WARNING! Silence Ahead

pexels-photo-268533.jpegFor those who have seen Star Wars:  The Last Jedi, you are aware of the brief controversy that beleaguered theaters.  At 1 hour and 52 minutes into the film, Director Rian Johnson made an artistic decision to drop all sound from the film during a pivotal and dramatic moment (for those with scientific proclivities, you can read about it here).  I say that it beleaguered some theaters, as many locales posted signs warning patrons of the silence.  The reason?  Many viewers thought something had gone wrong with the theater sound system and complained to management after the film.  How could there have been 10 seconds of silence?

From my perspective, those 10 seconds of silence ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire film.  During that brief moment, I could feel the tension mounting in the film framed by the sudden awareness of what was about to unfold.  And, after 1 hour and 52 minutes of being immersed in images and sound that kept me engaged and entertained, I realized that the sounds I could now hear were my fellow movie-goers as they gasped and reacted in a variety of emotions as to what was happening.  It was 10 seconds well spent.

Why, you might be asking, would I be writing about this moment nearly a month and a half after seeing the film?   Two recent interactions got me thinking deeper about those 10 seconds and the power of silence.

A member of my PLN shared an article by John McCarthy entitled Extending the Silence.  In his Edutopia piece, McCarthy advocates for giving students anywhere from several seconds to two minutes to consider a question– in silence– before responding.  This is based on research that has found that most teachers wait only 0.9 seconds before soliciting responses from students.  He compares internal and external thinkers, highlighting that internal thinkers may need the time to understand a question and develop a response while external thinkers may be processing and developing their response as they are speaking.  He posits:

“One solution is for teachers to pause for five to 15 seconds before calling on students. The silence for some may feel unbearably long. Yet consider that the fastest male and female 100-meter sprinters in the world run at or under 10 seconds. The world record is under 10 seconds, which goes by quickly. Why not offer a similar amount of time for students to consider their responses to questions that require deep thinking?”

Ten (10) seconds…
.. of silence.

My experience in classrooms has been very similar.  From sitting as a student in elementary school to teaching my own students to observing some amazing teachers, I have watched as teachers (myself included) ask a question…rephrase the question…ask the question again… and clarify it one more time.  And then call on the student who has raised his or her hand. All within seconds.

No silence.

A second interaction this past weekend caused me to ponder the importance of silence.  While teaching a doctoral course on professional development and supervision, I had students participate in Notice and Wonder Protocols for Data as found in Daniel R. Venables latest ASCD publication Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs:  The Human Side of Leading People, Protocols, and Practices.  Venables highlights the importance of silence in an authentic PLC, as it can indicate “deep thinking and reflection” and an expert facilitator who has a “comfort with silence in the group” (p. 42).  Venables also warns that silence can be destructive, especially when it is considered to imply agreement when most times it does not.  One of the members of the class shared that the protocols were helpful in terms of moving the conversation forward, but that he was often uncomfortable with the silence as he wanted the conversation to move forward.  His reflection was very important to me from the standpoint of understanding the power of silence in terms of time for reflection on the part of participants AND what silence can sometimes mean, purposefully, in other ways.

Silence…. wait time.

Just like Johnson’s artistic decision to embed 10 seconds of silence at 1 hour and 52 minutes into The Last Jedi, I believe we should be cognizant of when providing purposeful silence for our students, classes, principals, and teams will allow for thought, reflection and the development of responses.  We should not be afraid of silence that we have purposefully added as part of the process;  however,  we should also recognize what silence from others may portend. Silence has place and meaning.

  • What are your thoughts on silence as a time to reflect and develop your thoughts?
  • Do you build time in for silent reflection for yourself?  For your teams?
  • Have you ever misjudged silence from a team member as affirmation or agreement, when in fact it was the opposite?

I would appreciate you sharing your thoughts…and not in silence!

Running Out of Gas

empty-fuelLast Friday I ran out of gas while driving.  I hate to admit, but it was not the first time this has happened.  On Thursday the “warning light” started to glow brightly on my dash, along with the calculation of how many miles remained until the tank was on empty.  But I am a better of judge of when it is really on empty…. because, as you can guess, I am a better judge of how far I can drive until there is nothing in the tank.

