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The Five-Second Rule: A Solution So Simple But Also So Hard

Teachers can talk. And talk and talk. They are, what I call, verbalists. So much of what they have to communicate and get across to their students revolves around language. There are other techniques that teachers employ, including body language, tonality, visual aides, gestures, but language is the primary way teachers engage their students and expect engagement back.

Being someone who has observed classrooms and teachers for decades, I can also tell you that language can get in the way of a really great education. For many reasons, including keeping the pace of class moving, needing to cover curriculum and even instructor enthusiasm, teachers can do something which can impede student participation and engagement rather than do what they want which is to encourage and enhance it. They can interrupt their students while they're speaking.

In my opinion, students are not given nearly enough opportunity to speak up and communicate in class. Schools should be filled with busy noise and most of it should be coming from the children. Interrupting students when they want to answer a question, state an opinion, or give their insights discourages them and tells them, in many ways, that their voices are of secondary concern. And interruption happens at an alarming pace. A student is interrupted every .9 seconds and the numbers are much more dire when you break it down by gender. Girls and young women are interrupted four times as often as boys and young men. This gendered pattern of interrupting girls is another way in which we teach compliance and obedience rather than assertion and voice. (Please see my book, The Gender Equation in Schools, for the research)

The solution is not complicated but it's a tough one for teachers to practice and get right. A lot of their energies move against this idea, but I have seen classrooms transformed by this one simple idea: The Five-Second Rule. When a student begins to answer a question or state an opinion, the teacher needs to count to five, slowly. Let the student finish their sentence. A teacher can even continue, "Do you have anything else to add?" Just by doing this one simple act you reinforce so many important principles that should be at the core of a great education, including:

  • Modeling active listening.

  • Thoughtful, kind discourse.

  • Validating someone else's voice and opinion.

  • Slowing down to understand better.

  • Student confidence and clarity.

  • A calmer learning environment.

Five seconds sounds like a short period of time, but in a classroom, particularly for a teacher, it can be an eternity. I have literally seen teachers turn red in the face practicing this simple technique. But, when once practiced, teachers also feel calmer and less stressed. And, most importantly, a central gender bias also gets minimized for the betterment of everyone.

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Jason is flexible and attentive, yet remains committed to his high expectations of my work in tackling tough situations and tasks.  With a sense of humor and compassion for the rigor of a leadership position, he knows how to guide me with just the right amount of productive stress.  I appreciate that.

Daphne Orenshein - Elementary School Principal: Hillel Hebrew Academy

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