100 Seconds of Solitude

Teaching Articles - Essays to fuel your creative life

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When life in and out of school seems relentlessly busy, we can learn from the many children who seem to instinctively understand the value of pausing to take a moment to be present.

100 Seconds of Solitude

by Cameron Brooks

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I Am Present by Cameron Brooks

In the first few days of a career in education, I discovered that some of the most touching moments have nothing to do with teaching. Like many of my colleagues, the first year was rough, but each morning began with an inspirational glimpse of wonderment that helped me through the hardest days.

In addition to being handed the most challenging group of students to date, our school building was undergoing renovations, so for the first half of the year, I drove across town each morning to a musty, old, temporary school building. Our classroom was located on a wing submerged in a hill I called "The Bunker." The hallway was dank and narrow, but in the classroom we never felt claustrophobic. Windows spanned the length of the eastern wall, where the sun rose each morning up and over swing sets at the far end of a field. The same bleary-eyed girl was first to enter the room each day, and walked right past my desk toward the window, where she stood speechless in silhouette against the sunrise. In her moments of stillness, I learned a powerful lesson on the importance of solitude.

A boy with as much energy as half of my students combined joined our class a few weeks late this year. Each day, usually during writing workshop, he would stand, turn toward the butterfly garden outside, and spin his chair round and around on one leg. To the casual observer questioning classroom management, he may seem "off task," or silently stamped with some ubiquitous acronym. But if you looked at his face, usually grinning slightly at something no one else can see, you would notice that he was taking a moment for himself. Whether recalling events to include in a personal narrative, or a cartoon he enjoyed that morning over cereal, how can I take these thoughtful seconds adrift that might bring relevance, creative thought, or simple respite away from another scripted school day?

The accelerating speed of life for many children allows little time to reflect and make the cognitive and emotional adjustments necessary to maintain. Just as dreams are said to restore the unconscious mind, solitude can stimulate conscious mindfulness, diverting awareness away from the ever-present extrinsic world. Even if the girl in my class who occasionally pauses, tilting her head slightly with a far-off gaze isn't reaching catharsis, when she returns from her thoughts and glances around the room, she feels safe knowing that it's okay to steal a hundred seconds of solitude now and then.