Things You Learn When You Observe Other Teachers

Today I observe another college instructor to provide feedback, encouragement, and gain insight for future recommendations. I sit there with a pad of paper for notes, and I hide somewhere in the back of the room to watch what’s happening.

As I observe other teachers–especially the quiet, peaceful personalities–I learn that some teachers aren’t afraid of silence. They use silence in the classroom to deliberately create discomfort; they use silence to invite a deeper kind of grappling with ideas. Some teachers pose one complex question instead of a dozen. It’s slow and silent. Some, for example, show a short video or slide and then say nothing at all as they wait for students to imagine the question the media prompts. Students do all the work; the professor sets up the environment for inquiry and then retreats into silence.

The measure of successful lessons aren’t always a type of verbal engagement but rather a silent one. (After all, students engage with noise all day long. What does silence now mean to them?) Why did this feel so refreshing? Why did this feel so unusual–like a departure from the whole world for the 50 minute class?

Slow and silent. An instruct who disappears to let students into view. What is this new kind of classroom? 

I realize the vast opportunities for professional development in the area of using silence and single governing questions for a class where students think more than speak. I think about slowing down. I think about a new generation of students who live in noise and constant requests for verbal engagement. I think about silence, and I realize how much I need to learn.

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