Saturday, November 9, 2013
The school where I am working this year is a Quaker school. According to The Quaker Information Center, "Quakers are members of the Religious Society of Friends, a faith that emerged as a new Christian denomination in England during a period of religious turmoil in the mid-1600's and is practiced today in a variety of forms around the world."
Slowly, I'm learning about Quakers and their faith. Quakers have a weekly meeting for worship, but is unlike any other meeting for worship I have been a part of because Friends gather in silence. Every Tuesday, we have a meeting for worship. It just so happens that our first day of school was on a Tuesday, so very quickly I had to figure out how to manage the silence. Thankfully I have a co-teacher who attended Quaker schools as a child and is in her second year at the school, so she took the lead. Turns out - I was the only one who was anxious about the silence - 20 MINUTES of silence I might add. The students were comfortable in silence - after all, for most of them, they have been doing this since PK. Me? I glanced at my watch almost every 2 minutes until it ended.
Now 2 1/2 months into school, I'm much more comfortable with silence. In fact, I can now sit in silence, without glancing at my watch, for almost 11 minutes. Progress!
My thoughts on silence have evolved based on my experiences at this Friends school. For 19 years of teaching I previously imposed silence on my students in moments of complete frustration. You can imagine the scene - students are milling about, chatting about everything and anything. They are off task, too loud and the room feels chaotic. "All right! That's it! Go back to your desks, put your heads down and NO TALKING!" Silence as punishment for the kids. I think this is pretty common in classrooms; it certainly was in mine.
However, now, I don't see silence as a punishment, but more of a privilege. We start each morning with a moment of silence. It lasts for about a minute, but the energy in the morning is altered because of that silence. It's a signal that we are starting our day and that serious learning is about to take place. Actually, in the beginning of the school year, our silence only took place in the morning and once a week at our meeting for worship. Recently, however, I realized that we can have a moment of silence at any time - DOH! I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, but it's made a huge difference in my teaching practice. Now, we have a moment of silence as part of transition from one task to the next. For instance, if we moving from math to read aloud, when the students gather on the carpet, I might ask for a moment of silence. The students quiet, become still, and at the end are more ready for what's to come.
In the book, A Quaker Book of Wisdom, Robert Lawrence Smith states: "For Quakers, wisdom begins in silence. Quakers believe that only when we have silenced our voices and our souls can we hear the 'still small voice', that dwells within each of us - the voice of God that speaks to us and that we express to others through our deeds. Only by listening in stillness for that voice and letting it guide our actions can we truly let our lives speak."
I may not be listening for an inner voice just yet, but I'm certainly centering myself and making my mind ready for the next task. And - it works. It turns out that the silence is calming. Not only am I forever changed by silence, but so is my teaching practice.