It began as an issue of volume when second graders were reading aloud in the global studies class I co-teach. It became a remarkable conversation on the power of an individual voice and using that power well.
I have been without my regular speaking voice for about two weeks now…what I do have is at times crackly, squeaky, airy, or just plain absent. This, naturally, has required a certain adjustment on my part as far as working with my students. To that end, today I had second graders reading aloud Lon Po Po, the Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood. They did a fine job except when it came to volume.
I stopped everything about ten minutes before class was over and had the kids all push in their chairs, plant their feet, and stand strong. “Now, what I’d like to you do,” I croaked, alone in appreciating the irony, “is breathe without moving your shoulders.” We spent a number of moments talking about the power of the voice living somewhere just above the belt and how breath should fill us out, not up. Speaking from there allows the speaker to fill a space with voice, not a yell or a screech, but a full, round, voice. We used the imagery of a balloon–the rounder the balloon, the more full the balloon, the more space the balloon takes. The rounder the voice, the more full the voice…the more space the voice fills…
“But!, it is not only your voice that can fill a room… One person can also fill a room with quiet.”
One child turned her head toward her shoulder and asked “How do you do that?”
I said nothing. But looked out the window.
She said nothing.
Soon no one was saying anything.
After a moment or two passed, the same child said “That’s how…”
And we closed class talking about how that sort of quiet felt, the full round-ness of quiet–how we were all there, each one, with all of our thoughts, with all that we each have in our hearts…not at all empty…but yes, quiet…and the choice they have in whether to fill a space with their voice or with quiet…both exceedingly powerful options that they already have at their age. And how important it is to enjoy these gifts…how important it is practice those options, learn from them, how to use them, share them, set them free for the sake of others….to believe that they can fill a space, that they are worthy of being heard in full voice or accompanied in full quiet….and that they can help make it okay for others, too.
I was so incredibly grateful at the end of class for the opportunity to share that with my kids.