The idea of 'Silent Teacher Day' was one which I stumbled over and have run with ever since. Everything about it hit the right notes with me the second I read a post by teacher Adam Hill (click here to read it for yourself) who had been inspired by the work of Paul Solarz (Learn Like a Pirate, 2015), explaining how he had used it as a reward and had let his class lead for the day whilst he and his TA watched on in silence. It really is what it says on the tin; an opportunity for the children to lead, and I mean REALLY lead, whilst I observe, take notes and pictures, and bite my nails whilst anxiously hoping that they will agree on a communal way to get through the six hours of the school day productively.
I plan the day thoroughly in advance, producing resources, presentations and print outs that can be easily accessed and understood. The computerised stuff is left in plain view so that the group can spot it easily. In the weeks running up to 'the big day' I try to ensure that they know where the timetable is in the classroom, that they can take a register and that they have had the opportunity to lead single lessons (Handwriting and Spelling is a good one, but after some practice kids will amaze you at how brilliant and engaging they can be at the front of the classroom, or on the sports pitch, in front of their peers, in pretty much any lesson). It's then just a case of seeing if they can put it all together - whilst managing behaviour, staying on task and actually getting some work done! Whilst myself and my TA, and in today's case my trainee too, watch on. Zero input. Nada.
Well today marked six weeks and three days in to the new school year and my fives were ready(ish). I had been teasing them about this happening since they pitched up at the start of September, but they had no idea about what was waiting for them as they entered the classroom. I was greeted by the usual "Good morning Mr Wilson”s, which I duly ignored, and it wasn't long before a few had clicked that I wasn't interacting with them whatsoever.
Anyone who follows the blog will know that I start each day with a morning challenge slide. It's a daily kick-start to our self-autonomy and the children know that they come in, settle down and get on with the tasks presented to them. Today's (which you can find in the 'free downloads' at the bottom of the page) featured 'silence' as the word of the day and the main challenge involved creating a list of attributes linked to strong leaders. As the remainder of the group streamed through the doors, many complied with our classroom normalities, whilst a group of between ten and fifteen congregated around the board and my unoccupied desk, where they began playing with the computer and drawing pictures on the whiteboard.
This post is titled 'Silent Teacher Day V' for a reason. This was the fifth time I had held one; with my first coming shortly after I returned from Denmark in 2017 (where I witnessed countless, brilliant examples of student-led classrooms and teachers who facilitated rather than slave drove). On that occasion, I sprung it on my year fours and, after looking back through notes I made that day, I recall that it took them precisely eighteen minutes to have organised a pair of handwriting teachers and to have settled down to quiet, focused writing - I was quite literally stunned and felt enormous pride. The pattern continued on the next three occasions I stayed silent, with the same group of year fours towards the end of the same year, and then twice with my year fives in 2018. This time however, it took a full hour and twenty minutes for the group to find their seats, nominate leaders and get to work. I had to bite my tongue as I watched poor behaviour, listened to shouting out and silliness and observed a group who were behaving like they had just been let off the leash for the first time. I looked at my trainee and considered the idea that perhaps she thought I had lost the plot - however, I persevered and allowed them to recognise the challenges which were being faced and fix them.
We had a period of around thirty minutes which ran smoothly before a group of six children who had been out for Bikeability training returned and instantly swayed the dynamic and attempted to take control; instantly questioning what was being done and those who had managed to instill an order. Over break time, the new group took it upon themselves to select teachers for the remainder of the day without the input of their peers (It was all a bit 'Lord of the Flies'). To their credit they marked books and handed out maths books ready for our following session, but were greeted with disdain by the remainder of the class upon their return from the playground.
After another hour of bickering, and a lesson on the four operations and the methods used to add, subtract, multiply and divide, which went down like a damp squib, I did something that I had never done before and called a halt to proceedings fifteen minutes prior to lunch. Feedback has always taken place at the end of the school day before, but this gave me an opportunity to highlight the positives and dissect the negatives earlier on. We discussed the difficulties involved in establishing a productive environment and how the hard work had been undone by the unnecessary need for some to be centre-stage. The group left for lunch, 45 minutes peace...
Following a bite to eat and some burning off of energy, the group returned. They had clearly taken on-board the advice given earlier and began to employ the methods that we had practiced in previous weeks in order to democratically nominate teachers. Votes were taken for both topic and art lessons quickly and the majority sat sensibly and listened to their newly announced leaders present and advise. One teacher eloquently led a discussion on 60s food, technology and clothing - requesting that the group discuss each aspect individually before asking for input. Hands were used and ideas were shared. It had taken some time, and it had been hard work, but they had managed to pull it together and I was impressed with what had been achieved.
The day ended with the debrief; another opportunity to discuss what had gone on and how we felt about it. I asked the class some poignant questions - the most important of which in my mind was - 'Did anyone encounter any problems today that you needed an adult to resolve?'. A few hands shot up, but with each response came my same reply - 'But you did solve it yourself, didn't you?’. It turned out that I had actually only had to resolve one issue all day, and that happened at lunch time and involved a member of another class. This was a positive wake up call for everyone; I believe they left with the attitude that actually, 99% of the time, they could solve their issues through team-work, resilience and a bit of good old fashioned hard work.
If you were to ask me what we learned in English today, or about the progress we made in maths, I’d have to tell you that we didn't. I couldn't tick off any academic targets and we didn't hit any curriculum-linked objectives. We did, however, do something that I feel we should all take some time out to do. We learned to be self-motivated, autonomous and strong. We learned that when you come face to face with an issue we fix it and we went home feeling proud that we made it through the day and came out of the other side with an ever increasing maturity. Silent teacher day is the day when my students go from being children to young adults in my mind. We still have heaps to learn and improve on, but we are in much better shape to get there now.
Why not give 'Silent Teacher Day' a go? I've heard people say that it wouldn't work with some groups but I'd argue that, after seeing children with behavioural difficulties, SEND, EAL and/or a huge lack of confidence come through it with a smile and pride that we should place more confidence in the ability of all our children to lead and learn from the front. I would love to hear your comments, so please contribute below, particularly if you are brave enough to try it in your own classroom!