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Moments of silence


At the start of the school year, a new teacher asked me if it was OK to let her students start their warm up assignments one minute into the school's 3-minute moment of silence. My immediate response was no, it was not OK. That's because my philosophy is that when you plant yourself uninvited into a new community to teach, there are a few unspoken rules to follow, at least at first. Among them include:

1) Eat the food. Don't complain.
2) Try to like the music. Don't complain.
3) Avoid politics and religion, unless absolutely necessary. And even in those cases, don't complain.

As far as I can see, the mandatory moment of silence is a disguise for prayer in school. And that has to do with Rule No. 3: Don't mess with a community's religion when that community isn't yours (yet). Even though I, a secularist who believes in the separation of church and state, understood what she meant about her students being bored after 30 seconds of "reflection" and that the kids were the ones eager to dive into the work, I reminded her that it was important to follow the school's rules, especially when it came to something rather personal like reflection. I suggested she check with other teachers and with the administration on what is appropriate. The last thing she needed, I told her, was for parents to complain about her restricting their children's rights for a moment of silence and imposing her "liberal ways" on the students. Perhaps that sounds silly, but it is a real concern.

But the deeper issue that I contended with even after talking with her was whether a moment of silence is actually useful, especially when most students aren't utilizing the time to calmly reflect and prepare for the day. To me, that seems like an odd and silly thing to expect 15-year olds to do on command for three minutes. I don't think mandatory moments of silence should be built into the school day. I just don't see how they are useful. But maybe that's just knowledge I'm missing.

Two weeks ago, Teacher Magazine posted a survey asking readers whether they supported mandatory moments of silence in schools. What seemed like a whopping 47 percent out of 188 surveyed voted "yes." That makes me think that I must be missing something about the value of silence. How do you teach students to utilize the moment of silence in a meaningful way that doesn't involve prayer?



As a 40 year old, 17-year veteran educator of both students and teachers (now in professional development), it took several "minutes of reflection" to devise an answer that would speak to your question. I could read your youthfulness in your blog, but I could also appreciate your desire to find an answer and to be able to guide your TFA teacher to the right plan of action.

First, the teacher needs to do a little self-reflection to think about the skill of listening. We all have a conscience and whether or not you believe that it is God's voice, Jesus' voice or your own, we must learn to listen to our inner voice. This is what prayer and reflection are about. For those who chose to pray at that moment, that is their choice. For others who may not pray, it is a practice in listening to their inner voice. Our worlds are SO busy now that we rarely take the time to stop and listen to our thoughts and hearts.

In the past (and I'm not THAT old), before you had a television in every house, we listened to the radio more. And, prior to that, our parents and grandparents listened to radio for their entertainment time. Listenting is a skill that we must foster in our students. Many of them are visual learners, so we must utilize this for new instruction. We also should focus on strengthening the weaknesses we experience - often found in their audiory learning skills.

To get to the point, it would probably be worth a class meeting of 20 minutes or so to discuss the "moment of silence" time. NOT to say it is a waste - it is not! And NOT to say that we simply "have to do it because it is a school rule." This is a personal time of reflection. Reflection is about quiet thinking. To think about your mistakes of the day before and how you can make better choices today (whether you are praying about it or not). It is also time to think about those people who are not with you every day and wishing them go will. I wouldn't doubt that several of her students have family members who are in the military or who are in another country. Rather than dismiss the 3 minutes as 'a waste of time" she should model some of her thoughts. It is a dangerous zone, so safest would be to not challenge the time or get into personal beliefs. However, gentle discussion about how important it is as human beings to reflect on your past and help yourself make better choices today would stay in a safe zone for all.

As a Christian who was born, raised, and still lives in Texas (a heavily religious state in particular areas) - and who knows the Rio Grande Valley well - I would advise you to take her beyond compliance and urge her use this as a teachable moment on personal reflection.

Thank you for your contribution. I'm very proud of what you, TFA, and your teachers are doing for the students in our country!

After several years of teaching, I find a moment of silence is useful to a very few students. Even the "very religious" students are bored befor the moment of silence is over. I have no objections to the idea of "a moment of silence", just that it seems a waste to most students even though I consider myself in that group of "very religious".

It seems that this moment of silence is like anything else the kids don't know what to do with. They need some guidance to teach them what to do with the time.

While the moment of silence may be open in purpose, it doesn't mean you can't guide the students in developing their skills in using that time.

Some prompts that may help the students could be to ask them to count how many different noises they can hear in that 'silence.' Asking them to share will likely open up each students minds to what others hear and then next time, listen for it.

At first most people will think externally. A couple sessions later you can ask them to think of both external and internal noises. Again, sharing will hopefully reveal greater perception inspiring others to look deeper. These will, at least, occupy their minds for more of the 3 minutes and at most build their perception skills. It could progress to listening to how they feel and what thoughts are in their head.

Some people would call this meditation with an association to Buddhism, but I would argue that it's simply a way of developing the thought processes and skills for utilizing the moment of silence. Thinking is part of every religion.

This may be against the administration's idea of what the time is to be used for, and should be checked with them first.

Because part of accepting and joining another's culture without complaint or fear and with open mind is the hope that you may learn their values and what it is to be them.

And who knows; maybe, just maybe, the students (and Generation Y teachers) will learn the beauty and patience of silence -- as nature before 60 hertz electronics existed.

I have taught for just over 10 years now and my experience with moments of silence has been that, in order to be effective and not seen by the kids as an imposition, you have to give the kids a structure to follow and a reason for doing so. I start the year by teaching students why we have a moment of silence. Later I have the kids set goals: one personal, one educational, and one social. Then, each morning during our moment of silence I ask students to focus their thoughts on how they are doing with their goals. This makes it so that students have not only the opportunity to reflect and direct their own growth, but provides them with a structure to follow in order to develop the introspection that will help them as adults to become better people. The other strategy that I apply is to post a question or quote of the day every morning and allow students to respond to it in a journal of sorts. They are given the option of what to write (they may choose to write about their goals), but it provides them an outlet for their thoughts and a way to practice writing what they are thinking without fear of judgment or correction.

Listening to inner voice is a great idea but teachers need to guide the students. Students should not listen to their heart if the action/thought is irrational/immoral or againts the law. Therefore, teachers play an important role to monitor students in the "moments of silence".

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