To Hear a Pin Drop

When was the last time you could have heard a pin drop in a crowded room while someone was speaking?

Did the message or something else compel everyone to settle down?

As audiences are less inclined to listen, whether because they are chatting among themselves, daydreaming, or fidgeting with technology, no one can blame a person for feeling the need to “go big or go home” when preparing to give a talk.

If you’re wondering how to incorporate a flamethrower in your next presentation, consider taking some notes from a teacher who could captivate dozens of six- and seven-year-olds without a single grand gesture.

Notes from a First-Grade Teacher

Super-sized classrooms of 40 children were common during my early elementary years. It’s no wonder that some teachers were outwardly stern, and rule breaking had consequences. Nevertheless, maybe because I was lucky, my teachers were kindhearted and even-tempered—with only a few exceptions.

My first-grade teacher, one of the sweetest, was remarkably soft-spoken. Of course, a kid’s misbehavior could frustrate her, and when it did, her frown spoke volumes. Accordingly, reading her expression, most children would self-correct before getting too out of hand. I’m certain she never raised her voice. Even when she needed to reprimand a student, she not only stayed calm but refused to make a spectacle of the incident. Instead of admonishing the child in front of the class, she’d take the youngster outside the room, close the door, and discuss the situation quietly in the hallway.

Misbehavior was rare, I believe, because of my teacher’s masterful use of touch points, so to speak. While walking up and down the long aisles between desks, for example, she employed eye contact and dialogue to connect repeatedly with every single child. Her mannerisms signaled:

I see you. I know what you’re up to. And I have a pretty good idea of what’s on your mind!

If someone lost interest, she would readily notice and tactfully remedy the problem, such as by directing a gesture, statement, or question toward that student.

Occasionally, she sat behind her desk, typically when everyone was busy with an assignment. The location provided an ideal vantage point to oversee the activity underway.

Reading lessons were a different story. To accommodate both faster and slower learners, she divided the class into two groups: Lions and Tigers. Taking turns, all the Tigers, for instance, would work independently on an assignment at their desks, while the Lions joined the teacher at the front of the classroom. Forming a semicircle around her, they would sit and listen to the teacher read the day’s story. After, each student would have a turn to read a passage.

How could the other students at their desks concentrate on their work as the reading group interacted? Quite simply, the readers’ voices were soft. Listeners would lean in to follow along. Like most times throughout the day, you could have heard a pin drop.

She seemingly had her class of young cubs so well tamed that they were eating from her hands; in truth, the seasoned teacher was feeding their curious minds with rich, satisfying content. Rather than compelling them to sit and receive what she doled out, she carefully crafted her lessons to capture their eyes, ears, and imaginations.

Ultimately, teaching wasn’t about her; it was about serving her students’ best interests. She didn’t need to be the center of attention, and the children didn’t need or desire bells and whistles. Laughter, though, was appreciated, and the positive reasons it erupted were abundant.

On a final note, ground rules and mutual respect prevailed. If such conditions had been absent, her lessons would not have resonated—not in soft tones or through a bullhorn.

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

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