The Power of a Teacher’s Silence

If I ever doubted how much we affect our students when we’re not even aware of it, I had a visceral reminder of it yesterday while I was teaching.

I went to school yesterday with complete laryngitis – absolutely complete laryngitis – but I wasn’t feeling sick, and I had a relatively easy Friday schedule, so I knew I’d be fine even without a voice.

First thing in the morning, I decided to demonstrate the short geometry lesson using sign language: a strategy I often use while teaching anyway, sometimes exaggerating and pretending it’s a magic show.

Only this time, there was no teacher voice to accompany or explain along the way. I couldn’t even whisper. And the strangest thing happened…   As the lesson went on, the students stopped talking to one another, and gradually became very still and absolutely silent.  They were completely focussed on the lesson in silence – and even answered and responded with their own silent gestures as well.

It was so remarkable that I actually stopped teaching and tweeted it out — I had a couple of students take the photo and read what I was saying to make the most of the teachable moment, of course — and then they started talking about it.

One student said that he thought that it was a game he was supposed to play. Another said my not talking automatically made her feel like she needed to do the same thing. Another later added that my continued silence made her want to whisper all day, and not talk at all.

Fascinating!

How often do we try to explain to student teachers, pre-service teachers, that their voice is their most powerful tool as a teacher — that their students will respond to it, especially when they start to raise their own volume over the kids? And how often do we forget to use the power of our voice to calm things, and quiet our students back down when calm is needed?

But even more importantlyhow often do we forget how strongly we are affecting our students when we are least aware of it?  This kind of power carries enormous responsibility to use it mindfully, wisely, and for the benefit of our students.

What a great lesson you demonstrated to me yesterday my lovelies, Thank-you!

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About Cathy Beach

Recently retired elementary teacher and outdoor educator in rural Ontario, Canada. My Olympic Journeys may be over, but they lead me into some very exciting adventures with teachers and kids and the world of connected learning...
This entry was posted in 21st Century Learning, education and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Power of a Teacher’s Silence

  1. Susan says:

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating story. In my 20 year gig as a music teacher, laryngitis was an annual event for me. I always found the same thing you did, that the quieter I was, the quieter the kids were. I agree with you that there’s a powerful lesson in this – and we shouldn’t wait to get sick to put it into practice!

  2. Susan Watt says:

    Sorry, Cathy – the above comment was also by me, Susan Watt – I mistakenly left off my last name – thought you’d like to know. 🙂

    • Cathy Beach says:

      It’s like that scientific experiment I remember hearing about so long ago — that if you tapped a pencil very slowly you could actually slow down the speed of someone talking really fast, and if you tapped it very quickly, you could actually speed up the pace of someone’s talking. Very interesting, the effect we can have on others with very little effort!

  3. alanna29 says:

    Marcel Marceau would be so proud. Before my current gig, I was a drama teacher. Watching rambunctious grade 9s attempt to communicate in mime was always my favourite unit. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of quiet.

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