How many times a day do you think students are asked to be quiet?


During my graduate work I observed in a variety of different classrooms and schools and informally evaluated teacher effectiveness using specific tools. In one lesson I observed a teacher asking students to be quiet 47 times in a 40min lesson. Specifically…saying “shhhh”.


Imagine the valuable interaction and conversation missed.


In the professional world, there are times and places that it is appropriate to not talk. Listening to a presentation, sitting at a board meeting, usually when someone is presenting at the front of the room. I find myself, a learner, engaged in presentations…wanting to have the ability to push back, engage and participate in dialogue aligned with what the speaker is saying, many times failing in keeping my thoughts to myself. As a student, with likely less willpower than an adult, I can only imagine the self-regulation it takes a child to stay quiet. Of course, there are certain situations that are appropriate to ask students to refrain from talking in order to maintain a culture of learning throughout the building; when students are traveling to and from activities in the hallway, during formative/summative assessments, during the delivery of instructions, etc.


I have a challenge for educators around the country. During the course of a day, tally how many times you ask students to stay quiet. Whether it is a peace sign you hold into the air as you walk down the hallway, moving nearer to a chattering student during a portion of your lesson, or asking the class to “please, be quiet”.

We’ve read the research, by Hattie, supporting, “students who talk learn”, what are we doing to students if we are not engaging them in conversation? I’m not speaking of off-task talking; I’m speaking of dialogue based in the engagement of a lesson.


The classroom should be a cognitively vibrant place full of conversation and collaboration. This is an idea that educators, including myself, struggle with. I’ve found myself rushing through the course of the day only to find that I haven’t taken the time to listen. I’ve taken the time to be the one with “the voice”. This position has often times, not worked in my favor. Take a disciplinary issue for example; two students becoming physical on the playground. If I spend the moments with students lecturing, I never find out the events leading up to the incident. Many times what causes the confrontation in the first place is a misunderstanding among peers.


“I thought when you pushed me you were trying to knock me down”

“I thought we were playing tag, I didn’t know you had quit.”


I’ve always loved the students who challenge my perspective and teaching. I knew by pushing back, they were the ones who gained the most. The most exhilarating part of being a teacher is when students are so excited about what they are learning that they can’t possibly remember to raise their hand before they share their thoughts or ideas.


Our job as educators is to teach our students how to be successful following their formal education. Does that include not talking? Only speaking when spoken too? When I sit in a principals meeting, I’m not asked to nod compliantly, nor am I asked to stay silent, and I am definitely not asked to raise my hand before contributing. I’ve seen a quote circulating around the web, “When one teaches, two learn” I respectfully disagree with this…I believe, “When two teach, two learn”.


If the thought of inviting your students to share at will makes you begin to sweat…start small, have students turn and talk together about questions you or other students ask. Reversely, if students collaborating excites you…I encourage you to look into Socratic seminar. It’s amazing the conversations I’ve seen come out of this type of classroom dialogue.


A common goal of educators is to create thinkers, not re-gurgitators of information. In order to do this, we need to have students talking about their ideas, ideals, and respond to each other and not just to the one adult in the front of the room.


Please don’t tell our children to be quiet in order for them to learn. They have a voice, it’s worth listening to.

Lindsy Stumpenhorst is the principal and lead learner of Washington Elementary in Sterling, IL. For further reading by Lindsy check out her blog.

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