Power in silence

Silence has always held particular power. Today, I realized where it’s power resides and how practice can provide the courage to make it even more powerful.

At the end of each year, we meet as an entire school and say farewell to those leaving the community. Some have come to our school recently and are moving on to another place or position. Some have been with us for what seems like forever. Inevitably, there are poignant reflections, inside jokes, and tears of goodbye. Because we are a PS-12 school, there are a wide variety of relationships. People you’ve seen a couple times at meetings, but barely know, and others that have made an impact on your life or career.

Every year, it is powerful, some more than others, but I always walk away with the positive and powerful feeling that comes from a connected community celebrating and separating at the same time. Over the last two weeks, I have been fortunate enough to take part in a number of bittersweet moments like this one, and for a number of reasons, these felt different. Maybe it was my new position. Maybe it was an unusually reflective and connected group. Either way, it was powerful. Even when people were sharing about someone I barely knew, there was connection.

As my mastermind group and I have been reading the book The Power of Moments, we have talked about the many ways we can elevate moments of learning and connection for our students or colleagues. There are some amazing ideas and I will probably need to reread to capture it all. The book mentions four elements that create powerful moments – elevation, insight, pride, and connection. As I’ve read, I have mostly thought about adding energy and excitement to create those powerful moments. But as I finished the chapter on courage, I realized elevated moments often happen unexpectedly and take practice. Today, I realized that they can also happen in silence.

As a Quaker school, we often meet the most special moments of our year with silence. Meeting for Worship – a practice of sitting silently together with a group of people – is deeply engrained in our traditions, and even our youngest students take part on a weekly basis. (Most of our Meetings last about 20-30 minutes. Less for the littlest ones.) Previously, I had thought of this as the opposite of elevation, since we are practicing a typical routine. I realized, however that in these special situations, it actually meets all of the criteria.

Elevation – We bring a wider community together – our whole school, parents and students, the local community.

Insight – The practice of silence requires critical thinking; in silence, we have the time to gather our thoughts, some of which we didn’t even know we had before. We let that inner voice speak to us, and if we feel led, we share that thinking with the group by standing and stating our thoughts, and sitting back down into the silence.

Pride – There is inherent pride in sharing a powerful message with a community, and often, the messages demonstrate a pride in others. To break the silence and share your deepest thoughts shows a deep level of courage, and often requires practice.

Connection – Standing to share a message also shows a deep level of connection. To think that your idea is important enough to share can be daunting; your body might even quake at the notion (Seriously, I didn’t believe it when I was younger, and never shared. Then it just happened one day, I felt the quake, and I had to share.) When you share that message, it is received by a room full of people who listen to every word and you can feel how deeply they care about you and your thoughts.

When I listened to fifth grade parents a couple weeks ago sharing messages that moved almost an entire room to tears, I was filled with purpose and gratitude. When I heard a parent relay the powerful messages shared at the final eight grade Meeting for Worship, I could recognize the importance of what we do on a daily basis. When I heard teachers today thank their colleagues for supporting them, for helping raise their child, the message of love shone through.*

I have been at my school for long enough, and been to enough Meetings for Worship, that I knew they have the opportunity to be powerful. Today, I started to realize why. It can elevate us to a place of insight, pride and connection.


* How much love does it take? To teach, a great deal. Because to teach, you have to love your students even when they make it difficult to love them. (This has to become a future blog. By writing this down, I am committing to that future blog.)

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