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A new school year brings new opportunities to practice silence. Yes, practice. Silence can be a rewarding part of the school day but it takes some getting use to. We start the year with 20 minutes of silence and build up over the course of the year to 35 minutes.
A query (a question or a statement) is posed to the group, and after reflection, individuals may share their thoughts. Queries this year have centered around our mini unit on diversity and building community. One popular query was, “If you could have any superpower to help our community what would it be?” Although students are encouraged to allow for some time for reflection between shares, we have had what is known as “Popcorn Silences” this year, as students eager to share have popped up one after another to express opinions.
Sitting quietly does not come naturally to many of us. This fall, we held a guided Silence at which students were given suggestions for what to do with their minds and bodies during Silence, such as sitting up straight and pressing fingertips together and focusing your eyes on the floor in front of you rather than classmates across the room. To clear their minds, students were told to examine all the items they had “on their plate” that might keep them from focusing on the silence. After examining their day and feelings about each upcoming event, students were asked to “clear their plates” and try to center themselves so they could think clearly about the query or other important topics that were on their minds. Many felt that these exercises, although challenging, were helpful.
Gathering for Silence is not all about being quiet; it is about sharing time together. Following Silence on Fridays, we enjoy sharing community news. Homerooms can share highlights about their week. This is when we congratulate our teams and performers, celebrate accomplishments, and share funny anecdotes. Homerooms can also share news from outside of our school. There are reports on international, national, and local news, (Isis and Ebola taking center stage) technology and environmental news (Iphones and climate march making headlines), and sports and entertainment (terrible Jets and awful Giants taking center stage). A class picks a song to share with the community, which often leads to students dancing in their seats. Paul House’s rendition of Bacon Pancakes from the TV show Adventure Time got us all rolling. Finally, we have crystal ball news. This is often a skit performed by members of a homeroom celebrating three events that may take place in the near future. Raucous laughter often ensues before we settle back into silence and transform our 175 folding chair Meetinghouse back into our gymnasium. While there have been several highlights of our Silences thus far, we recognize that it is a work in progress and we will get better at it … with practice.
Middle Division Co-Director