A secondary teacher turned university academic has highlighted the benefits of silence in the classroom.
As the pace of modern life grows more and more frenetic, Dr Helen Lees has become increasingly convinced that silence creates an atmosphere of calm and helps to improve pupils’ concentration, wellbeing and attainment.
She draws a distinction, however, between “strong” and “weak” silence. While the former is a deliberate stillness, where pupils are encouraged to sit and reflect, the latter is an enforced quiet, where teachers impose silence. Dr Lees told SecEd: “To achieve strong silence in the classroom is about people first talking together and agreeing to enter into silence, to use it, to respect it, even encourage it.
“It requires community agreement so that those who want it can have it without it being spoiled by those who do not actively want it. It is a constant negotiation that can lead to the value of silence being recognised, felt and experienced.
“The techniques for bringing it into the classroom are many – meditation sessions, mindfulness awareness exercises, being deliberately still, pausing and ideas like developing a quiet room that people can go to.”
Dr Lees, who trained as a citizenship and English teacher and is now a research fellow at the University of Stirling’s School of Education, believes that there is a case for silence being taught in schools “just as speaking and reading is”.
She began thinking about the importance of silence while she was doing her teacher training at an Essex secondary school nine years ago. She found that while her school was very focused on “speaking, being places, doing all kinds of things”, she couldn’t find “a single silent place”.
Dr Lees has now written a book on the subject and says that the response has been “overwhelmingly positive”.
She added: “There are some schools who work with silence everyday and have done for many years. There are others who have just started and offer things like meditation rooms, silent moments in assemblies or pausing during lessons.
“The key benefit I have found is that silence offers pupils space to think and to reflect.”
Silence in Schools is published by Trentham Books priced £21.99.