Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Silent Day Takeaways

Almost halfway through the school year, I got laryngitis. No voice whatsoever; in fact, my friend & colleague told me that whispering actually made it worse. So, there I was, three days shy of winter break, having to unexpectedly rely on my students to run things. And they did. They took over, working together, figuring things out, communicating with each other and with me to continue learning and growing. It was awesome.

Then winter break arrived and, with it, time to actually dig into some professional reading that seems to get pushed to the bottom of the priority list during the school year. My goal was to read Learn Like a Pirate (TLAP) by Paul Solarz, on the recommendation of several teacher friends both in the building and in my PLN. I chose it because, while my class was humming along pretty well for mid-December, there were a couple of things that were bugging me, things I knew I could do better management-wise, but couldn't quite put my finger on them. Reading TLAP and reflecting on my practice helped me identify those "things," and I returned in January armed with ideas to give my crew more control and responsibility in the classroom.

The kids ate them up. Giving them more voice - they ran the mornings, getting each other ready for specials, and the afternoons, setting goals and getting us ready to go home - really helped them feel like the room was theirs. I had been preaching this idea all year, but the students hadn't felt it, because I hadn't given them the opportunities to do so. They took this new responsibility and ran with it. I talked less (and smiled more.) I had more time to connect with students in the mornings and afternoons, rather than wasting that precious time doing lunch count and filling out assignment notebooks. The more control and responsibility they had, the more they respected me for trusting them enough to give it to them. It was a win-win.

Our tribe on the last day of school
Enter Silent Day. According to Solarz, Silent Day is something the students work for all year, a day where they run the classroom from bell to bell. While the teacher is present for supervisory purposes, she is silent. Problems? The kids figure it out. They arrive at school, transition from subject to subject, move around the building, and solve any problems that arise. It is a day of celebration: a responsibility they've earned. To be honest, I didn't think they (read: I) would be ready to tackle a Silent Day. I hemmed and hawed throughout February and March. Then, in late April, I threw caution to the wind, quietly mentioning Silent Day to a group of kids who were with me at the end of the day as the rest were at after school band. Naturally, they loved the idea, and word spread that it was a possibility. We had a class meeting, and I shared with them the philosophy behind Silent Day and that, if they wanted it, they'd have to earn it.

We embarked on a month-long Silent Day bootcamp, knowing that it'd be messy because I hadn't prepared them for true independence for a full year. I sprang unexpected things on them: not picking them up from a special, ringing the transition bell but saying nothing, coming in from recess for math but saying nothing. The less I said, the more they led. They were ready. The day before Silent Day, we had a meeting. They had asked for a plan. I had one ready for them: what you need, who would lead, for every part of the day. I shared with them that I didn't expect perfection, just effort. My biggest concern, addressed in several class meetings, was "bossiness" versus "leadership." We'd see how that played out. (Side note: my administrators were super supportive when I told them what the kids were preparing for.)

Silent Day commenced on the Wednesday of the last week of school (the days leading up to it bought me INCREDIBLE behavior during a time of year that kids are traditionally coming out of their skin. Bonus!) Throughout the day, I spoke only twice: when we were at our local library on a walking field trip (and that was as a fellow book fan, not as a teacher), and when a tech snafu meant a change in formatting that the kids weren't sure how to tackle. That situation took about 5 minutes, then I melted back into the background to observe the kids in their leaderless habitat. They worked hard, they struggled. They succeeded.

I have a tremendous amount to take away from Silent Day, and I want to write it down here before I forget. Much to celebrate, and a lot to do differently. First, the celebrations:

  • They did great! They were a bit uncomfortable at first, feeling a bit rudderless, I think. But they took that discomfort and went with it. 
  • They were flexible! I had a math quiz on the books during our pre-meeting. I got rid of it, opting for them to have more time to create their Civil War website. They saw my note on the board and were good to go.
  • They were really on task! I daresay they were more on task then when I was actually involved. They wanted to succeed at this. They wanted to own it. And they worked SO HARD to accomplish that goal. I'm incredibly proud of them.
  • 100% of the class - despite their discomfort, and despite things they'd do (or want done) differently (see below) - voted that they'd want to do Silent Day again if given the chance. This speaks to the mindset of this group: always wanting to give it another shot, see what happens, see what they could learn from it.
What I'd do differently:
  • As I alluded to a little earlier, I'd give them more responsibility earlier in the year. They still tried to ask me things they need to be doing for themselves:
    • Student: "Where do I put this?" 
    • Me: *cocks my head, waits* 
    • Student: *whispers the answer to her own question* 
    • Me: *smiles*
  • I gave most of the instructions they day before. Why not leave it for them on that day? That was still me trying to be in control.
  • The bossiness versus leadership thing was a biggie. Interestingly, it was during the transitions to and from lunch and recess that this became an issue. When we had our Silent Day post-mortem the following day, this issue was the one that affected most students. Interestingly, even though we didn't use any names (so as not to make the meeting accusatory, but more problem-solving in tone) the students who veered more into bossiness than leadership were uncharacteristically quiet during the meeting. I'm hoping that they were reflecting on the affects of their behavior on their fellow classmates. This one is something I'll need to continue to reflect on as my teaching continues to shift. I knew it'd be an issue going in. We talked - a lot - about the differences between a boss and a leader. But I don't think I gave the kids - neither the bosses nor the boss-ees - enough opportunities to feel or internalize those differences.
All in all, Silent Day - and our movement toward a more student-led classroom -  resulted in huge shifts for me as a teacher. I knew that student-led classrooms were successful, but I hadn't actually experienced what it would feel like as a teacher. My job was actually easier this year. I was less stressed, less overwhelmed with the weight of all the daily decisions on my shoulders. If I wasn't sure about something, I'd ask the kids. Their 10- and 11-year-old brains would come up with creative solutions to problems that my 43-year-old brain hadn't thought of. They became a resource. I became a facilitator. Now I can't imagine running our classroom any other way. I am grateful to Paul Solarz for sharing his ideas in his book, and for my colleagues - both building and virtual - for their collaboration as we continue on this crazy journey called teaching and learning.

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Thank you to the wonderful crew at Two Writing Teachers for allowing me to share my Slice of Life. For more slices, click here!


  1. I love this idea and your suggestions. I am going to share this idea in just a moment!

    1. Thank you, Anita! It all came from that book I mentioned... it was such a godsend this year!


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