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The Power of Listening

Okay, I'll admit it, when I think back to my most formative years of learning, they were consumed with pencils, notebooks, blackboards, and all things non-technology-related. We'd enter class, take out a pencil (no pens ever allowed), a textbook, and usually a black and white notebook. You'd never go to class with a few random pieces of paper. If you did, it would be grounds for points off and a firm reprimand about the importance of following directions and listening to the teacher. Before I get scolded for how "these are different times," let me say unequivocally, those were the ideal environments for learning, nor am I bashing on technology. I love technology! But the ability to listen with intent was a necessity years ago. Today, I'd argue it's been put on the back burner.

You might consider, just like my students, what listening with intent means. Before defining this all-important term, take a few seconds. Ponder about what's happening as you're in professional development, a faculty meeting, or, most importantly, teaching a class. Are you truly listening? Are your students? Or is there a haze over your eyes when the power-point has you daydreaming about floating in the beautiful waters of Hawaii? Do your students follow your lead? I believe teaching and modeling around the concept of listening with intent can indeed be a difference-maker.

Listening with intent is simple. It's the ability to clearly understand and synthesis what another person is saying at that moment. Let me give you a recent example that quickly shows the definition in action. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to speak with future educators and social and emotional learning. I'd given each of the college students a paper about the topic. Immediately, they started reading it, even as I was in mid-sentence! We had a comical laugh when I told them to stop and turn it over. More importantly, though, it made me think about how, not only for young minds but also for us, it is essential to get back to genuinely using listening as a tool for growth, teaching, and learning. Once the paper was turned over and the elimination of distractions was gone, they were looking at me, nodding with affirmation and smiling when something really connected with them. That is listening with intent!

So how does this factor into our classrooms and schools? The first step is expecting and promoting a listening atmosphere. Students and others should know that listening is essential, but it might not be something that we focus on each day or class in many instances. Keep in mind, with so much technology and other possible distractions available, it's easy for many students to wander off or find something better to do. (Think about the faculty meeting example!) As a natural talker, I've learned the power of brevity. Being on point with our words and actually letting them get processed will make an incredible difference.

One of the first promises I make when the school year begins is that I'll always listen. That may seem like a strange promise. But reflect back to how often we are speaking with students. Spending time listening to them and responding with intent builds confidence in their communication ability. It also fosters the concept of, "my words have value!"

For many of us, we've just begun a transition from a virtual space. Building those listening and valued conversations is necessary to establish and promote a strong culture. The time away from schools has influenced learning. Students relied on phones and computers instead of those all-important connections. Again, I'm not suggesting removing essential pieces of technology for students. Instead, it's about using our time together in ways where students want to be engaged in learning. Here are five quick ideas that may build up on the amazing things you already do.

  1. As I mentioned above, please be brief with the amount you talk about a specific topic. Students usually have trouble staying focused for more than 15 or 20 minutes. Younger children, even less!

  2. Check around for the eyes! I can't tell you how many times I've spoken to students about having eye contact. It's one of the keys to intently listening. You'll be stunned at the difference it makes after you ask questions to students who've been looking at you as you speak.

  3. Get a conversation going. The back and forth dialogue builds connections and shows all students that see their feedback as necessary. You'll also get some valuable input on the cognition of learning that's happening.

  4. Choose your language wisely. When teaching about new and complex topics, please use language that is not about their grade level. It's not dumbing it down when you simplify words. It's making sure students understand what you mean.

  5. Move around the room! We know that proximity can promote learning. Avoid staying in your 5 by 5 bubble. Moving around with a purpose has the function of keeping students on their toes. Plus, you'll get some walking in as a nice perk. I don't mean run a 5k around the room as you're teaching. But instead, take pauses in your sentences and check for understanding.

As you continue the year, some valuable moments about the importance of listening. Stick with it! Even if you're just getting started, promoting listening with intent will lead to better teaching, learning, and a more positive atmosphere. Your staff, students, and the entire school will benefit from this essential skill.

Thanks again for all you do each day! Your work makes our world a better place!

About the Author

Craig Shapiro

I’ve been a Health and Physical Education Teacher/Coach/Trainer for 30+ years. I enjoy all types of fitness, writing, speaking, and spending time with my family! Stay positive, stay happy, stay well!

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