We live in an age of noise. Not always loud noise, but certainly noise, almost always. And sometimes this can be just what we need. The buzz when I walk into assembly three times a week, the chatter in the dining room once the business of eating is finished, the hubub of the staffroom at break time is all good and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yet I know that in amongst all of this, one of the things I crave most is silence.
Certainly half of my walking and half of my sailing is done alone (or with Isla). She doesn’t talk much and so we sail or walk in companionable silence. At these times, a space is created where I can hear myself think and, once the chatter has subsided, I can start to listen again without the cacophony of modern life intruding. Without doubt, these are the times when my thinking is at its most productive. It’s not always ‘genius’ or ‘light bulb’ moments (I wish) but very often they are moments when I can suddenly distil an issue down into what really matters and have a moment of clarity, almost as if the secrets of the world are hidden within that silence.
‘So what’, you might say? Well, for me, these thoughts have certainly prompted me to wonder whether we give our young people enough space and time to find the secrets hidden in the silence. I know that research has shown that pupils on average require more than 10 seconds to even begin to formulate an answer to a question and often need as much as 30 seconds to fully frame their answer. And how long does a teacher give? On average no more that 3 seconds! Not enough by a factor of 10. So, using the silence that I will find in the hills this weekend, I plan to ponder how we might harness the power of silence in our everyday lives here at school.
John F Gilmour