I misjudged.  Several detours, unexpected stops, and swift maneuvers found me heading back to my office late in the afternoon with a calculated stop at a gas station in the plan.  What I neglected to figure into my navigation was the location of the gas station (on the downside of a rather large hill) and my current situation (on the upside of said rather large hill).  Needless to say, it did not quite work out as planned.

As I drifted to the side of the road and switched on the hazard lights, I was extremely thankful for my AAA membership.  I dialed the number, and within no time I was connected to an assigned representative named Cynthia.  She was perfunctory in her duties until I identified the year (2017), make (Subaru), and model (Legacy) of my vehicle. This information unleashed Cynthia’s observations in the following exchange:

Cynthia:  What??? Are you telling me that you are sitting at the side of the road in that beautiful car because you ran out of gas?

Me:  Yes, ma’am.

Cynthia:  Does it not have a little light on the dashboard that indicates when your tank is low?

Me:  Yes, ma’am. It even calculates how many miles are remaining.  But I pushed it too far.

Cynthia:  You choose to ignore that information and light and just keep going, didn’t you?

Me:  Yes, ma’am.

Cynthia:  You are just like my husband.  What is that all about?  He has a very nice car and runs it to empty all the time.  Me?  I fill my tank when I am at half a tank.  Drives my kid’s crazy.  “Why do you have to get gas now, Mom?” They ask all the time.  I just don’t see there ever being a reason to run out of gas.

Me:  So I guess I should not tell you that this has happened to me before?

Cynthia:  WHAT??? You have run out of gas before?  (Invoking her religious beliefs) What is wrong with you? Have you not learned your lesson?

Me:  Please don’t tell my wife.

Cynthia:  Oh, trust me.  I am marking it right here in the log. And I have your home number.  Have you learned your lesson this time?

Me:  Yes, ma’am.

Cynthia:  I am glad to hear that.  Your service man should be there in about thirty minutes.

Me:  Cynthia?

Cynthia:  Yes, Mr. Roth?

Me:  Thank you for making my day.  Seriously.

Cynthia: (Pause, Laugh).  Absolutely, my pleasure.   Now don’t do this again.

As I reflected upon this exchange (I had time on my hands sitting on the side of the 378 Wyandotte Hill), it dawned on me as a leader that sometimes I may be running out of gas.  What should I do to ensure that does not happen, keeping me from moving on my journey and ultimately reaching my destination?

Keep your tank full- your plan or navigation might change

As a leader, I often persevere and push through, neglecting to fill my own personal tank.  What that looks like will depend on the individual.  Maybe it’s some family time.  Perhaps visits to the gym.  Or immersing oneself in learning.  The point is I should be doing it before the warning light comes on, as I might not know what the next turn might hold.  It might be losing patience in a difficult situation.  Forgetting my reason for leading. Or just plain getting tired because of the latest mandate or policy change.  But if my tank is full, and if I keep it full, I might be better prepared to make it up that unexpected hill.

Secure your insurance and back-up for support

As a leader, I know I am often guilty of not reaching out to my team or peers.  I (mistakenly) think that either they are too busy with their own woes, stresses or struggles or that I may be a bother or nuisance to them.  But then I realize they are on my team or are a colleague for a reason. And for me, that is for collaboration and sharing when things are going as expected, and for help and support when they are NOT going as planned.  Their expertise and insight might be exactly what I need to be better at leading or getting through a difficult challenge (just like AAA for drivers). And hopefully I do the same for them.

Ensure your sense of humor

I often laugh at myself, making light of the mistakes I make, the things I say or the actions I take.  For me, a sense of humor in situations that are potentially stressful help me to cope and maintain a sense of clarity.  I am so glad that Cynthia was my AAA representative on that Friday.  She helped me to realize the humor in the situation and my own foolish choices.  If I had not chosen to accept her comments as making light of the situation to alleviate stress, I would have missed out on a positive interaction with another human being that just plain made me smile.

So as a leader, I ask you:

How do you keep your tank full?

Who is your insurance and back-up for support?

What keeps you moving forward?

How do you ensure you don’t run out of gas?