Wait For It


from Vadim Timoshkin’s flickr

One recent morning as I got ready for school the song, Wait For It, was stuck in my head. As I checked on my daughters, took a shower, and got my things ready for school I could not get this song out of my head. I finally paused to think about it and realized this title speaks to me so strongly as a teacher. There are so many reasons why I need to wait for it. I stopped my morning routine and began listing all the thoughts I had about waiting as a teacher.

Waiting is a sign of respect. When I am talking with others, especially with my students, I need to wait for them. It often takes children a bit to get their thoughts in order as they are talking and adults, myself included, often try to fill in the words for them. We finish sentences and thoughts for children rather than allowing them the time to do so. Waiting tells them that we value what they have to say, that their voices are important.

In a similar vein, I need to wait for it when students are answering questions. Some students are ready to answer immediately, hands waving in the air. Other students need a bit of time to prepare their thoughts before they want to share them publically. Both groups need wait time from me. Those that are ready need that that wait time to think through what they are ready (or think they are ready) to say. They can refine or even completely change their mind as they have a moment to think. Those who don’t feel ready need wait time from me in order to feel ready, to compose their thoughts into words. If I don’t wait, I’ll never hear from those students. I find myself, as I look out over my class, counting in my head to five or ten, forcing myself to wait and give them time.

Waiting for students to answer or share their thinking is about me giving them time. Waiting to respond to student behavior, one of my greatest challenges, is about giving me time. In nearly two decades in the classroom I’m learning that my gut response to student behavior is often not the best one. Sometimes it’s because I assume students are off task or goofing around when in reality they are having thoughtful conversations about their learning. Sometimes it’s because I am ready to jump in and remind students of expectations so quickly that I don’t give them a chance to self-monitor. If my goal is that my students become independent learners who are thoughtful, kind people, then I need to give them space to take those roles on now. They can’t do that if I am always jumping in immediately. Teacher Tom wrote about a similar idea with a much younger child recently.

Several years ago I coined the word ‘preflection’ (can I say I coined a word if I had never heard it before but apparently it did exist?). I wrote briefly about it then. All the waiting I’ve discussed here has been after something, waiting for students to respond after I ask a question or waiting to respond to students’ thinking or behavior. Preflection is about waiting before something, waiting before reacting or before asking a question. It’s about pausing to reflect on what I will do next. If I were better at preflecting I might not be as frustrated with myself about the “Talk Less” piece. I might more thoughtfully choose my words and therefore use fewer of them. The questions I ask might be ones that really push a student’s thinking in a new direction. Preflection is about giving myself the wait time I give to my students.

Waiting is one of the hardest things for me to do as a teacher. There’s a constant sense of urgency in the classroom, a constant sense of needing to keep moving forward. I have to fight that feeling every moment in order to slow down and wait. As Burr says, “I’m not falling behind or running late. I am not standing still I am lying in wait.”

2 replies on “Wait For It”

  1. Lois says:

    It is challenging – but incredible things happen when we extend our wait time (in the classroom or out). We begin to hear voices we don’t often hear. In relation to the talk less I also find that100% of the time someone else will fill the space when I am not.

    • jenorr says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds this challenging, Lois! That’s a really good point about someone else filling the space. Shutting up gives someone else the chance to do so.

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