirty-minute break I gave to participants after my morning session. This was not lunchtime, just thirty minutes in the middle of the day. The length of the break throws people off because it is uncommon in many educational circles.

But it shouldn’t be.

When I have asked many educators over the years what was the best part of a conference they just attended, many have the same response; “The conversation in the hallways with my colleagues!”

And I am not talking about a directed conversation. I mean a conversation that is organic and based on the needs of the people talking, not the ones leading the session. Sometimes, it might be on the topic at hand or something else entirely. Or maybe not on anything education-related at all.

Yet, many people are thrown off because they feel that we are so limited in education with time that we need to be learning every possible moment of a professional learning day. My argument is that time for connection and reflection is some of the best learning that can happen on that day.

Do you notice that sometimes your best ideas come to you when you are having a shower or going for a walk? This isn’t a coincidence, but there is evidence to back this up that I shared in “Innovate Inside the Box”:

“We are so quick to speak and share ideas when, sometimes, we should simply be processing.

Ever wonder why some of the best ideas come to mind when you’re in the shower? There’s actually science that backs it up. According to Harvard researcher Shelley Carson, the dopamine release not only helps creative ideas come to your mind, but the “distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.” Stepping away from a problem helps to make the ideas more clear.”

George Couros, “Innovate Inside the Box”

(This is an excellent article on the topic!)

If we believe that learning can only happen in a classroom or being immersed in a problem, the issue might continue with no end (in our) sight.

Stepping away and stepping back is sometimes the best way to learn how to move forward.



George Couros

Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.