The Power of Silence

listen-upAs we’ve talked about before, building relationships is a very important part of every classroom’s culture. In building relationships, communication is very important. Teachers should seek to understand, before seeking to be understood.

Editors Note: This post is written by guest author Aubrey Trimble. The views expressed are her own.

I learned recently about the  power of silence within a conversation. I know that may sound a bit like an oxymoron; “The power of silence within a conversation,” but after working with at-risk students and students with special needs now for almost ten years,  I have learned to be comfortable with silence and allow the students more wait time to respond when we are having crucial conversations.

This was a hard lesson for me to learn due to the fact that I am chatty by nature. When I would have students come into my office to discuss issues they were having I found that I was processing/talking through the problem by myself and not involving the student within that important life lesson of talking through a problem, coming up with solutions and reflecting upon the result.

Like most of the important lessons I have learned throughout my teaching career, a student helped me find the power in silence. A freshman student, we will call Joe, was beginning to fail many of his academic classes and was transferred into the Academic Center for second semester. I had had his older brother the previous year and was familiar with the family background.  Joe came to the Academic Center angry to be in there, feeling as though he did not need any academic support, which in all truth, he did not. Joe was a bright student who was, unknowingly at the time, trying to go through the process of grieving his father who had passed suddenly the year before.   When Joe came into the AC I tried all my usual tricks of the trade; I asked about his family, classes, and talked about the importance of school. Throughout this whole process, Joe was stone cold, quiet and angry. He was scheduled into the Academic Center for his third hour period and most days ended up in my office for trying to sleep, talking back, etc. Every day he would come into my office I would talk at him, instilling upon him what I felt was important in terms of respecting his teachers, reaching his potential, etc. etc. etc. and Joe never spoke.

I went home every night thinking about Joe because I was at a loss of what to do and uncomfortable with the silence between us. So then I decided to try a new approach: be comfortable with the silence and allow Joe to have the control about where the conversation would go. The next day, Joe ended up in my office and instead of reading him the riot act I asked, “Do you need any help with your work?” and left it at that. The first day, no response. The second and the third, no response. Until one day he really opened up about the fact that he did really struggle with math and that he was not applying himself anywhere else because he is just angry and grieving; he actually felt guilty that he may be the reason for his dad’s untimely death. My usual conversations with students stayed, for me , in the “safe zone” of school work, behavior expectations, homework and the like, but Joe took me out of my comfort zone to talk about the root of his academic issues, which were not academic at all. He became a regular visitor in my office and eventually became quiet the chatty kiddo. When he was ready, we involved his guidance counselor to help him begin his journey through the grieving process and talking through some of the guilt he was feeling.

Most teachers, by nature, like to talk. Most teachers, by nature, want to feel in control of their students and classrooms. Most teachers, by nature, want what is best for their students. I found that, at times, what is best for my students is to allow myself to let go and have faith in where the conversation and student may take me.