For the past ten years of my teaching career, I have not been a very good listener.
I don’t mean that I have been insensitive or that I haven’t cared for my students. I also don’t mean that I haven’t paid attention to their social cues, body language, and non-verbal speech. What I mean is that I have not often listened without agenda.
Or, as Daniel Pink so eloquently puts it, I’ve been mostly listening FOR something. Not just taking it all in.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in Pink’s book (To Sell Is Human) is actually a quote from Mortimer Adler’s How to Speak. How To Listen.:
“Is anyone anywhere taught how to listen? How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well is a natural gift for which no training is required. How extraordinary is the fact that no effort is made anywhere in the whole education process to help individuals to listen well.”
Pink explains Adler’s words:
“… so few of us, in fact, do listen well. For many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening. It’s waiting. When others speak, we typically divide our attention between what they’re saying now and what we’re going to say next – and end up doing a mediocre job at both.“
As if that wasn’t a big enough kick in the groin, when I looked at the very first (the top, el numero uno) overall objective in the Oral Communication strand in Ontario’s Elementary Language Curriculum I saw this… in every grade:
But here’s a neat little bit of synchronicity…
As I read this I also started to listen to Serial. For those that have no idea what Serial is, it’s a podcast by the creators of This American Life. Essentially, it’s a very long story, told over many weeks. Every week Sarah Koenig (creator and host) digs deeper into a closed murder case from 1999 (a real case, not a made up case). Each week she picks at its scabs and reveals new information about a seemingly open-and-shut case… And listeners have been tuning in by the tens of thousands. In fact, so many have been listening that it’s starting to be a problem. People are following the Serial story so closely that they have started to take the investigation into their own hands.
Talk about deep listening!
Imagine if we were able to channel this kind of meaningful, empathetic listening in our classrooms. What would that do to the communication in our rooms? What kind of thinking would it lead to?
I’m searching for teaching that really gets people listening. I’d love your suggestions.