Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School (2015)

HACK 3. TEACHER QUIET ZONES

Escape the Chaos and Maximize Planning Time

The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.

—ALBERT EINSTEIN

THE PROBLEM: NO SANCTUARY

THE FRENETIC PACE of the typical school day brings a cornucopia of noise and distraction. Sure, this is the nature of school and some chaos should be embraced, but at some point during a teacher’s day, quiet is needed for planning, grading, and simply getting centered. In fact, most teachers have a portion of each day designated as prep time. But just as meetings steal hours away from other important tasks, noise and disruption often interfere with teachers’ time to plan, adding a certain degree of angst to what is already a stressful job.

Over the course of a five-day work week, simple disruptions tear chunks out of planning time: Students waltz into your classroom uninvited, just to say hello. Colleagues loiter around your desk, venting about what went wrong with a lesson. An announcement blares, destroying the solitude that is necessary for deep thought and effective planning. These kinds of interruptions have become so commonplace, we have come to expect very little from our planning periods. Some teachers have given up trying to get anything done at school, opting instead to take work home.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. When teacher time is sacrosanct, building-wide efficiency increases exponentially. Is there any way to guarantee teachers the uninterrupted time they need to do their jobs at peak effectiveness?

THE HACK: CREATE TEACHER QUIET ZONES

In any school building, a room or section can be designated as a Teacher Quiet Zone, a place where it is understood that teachers are not to be disturbed.

Think of the Teacher Quiet Zone (TQZ) like you would a library or a monastery, where silence and solitude typically dominate. This is an area where teachers literally escape the chaos of school. Unlike the faculty lounge, the mailroom, or the traditional teacher workroom, the quiet zone is designed with one key concept in mind: absolute silence. It’s where teachers go to do the kind of focused, uninterrupted work they may not be able to do in their classrooms, to meditate or read, or perhaps just slow down and enjoy a few peaceful moments. It is your haven for all things calm and quiet.

The Teacher Quiet Zone may be the hackiest of hacks because of its sheer simplicity. All you need is a small space and a general consensus.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TOMORROW

Establishing a permanent TQZ will take some creativity and will require adjustment in the mindset of some staff members, but you can get a taste for the benefits of this hack by following these steps:

·     Locate your getaway. Find a space in your building that is typically vacant for some chunk of the school day: a rarely-used storage room, a conference room, a large closet, or a classroom that is unused during a predictable time. Unless you have no other options, avoid using your own classroom for this purpose.

·     Invite friends. Find a few other staff members who would be interested in doing a test run of a TQZ with you. Using e-mail or your favorite faculty communication tool, announce that for one day only, Conference Room B (or whatever your designated area is) will be blocked off as a Teacher Quiet Zone, and that any teacher found there should be left undisturbed. Invite other staff members to use the room, but be clear that any talking should be taken outside the TQZ. Sell the idea as a great option for teachers who are looking for a refuge.

·     Try it. Use your temporary TQZ and remember the idea of iteration: If some aspects of the TQZ don’t work quite right, see these as opportunities for improvement, rather than reasons to abandon the project.

A BLUEPRINT FOR FULL IMPLEMENTATION

Step 1: Build a team of early adopters.

Talk to a few colleagues about the value of a TQZ. Most people may have been longing for something like this for quite a while and will love the idea. The more people you have on board, the more likely it is that an administrator won’t dismiss the idea as unnecessary.

Step 2: Enlist an administrator.

Consider going to an assistant principal with this idea before approaching the senior administrator. You can hand your proposal to the AP, who can easily pass it to the principal when she’s not too busy to entertain this kind of innovation, which may be too easy to push to the bottom of a priority list if presented at the wrong time. Be sure to emphasize that silence, meditation, and reflection are crucial to the success of teachers, who can be easily overwhelmed by the daily stress that the job brings.

Step 3: Set rules for your TQZ.

Even before anointing a space as your permanent Teacher Quiet Zone, it’s important to create some rules. Make TQZ rules specific and place them on a large, bright, colorful poster board for all who enter to see. Here are some suggested rules, but you can add others as you see fit:

·                   The Teacher Quiet Zone (TQZ) is for teachers and other school personnel who desire silence.

