I recently watched, for the umpteenth time, The Princess Bride, one of my all-time favorite movies. This movie has it all – action, adventure, humor, romance, and upon my most recent viewing of this classic, a teaching reminder. “A teaching reminder?” you say. Inconceivable! Yes, the movie teaches one how to navigate the Fire Swamps and why you should never trust a six-fingered man, but I was reminded of an important instructional strategy in the three-second clip below.
Vizzini’s comment reminded me of the importance of waiting, something typically viewed in our society as a negative, but in education is imperative in certain situations. Let me explain. In our teaching credential programs, we all learned about wait time, the research-based teacher practice of pausing several seconds after posing a question, allowing students more time to formulate thoughtful and detailed answers (as well as giving more students the opportunity to answer the question). But there is another kind of wait time, one that seems obvious, yet in my opinion, is often overlooked. I’m talking about waiting until every student is paying attention before delivering instruction or giving a direction.
Sounds simple, right? But do we actually do it? Do we have the attention of all our students before giving a direction? Sure, those students seated in the front couple of rows or at the front of the line are focused on what we’re saying, but what about those in the back? Are they listening? Are they looking at us? Are they even facing the front? Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed too many instances, with students inside and lined up outside the classroom, where the answer to these questions was no.
Unless we demand the attention of all our students, chances are we’re not going to get it. And it’s okay to demand students’ attention, because this can be done in a respectful way. I’m not saying we should mimic an impatient Vizzini and say to our students, “I’m waiting!” in a rude tone of voice. What I am saying is that it’s okay to wait until you have everyone’s attention. And you may have to wait several moments. That’s okay. No, it’s not just okay; it’s a cornerstone of effective teaching. Because if you don’t do this, some of your students will miss out on what you’re saying, whether it’s a simple direction or something more important. If they’re not listening, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying.
Vizzini could have walked away, frustrated with the delay. But he waited, knowing he needed Inigo Montoya and Fezzik to accomplish his task. We too must learn to wait, for we need all our students, just as they need us. So the next time you’re about to give a direction or deliver a lesson, think of Vizzini. Just try and wait a little more patiently than he did.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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