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!

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