·                   Refrain from talking, whispering, humming, or anything else that could be interpreted as noise. If your work is inherently noisy, please do it in another location.

·                   Silence your mobile device.

·                   Refrain from socializing in the TQZ. If you need to talk, please take the conversation outside the room.

·                   Students should remain outside of the TQZ.

Step 4: Find a space.

Once you’ve all decided on a few potential spaces for your new Teacher Quiet Zone, walk through each area and consider all elements that make the room a good fit. An effective TQZ requires only two key items:

·                   Comfortable seating for up to eight people (more if you have a large building with many people on planning periods at the same time)

·                   One or more spacious tables that can serve as work areas

Take a minimalist approach. Your TQZ doesn’t need computers, printers, or copy machines. Remember, while the quiet zone may be used for work, it is for silent work. Desktop computers, printers and copiers are noisy. If technology is needed, stick to tablets or laptops. Printing and copying can be done elsewhere. If a single space isn’t available, or if your school is so large that traveling to a single space would be too time-consuming for some faculty members, consider setting up several zones throughout the building. And if no spaces are available as permanent zones, set up a schedule of “rotating zones,” where a sign can be hung outside of various rooms at different times, designating them as TQZs for that class period.

Step 5: Commit to the rules.

Have you ever been shushed in a library or church? For most people, this is an unpleasant experience. Still, one can hardly object when the rules are clear. Remind all staff members frequently, when necessary, that the TQZ is built for peace and quiet.

OVERCOMING PUSHBACK

The only thing that can interfere with the creation of a teacher quiet zone is lack of space, and even this can be overcome in virtually every school. Here are other issues that may arise:

A TQZ is a waste of space; teachers can just work in their classrooms. Classrooms are rife with traffic and disruption. Can you remember a time you worked during a school day for 30 completely quiet minutes? Also, taking time out of the busy day for reflection and or meditation is an important part of maintaining a stress-free environment for all. Unlike classrooms and faculty lounges, the TQZ is designed to reduce teacher stress.

Teacher burnout and attrition are serious issues. Adding a little peace makes your crazy, super difficult job a little easier.

Sometimes people need to talk. Not in the quiet zone. If you must converse with someone in the room, quietly invite her to step outside of the TQZ. It’s critical to be respectful to others and to the room. Treat it like a sanctuary.

What about taking important phone calls? Silencing mobile devices must be a strictly enforced rule. Rings should be quiet vibrations, and callees should exit the TQZ before answering.

I need tools to work and some are noisy by design. No problem. Work in your class or in a workroom that is not designated as the TQZ. Working in the quiet zone is voluntary. On your planning time, you can go anywhere you wish.

Sometimes secretaries or administrators will need to contact people in the TQZ. Send a student messenger, with strict instructions to knock and maintain quiet. Placing a phone or PA receiver in the room should be avoided.

What teacher has time for quiet reflection or meditation? The ones who value their health and sanity do. Teacher burnout and attrition are serious issues. Adding a little peace makes your crazy, super difficult job a little easier. Who knows? The TQZ might even extend your career.

THE HACK IN ACTION

Charles F. Brush High School in Lyndhurst, Ohio has an area that functions as a Teacher Quiet Zone. It isn’t referred to precisely as this, but the design and rules are the same. This small area is tucked unobtrusively above the school’s library; in fact, not many students know the room exists, making it a perfect location for a quiet zone for teachers. Some go there to read or work in silence. Others catch that all-important power nap. Talking is frowned upon, according to teachers who frequent the room. The key to its success, according to teachers and the librarians, who act as the room’s guardians, is its restorative power. Teachers escape the chaos of classrooms, offices, and hallways, and enjoy what might amount to no more than 20 minutes of solitude. Then they return to work, feeling rejuvenated.

Sometimes the very thing you need to boost productivity and morale is nothing: Pure, private, undisturbed silence. Unlike experienced professionals in so many other industries, teachers don’t have the luxury of an office with a door, a place to concentrate, reduce stress, and get things done. Since few schools will ever be able to foot the bill for a separate wing of private teacher offices, a Teacher Quiet Zone can go a long way toward meeting those same needs.