Silence. It seems like a curious word to use today, particularly about schools. The old saw is that in schools we want kids to be quiet—but quiet is not silence. Silence is more. It’s deeper. It’s necessary for a balanced life for children as well as adults. Silence has a reflective risk to it — an introspective stillness. A comfort within your aloneness.

Schools are becoming frenetic, driven places. In many cases they are not places of reflection. They are domains of doings – – schedules, activities, events, tests. Hundred pound kids carrying thirty-pound backpacks off to class, complete with cell phones, appointment calendars, and a scheduled life. Is there time to think—reflect?

Administrators’, teachers’, and students’ lives are hectic and frenetic. Schools are indeed being run like businesses — frenzied enterprises, slaves to the clock, and worshipping on the alter of the bottom line—test scores.

Teachers must produce results. Students are under pressure scurrying to get in the best colleges and to meet their parents’ expectations. Building resumes is important, sometimes devoid of real accomplishment. Pressure is the name of the game.

We as educational leaders say we make decisions based on the needs of students and work to help teachers meet their potential. In this frenetic environment there are several things we can do. All of which cost no money.

  • Slow down—We think we can control time. It is a myth that time is linear. We can slow the pace, respect the natural cycles and rhythms of life, and have people cherish and live in the moment. The only time people live is the present. The past is gone and the future is not here. So quit worrying about them.
  • Silence—Promote silence in each day. Allow people time to sit in silence and reflect and think, without the constant motion and pressure to do things. Just being and appreciating the moment is settling. Being alone with our thoughts and feelings, without cell phones, schedules, or pressure, promotes balance and creates a sense of peace.
  • Connection—Being people together. Help them see they are not disconnected individuals wondering through life. Leaders must have the courage to reach out with their hearts to connect people. Serving others, a prime aspect of leadership, means reaching out and help people connect to others and to their work.
  • Listen—There is no greater healing force than listening. Children in particular need someone to listen — to really understand the context and intent of their feelings and thoughts. With all our cell phones and e-mails, who is listening? We confuse motion with movement, and e-mail and texting with communicating.

People need someone to listen and have a sense that people care about them. Technology just doesn’t come up to the task. We can send facts, dates, and smiley faces, but we cannot really communicate feelings and emotions and matters of the heart.

Leaders can control the agenda, and they can control the organizational pace. Faster is not always better. Hectic is not a badge of courage. Wisdom does not come in quickstep. Learning does not happen in a whirlwind. Happiness is not found in schedules.

Children and adults need silence and solitude. They need time—away—to find peace in a world fraught with chaos, conflict, and confusion.

Leadership serves others only when it helps people find the silence necessary to deal with a contentious and dynamic world.