“Teachers have hushed for too long.”

Pernille Ripp said these words in her opening keynote for the Indiana State Literacy Association. I scribbled them in my notebook and they have been prowling around my mind ever since.

It is an art, knowing when to hush.

As an instructional coach, I quickly learned when to swallow the words I want to say. It’s part of the livelihood of an instructional leader. If we want others to learn and grow, we must choose our words (and our battles) carefully.

As someone who has strong beliefs about the way children ought to be treated in schools and a person who writes books and a School Board member,  I’ve learned to swallow the words I want to say. Often Andy goes with me, or even takes the lead, when meeting with teachers or administrators about the experiences our children are having in school. If we want life to be manageable for them, we must choose our words carefully.

As someone who blogs, I’ve learned to swallow the words I want to say. Too often people jump to the most unflattering, and often false, conclusions about the writer on the other side of the screen. If I want others to read with an open mind, I must choose my words carefully.

As a  friend, I’ve learned to swallow the words I want to say. People are busy and often there’s no room left for a conversation with a friend, let alone time to get to the heart of things.

As a momma to kids from hard places, I’ve learned to swallow the words I want to say. Often responses from kids who have experienced trauma are biologically set in motion by the brainstem and do not make sense. I’ve learned to wait until I can reach the part of their brains that have logical and rational thought.  I filter the stories I share, determining what is mine to share and what parts of the stories are theirs to keep.

As a Christian, I’ve learned to swallow the words I want to say. In a world as emotionally charged as ours, faith can be a jolt. I don’t want to divide, so I hush.

In fact, I find myself hushing a lot.

It began, the hushing, as a way to be kind. I don’t want my words, or my stories, to cause pain or to be divisive. It continued, the hushing, as a way to listen to the other side of things. I don’t want to be a closed minded person. It is refined, the hushing, as a means of finding common ground. I will never change the world without listening.

These are all necessary things: kindness, openness, listening. Yet, today I find myself justifying the hush, because the hush is often chosen because it is easier.

Indeed, it is an art knowing when to hush.

I agree, Pernille, we’ve been hushed for too long. Perhaps because it is easier, perhaps because we are scared, perhaps because we don’t know our stories have power and our voices matter in creating a world where all humans are treated with dignity and valued for who they are.

I hushed because my stories make people uncomfortable. I hushed because I see the good in educators and I know the conditions they create for children in classrooms are not what they intend. I hushed so I don’t make people feel badly about the experiences children have in their classroom walls.

 I hushed because it is easier than stacking words. 

Thank you, Pernille, for the reminder that the world needs our voices. Our stories matter — even when they are uncomfortable or ugly or sad. Stories change the world, and we must keep sharing them.

Let's Be Email Pals!

Teaching writers doesn't have to drown us.

Enter your information to receive my free eBook, plus weekly tips and encouragement for teaching writers.

Don't worry, I won't send you spam, and you can unsubscribe any time. (I'd hate to see you go, though.) Powered by ConvertKit


  1. It does feel like a dance, Ruth, and that inner conflict can become debilitating or empowering. Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. This couldn’t have come at a better time. As a curriculum coordinator, daughter, friend, wife – I’ve hushed so MANY times. I was tired of editing myself and putting everyone’s feelings before my own. I’m not getting any younger – so I’ve decided recently to calmly, seriously, kindly, and boldly say what I think – not edit myself. I am SO MUCH LESS STRESSED. Thank YOU and Pernille for this reminder!

  3. You’ve given me lots to ponder here, friend. It is easier to choose hushed and I find myself right ow wondering if hushed is healthy sometimes. Your right it can be kinder and maybe it can help heal. I think it can also create lonely and isolation – maybe hushed is a fine line to walk.