’Tis the Season for Silence, Reflection, and Creativity

This week’s blog post is by Chief Educator Michal Eynon-Lynch.

The excitement of the beginning of the year has passed and now the days grow darker and colder. Homecoming is done, no more Halloween costumes, even midterms and parent-teacher conferences are over. This time of year can feel like a hard push to winter break. Attitudes can turn sour as everyone looks forward to a break that still seems far away. I call it the November doldrums.

The good news is, this kind of dip in attitude is wholly expected and it doesn’t need to feel like a downer if we change our thinking about it. The natural cycles of the year impact our moods and energy levels. During these shorter days, we naturally go into a kind of hibernation. Our bodies want to eat different kinds of foods and rest more. As a society, we generally don’t pay much attention to these natural rhythms or give them due attention. Instead, we try to overcome them and pretend that we can go go go all the time. It can feel confusing and frustrating when we expect ourselves to keep the same energy level but can’t.

While our culture tends to view restfulness as laziness or wasted time, our minds make great use of quieter times to synthesize, imagine, contemplate, and create. Instead of trying to ignore this tendency toward hibernation, we can help our students embrace it. Plan for lesson activities that make use of silence, reflection, and creativity.

Ideas for Starting with Silence

The First Five

Start class with five minutes of silent written reflection. Reflection on what? Whatever makes sense for your class! It could be a reflection on the reading homework or yesterday’s lesson. It could be a reflection on the weather in the foreign language you teach or reflecting on progress on a big project due in a couple weeks. Whatever it is, welcome students’ emotional and rational reflections. You can let these be private reflections in a journal or ask for volunteers to share their thoughts. I recommend not asking for this writing to be turned in. While we might worry that if students don’t have to turn it in they won’t take it seriously, I think this is a good time to take the risk. Some students might not get as much out of the opportunity to reflect, but others will and they will appreciate the trust you are giving them by not checking their work.

Silent Work Time

Give student silent work time. Having a quiet space to think and work on a project or paper is priceless. Our students’ lives can be so hectic that they don’t always know how to take advantage of quiet time (assuming they have it at all). Teach them how. Students love to chat, but you can help them appreciate the gift of silent creative time. It doesn’t have to be silent; I recommend playing some gentle music, especially something without lyrics. You might be tempted to let students put on headphones, but I recommend keeping headphones in their desks. The time spent together in collective quiet is very valuable. It builds a community of learners who are respectful to each other and honor the importance of quiet.

Think Bigger

Plan more significant creative projects for this time of year. Rather than small homework assignments, try to plan your bigger creative projects for this time. Consider projects that need creative writing, or illustration, or models. Get out the glue, the construction paper, and the sharpies. Tune into the different types of creativity your students bring to the table and figure out how to unleash them.

Use these ideas to harness the natural rhythms of the season, allowing students space for quiet reflection and work. The cozy atmosphere you create can produce a wellspring of self-awareness, satisfaction, and creativity.