I like traveling. I enjoy the journey as much as the destination, and my favorite way to travel is to walk. Walking connects me to the natural environment and helps me feel grounded. When walking I experience for myself how cold or hot it is, how far I’m traveling, and I understand how steep a hill is in a way I can’t when I’m driving. When waking isn’t always practical I like to use public transit when I can. Trains and buses give me a feeling of freedom and independence, that I’m not reliant on cars.
I was recently riding a train into the city and noticed that the upper floors of passenger cars on commuter trains are designated Quiet Zones. Passengers riding in a Quiet Zone are expected to keep any noise “low and brief” by keeping conversations short and quiet, muting electronics and keeping headphone volume low.
Quiet areas on trains are becoming increasingly popular on trains around the world. Virgin Trains in the UK have quiet zones, as do trains in “New Jersey, in Sweden and in France” where they are called “Zen Zones”. Amtrak trains in the US have “Quiet Cars” to provide “a peaceful, quiet atmosphere for passengers who want to work or rest without distraction”. It seems that as technology and devices are increasingly intruding into every area of our lives, people are looking for a space where they can take a break. Why wouldn’t the same also apply to our schools and students?
Thanks to the writings of Susan Cain we are now more aware than ever of the different needs of the introverts in our schools. A student’s need for quiet isn’t something that’s static, but varies. A student may be introverted in one group, but not in another. Stress in one area of their life may cause them to need some quiet time for reflection, but not after the stress has passed. We have students who find the intense social interaction of school exhausting. What can we do to help those students?
We can start by establishing Quiet Zones in schools and classrooms. Schools should provide a quiet, supervised space, where any student who wishes can sit quietly and eat or read. The expectations would be well established, and students who don’t respect the needs of others for a quiet space would be returned to the regular eating area. I predict that many teachers would volunteer to supervise a quiet lunch room as part of their duty.
We can also extend Quiet Zones to classrooms. At the back of my classroom is a table designated as a “quiet work table”. This table is available for anyone to use if they need a quiet place to work. If they aren’t feeling great, or their group is just too noisy, they can choose to use it. It’s something students self monitor and don’t need to ask permission to use. Students who go to the table but don’t work quietly are asked to return to their regular seat.
A “quiet table” in a noisy classroom is rather like a smoking section in a restaurant. I understand that the noise doesn’t stop when it gets to the table (oh, for the ‘cone of silence’!!) Ideally I’d prefer a room where students could go and work quietly if needed. Putting a table in the hallway or some other quiet corner of the school is also a possibility, but obviously supervision and safety is a concern. At the very least, the “Quiet Work Table” shows students that if they need quiet, that’s acknowledged and addressed in some small way.
Not too long ago, students with learning exceptionalities had their needs ignored in ways that we never would today. We’re more enlightened and recognize that we need to modify our program and learning environment to make sure all students are successful. Don’t students who need a quiet space to recharge deserve the same consideration?
When commuter trains are more effective at meeting the need of their customers, than schools are of taking care of the learning needs of their students it should give us pause for thought. Quiet Zones in schools and classrooms are an easy way to help meet a need that all students have at one time or another. The need to be able to take a break from the noise and pressure of social interaction and recharge.