Enjoy the Silence

As part of a post-conference with a new teacher who I have been coaching for the past few weeks, I shared my observation that she talks at a non-stop pace. I then asked her, “Are you afraid of silence? Are you worried that if you stop speaking, that the kids will then begin talking again? Then, you might lose control of your classroom?”  I was moved by the fact that she honestly answered that I had identified her paradigm of classroom management. I believe that the fear of silence is a common struggle for new and seasoned teachers alike.

I was reflecting upon the coaching conversation one morning when I awoke. I am the type who loves my quiet time in the morning, but others wake up and immediately turn on the television. While driving in the car, I am always playing music or listening to someone else talk on the radio. When kids play, they giggle, sing, laugh, and add sound effects to their actions. So, the reality is that kids always seem to have noise in their lives. While I grew up in a time where silence was appreciated because it offered an opportunity to read or draw, our students live in a more technologically enriched environment. The simple activities of reading and drawing have been elevated to a more interactive level with apps and software that add animation and sound. If you think about it, children are rarely given meaningful moments of silence.

In discussing this point with the new teacher, we agreed that students who are rarely exposed to silence might be uncomfortable with the quiet in a public space, like a classroom. Maybe the students are talking to add noise to the environment as a way to comfort themselves. What does this mean for the teacher? To address the needs of the students, the teacher must strategically use noise to affect student behavior in a positive way. The best way to do this is to fill the void with music.

While I enjoy my 80’s music and Katy Perry as much as the next gal, I’m not too sure this music would increase my effectiveness in the classroom. Successful teachers are very purposeful when choosing the type of music that could support student engagement in an activity. While soothing, monotone music can calm down a group of hyper kids, music that is upbeat and has interesting syncopation can wake up the lethargic group in first period. My students also enjoyed listening to music from the time period we were studying, which added a whole new dimension to their understanding of the specific culture.

While most kids enjoy a brief musical interlude, some students do not benefit from this strategy. A student with Asperger syndrome or autism might bristle if the wrong type of song is played or if the volume is too loud. I have found that sometimes making sure the sensitive students are sitting on the opposite side of the room from the speaker tends to help. Also, having speakers that provide the tone dial that you can adjust helps minimize certain pitches that may tend to irritate a student. So, as with choosing any type of teaching strategy, a teacher must know his/her students in order to effectively implement this approach.

The exciting news is that I have heard back from my teacher who has tried this method. She has used music for the past two days as a way to drive the pace of her lesson and sustain those moments of “silence.” Her students have loved the entertainment in the lesson, like it’s a commercial break or something, and it enhances their time spent writing and reflecting. Playing the music has given her a chance to breathe and collect her thoughts as she prepares to deliver the next phase of her instruction, and she reports that it works “like magic!” I cannot wait to see this practice in action during our next real-time coaching session.

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