Unplugd12: Rigor & Silence

Learning Relationships Crew
My “Glamping” accoms

My office

James editing my letter

The view whilst we worked
Groups in action

How we connect
There are numerous opportunities in an educator’s career for professional development. Depending on who you are and the quality of said opportunities, you can often feel underwhelmed – either due to the content, the delivery, or the atmosphere. I often feel that the atmosphere at many PD events is filled by a sense of malaise and toxicity that prevents the creation or furthering of knowledge amongst educators. And then there is Unplug’d.
For those of you who are not aware, Unplug’d is a pretty unique event whereby a bunch of educators, who are generally innovative and connected, are asked to disengage from the world and come together in an effort to further our understanding of what matters in terms of education. The event takes place annually at The Northern Edge Algonquin Retreat & Adventures venue, just outside of Algonquin Park in “northern” Ontario. 40 of us were asked to bring our stories to the weekend in an effort to create an eBook that would hopefully attack a variety of themes and elements that encompass good pedagogy, good learning, and immense passions for teaching. Unplug’d is not PD. It is not a top ten list of top ten ipads apps that create top ten lists. It is something unique that should be experienced by all educators who are passionate about teaching. Uplug’d, as my new friend Jess McCulloch suggests, “does not celebrate mediocrity.”
Although I can be quite cynical, I was greatly impressed by my experience at “The Edge” and took away two really important nuggets, if you will. The first deals with the notion of silence. Every year, I try to tackle some sort of conceptual analysis of something we take for granted within education. Over the past few years, I have tried to deconstruct concepts like “learning,” “teaching,” and “knowledge.” This year, I was planning to look at the concept of rigor. So often do we talk about rigor (and most complex ideas) without really fully understanding what we are considering. Following this weekend and dealing with my silent nature in large groups, I think that I need to explore the idea of silence within my classroom. Do I provide enough silence for my students and their voices? Do I allow for wait time or am I always performing and filling what I perceive as vacuums of silence?  Do I practice silence in the classroom? Furthermore, I need to explore why I am quiet in large groups and whether or not I am comfortable with it.
The second item that I will take away from this experience is the knowledge that I am not alone.  I realize that I have an impressive network of innovative, caring, and unbelievably knowledgeable teachers who just happen to live across the globe. Throughout my career, I have often felt isolated, as my methodologies have been deemed odd or threatening. My confidence has been renewed and I feel even more empowered and pushed.
For the parents and students, please know that there are countless educators who think education is serious business, who are not satisfied with teaching from the textbook, and are determined to inspire and engage their students. As parents and students, you should not demand any less. 

12 thoughts on “Unplugd12: Rigor & Silence

  1. Hi Matt,You write with eloquence. Silence in our classrooms is a hot-button topic given the push for all-collaboration all-the-time, for group work and shared voice, for speaking thoughts out loud with elbow partners. I too think about how to create a place for quiet. I know of one teacher who has been criticized for the silence in her room – and yet these students produce some of the most outstanding creative work that I have seen from grade 2 students. I'm curious about the conversation that will come from this post.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Matt. I admire your ability to stay quiet in such a loud world. I think we would all benefit from closing our mouths and opening our ears more. I think oftentimes, we rush to fill the silent times because we misunderstand and under-appreciate the value of silence and the virtue of contemplative thought. Thanks to you and your questions/suggestions, I am going to try to make a conscientious effort to be quieter, more thoughtful, and more attentive in my life. Oh, and to eat more kale.

  3. Your insight and the way you voiced this in the closing circle, Matt, was brilliant, and resonates a lot with me. I struggle with this and the dynamic when things are not silent.

  4. Matt I too am very silent in large groups but I love interacting with people one on one. I did that a lot this past weekend.In addition the goal of my letter to the black sheep was to show that while so many of us struggle with not being accepted in our schools we are not alone. Ever since I got connected last summer I realize that there are so many people out there that are actually a lot like me. I love that.Thanks for getting me to re think about my goals for next year. One of them is to be mindful of the words I chose to use with my students. I'm going to add to that goal by being mindful to provide times of quiet to allow my students to blossom then too. Karen

  5. Two books that you might like come to mind: Quiet by Susan Caine and The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer. Interestingly, Palmer comes from a Quaker background – interesting thoughts about community, solitude and learning spaces. Brenda

  6. Thanks for all of this, Matt. After returning to the world of tense labour relations and teacher-bashing in Ontario, I especially appreciate your last two paragraphs.

  7. I too become very quiet in large groups Matt – you express this phenomenon well, and I too wonder why that happens. But I have come to believe that it is in silent moments that real reflection and consolidation of learning can take place and that takes time. I agree that we don't provide enough of this in our classrooms – we once thought that quiet classrooms were signs of great management skills – then we moved into a phase where we valued "noisy" classrooms because that was a sign of lots of engagement and collaboration. But what about those who need some silence from time to time? Time for some balance…

  8. I like the idea of finding dreamtime, quieting the voice and the mind, especially in nature."Slipping deeper and deeper into an urban trance, ears become deafened to the voices of the natural world. Their singing, beckons the spirit and urges the sense to surface and awaken to the song that is ever present, but often ignored." ~ Andrea Stone.Silence presents an opportunity to listen. . . and in that listening, who knows what might be heard?

  9. Hi Matt,I too have been contemplating the value of silence in my classroom, and have actually been considering testing a hypothesis about grounding studients in silence at the beginning of the class. I'm considering asking students to participate in an experiment that requires them to enter the classroom silently, take 2-3 minutes to collect their thoughts, ground themselves and be ready for lively, engaging work for the rest of the class period. I know for myself those early morning minutes before the masses hit are critical to my learning and teaching and I'm wondering it it's the same for students. Any thoughts out there?Diane

  10. Sir, I am really impressed by your article. To be honest, I would never consider YOU as someone who is "quiet in large groups" and "practice silence in classrooms", until today. To me, silence brings less communication, which you don't appear to like. However, silence does not necessarily provide vacuum; it usually gives people personal time and space to reflect and finish their work. This will benefit students, because humans are essential individuals that need to think much. I think you maybe want to consider about how to keep balance between teamwork, communication and personal reflection within students.I will study philosophy and psychology this year, in the end of this year, I might be able to talk more about that with you.The school will begin in a few days, I hope you can figure out your own way of teaching regardless of authority (which is why we like you, and even our parents). We will always support you.

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