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We were lining up for Music yesterday morning. Students got their recorders and joined the trail of students fanning out from the door. I wanted to signal our line leader to go. We weren’t ready. Students were talking. Not all, but several. We’ve been working on tightening up our transitions, so I asked three students to sit, but then, the rest got silent, and I could no longer discern or remember who else had been talking.

In this moment, I knew that I had been potentially unfair, and it bugged me. Others had also been talking, not respectful of the expectations for heading into the hallway. As I looked at the dejected faces of the students who had gone back to their seats, along with the silent faces of those in line, I saw something new. You’ve probably seen it, too.

In the line were the students who follow every instruction ever given (maybe a slight exaggeration, but you know the type), and interspersed were those who typically don’t talk, or aren’t obvious in their talking. The ones who can ride under my radar. Ostensibly, their silent faces told me they had been following directions…expectations. They hadn’t. Some of those now-silent faces had been talking, just not as noticeably, and some had been turned to another student who was talking, and all of a sudden, it came to me. Talking requires an audience. (I know this isn’t a giant revelation, except that it kind of was.)

So I said, “I just realized that when students talk in the line when we are supposed to be silent, it’s the talking that I notice. And I also realize that there are students who were talking who stopped talking as soon as I asked the first three people to sit, and now I no longer know who was doing the talking. But, what I mostly just realized is that talking requires an audience, and that even if you were silent, if you turned to someone who was talking to give them an audience, then you weren’t doing what’s expected. Our line has a purpose, to get us to another location. If you are in it, you need to face the door and be silent so that we can travel respectfully to the next place.”

Students turned to face the door. I invited the three students back into the line. I reminded all of them that giving an audience to talking was just as disruptive and disrespectful as talking. We walked to Music silently.

This morning, when we lined up for P.E. class. I asked who was ready to line up and turn their back to us, not give us an audience. I had a class full of volunteers. I selected one to turn his back on us. He did it beautifully. I sent another and another. We were gloriously silent and ready within seconds. I signaled our line leader, and off we went. As students approached the gym doors, I noticed someone was talking toward the middle of the line. Instead of reminding students that we walk silently in the hall, I said, “Who’s giving an audience to talking?” Instant hush!

I can’t say that this realization or approach will have a lasting impact on whether students talk in the line, but I do think the moment when my perspective shifted was one that shined a light on the “less obvious” and helped me to reframe the situation, offering my students a different, and more effective way to assess their actions.

In effect, I challenged students to consider, not whether they were following the “no talking” rule, but whether they were true to the intent and expectation. I am going to stay the course on this line of thinking and see where it leads…