Sunday Night Prep – The Power of Silence (Quasi-reflection)

This past week, something out of the ordinary happened with the group of students I spend 60 minutes with daily. At our small progressive project-based high school, students are in multiage groups of 15. Each group is called an advisory. I am an advisor. And for 45-60 minutes each day, we have Advisory. Advisory, advisor, and Advisory has been in existence for at least 20 years in places such as Minnesota New Country School in Henderson, MN. I see two big purposes for having  time chunked at the beginning and at the end of each day to meet as a multiage group of learners:
1. Build community
2. Develop and strengthen skills key to succeeding in a self-directed learning environment

Our school was set up with Google Apps this week. This was the third time I’d been at a school in which students were introduced to Google Apps. I had previously created a lesson for introducing students to Google Apps. The facilitation notes are below. The more I looked at the lesson plan, the more I realized it was not going to fit the needs of my advisory. Just as I was last year, this year I am fortunate to work with a very talented group of learners. However, the key difference between my advisory at my last school and my current advisory is that my current group of learners has more introverts than extraverts.     With this current group of learners being in just their sixth week of community, I couldn’t see them breaking out into small groups and collectively co-creating a single document- that’s the lesson plan called for.

As the day approached, I began to get nervous. I had a plan, but I didn’t like it. Since I don’t currently have access to editing a school website, when I need to get students to a particular web space, I have them go to a “Today” page on my portfolio. This method has been working well, and made the group run more efficiently than if I would have directed them to individual websites each day.

The day prior to this lesson in Advisory, I had posted the 5-step directions students needed to take to activate their Google Apps accounts. Three of the students in my advisory were successful in getting their accounts turned on. When we walked into Advisory last Wednesday, I asked the three students (dubbed “innovators”) to assist the late adopters and laggards in getting their accounts turned on. They did a great job! While they were assisting the students with activating their accounts. I started listing each students name on a blank Google Doc. The students were listed in order from my left all the way around the circle, ending with the student on my right…let me back up for a moment.

Advisory begins and ends with a circle. We sit in the circle to show the value of each person. When someone speaks, they do not speak to the adult facilitating, rather, the person speaking is addressing the entire group. And the group should respect the person speaking by focusing all of attention to the speaker.

As the last students were activating their Google Apps account, I informed the group we would be going into stealth mode. Stealth mode denotes absolute silence, and that an activity is about to begin which requires the silence of the group in order for the experience to take shape. As we entered stealth mode, students were directed to a Google Doc from the “Today” page. The title of the Google Doc, and also the prompt was, What do you want this advisory to be? The last bit of direction I provided was, “We’ll circle starting with the person on my left. Only one person types at a time.”

My only regret is that I didn’t do a QuickTime Screen Recording of the event. Google could have made a commercial out of it. To me, it was pure magic. The students interacted in a way I had never seen before from my advisory. They put 100% focus not just on the screen, but on the person typing. The sound of the student typing was loud. The reaction of each student to what was typed was palpable. There was a power in the silence.

My father is a Quaker. From the ages of 12 – 22, I went to the Fellowship of Friends a half dozen times with my father. It’s not the religion I practice, but it is something I will always remember and something I want my children to experience. Silence. Grouped silence. To my understanding, many Quaker fellowships run their groups a bit differently. I was twenty years old and a sophomore at UW-Madison. I met my father for breakfast at Mickey’s Dairy Bar and then accompanied him to a “Quaker meeting.” Being Catholic and in my late adolescence, it took me about a half hour to shut my mind off. After awhile, I remember fading into the silence and sitting in the light. To this day, I will never forget what it felt like. The room was rocking. It truly was. The silence was so powerful. 60 minutes of silence.

How much time per day do our students spend in silence?

How about teachers and administrators?

What time does your alarm go off? From the time you wake up in the morning, until your head hits the pillow at night, how many minutes do you experience silence?

This is radically different from 100 years prior, even 70 years prior. My dad’s dad, my grandpa Chet probably spent at least 3-4 hours each day in silence. He farmed. He was a mechanic. He was an inventor. Most days, I may spend just 3-4 minutes in silence. I am a talker. I am working on becoming a better listener. I was glad for the lesson my students showed me this past Wednesday.  I love teaching in a public school. And because I do love teaching in a public school, I won’t be espousing Quaker philosophies and juxtaposing them with my Catholic faith to my students; however, I do need to think deeply about creating rich learning opportunities for my students to experience silence.


FACILITATION NOTES which I did not use.

About Michael

Do Work!
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2 Responses to Sunday Night Prep – The Power of Silence (Quasi-reflection)

  1. Wonderful post Michael. I wonder the same thing about our staff members. How much would they benefit from having some silence in their day? Even during our professional development days, we (administrators) cram their time full of meetings and tasks just to make sure they are making “good use of their time.” Think how much the whole staff could get done if we mandated that there is to be no interaction for 3 hours on a PD day?

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