There is a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing simply requires us to allow the sound to go into our ears. Listening on the other hand, requires us to think about and reflect on what he have heard. In education listening can be difficult because we are often thinking of many things at once. We hear a lot during the course of the day, but how much do we listen?
First and foremost, we must listen to our students. When a child takes the initiative to come to us, we must listen. If this means stopping whatever task we think is more important at the time, then we stop. Many of our students are not listened to at home so they feel that they have no voice. School might be the only place that someone will listen to them. Listening to students does not always require large blocks of time. It does however require large amounts of focus. If it is 30 seconds in the hallway, do it. If it is 5 minutes in your office, give it. If it is 30 minutes to de-escalate or problem solve, provide it. Please, please, please give your students a chance to have a voice.
But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.
Second, we must listen to our students’ parents. Many times they come in angry. Many times they come in unannounced. Many times we can’t solve their problems. But that is okay, because many times they simply want someone to listen to them. Listen without interrupting. Listen without judging. Listen as a parent but think as a leader. It is okay for parents to be angry and passionate when it comes to their children. So are we. Let them have their say and let them voice their concerns. And when they are done, work with them to try to help solve their problem. In the end, they will feel listened to and they will feel respected and you will have an ally.
If you don’t like someone the way they hold their spoon can make you furious, if you do like him, he could turn his plate over into your lap and you wont mind.
Third, we must listen to our staff. They are the ones on the front lines doing the heavy lifting. When a teacher comes to you, you may be the only adult they have seen all day. If they have a concern or want to talk, just listen. We don’t need to solve the problem right away, or at all. But, we do owe it to them to listen. Yesterday, while meeting with two students, a teacher came by my office and wanted to know if I had a minute. I told him no, because I was with students, but that I would catch up with him after school. As I was leaving school I remembered I hadn’t yet stopped by to see the teacher. My son’s Christmas concert was that night and I contemplated telling the teacher I would talk him the next day. But I didn’t. I stopped by his room and listened to concerns he had about a student’s behavior who has been on the decline. He wanted my advice. I gave it and we came up with some ideas. More than anything he felt listened to. Will my advice work? Maybe, maybe not. The fact was that that teacher went home that night feeling listened to and appreciated.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.
Bryant H. McGil
Finally, we must listen to ourselves. I often reference Todd Whitaker’s advice for leaders to “be the filter.” I truly believe we must be the filter. I also believe that there are times, when we can not. We must find places and times in our lives when we allow ourselves to turn our filters off. Filtering all day is exhausting and it is impossible. Sometimes, outside of the school setting, we must listen to ourselves. If we are sad, we must cry. If we are stressed, we must relax. And, if we are tired, we must rest. We can be the leaders all day at school and we can listen all day at school. But, it is also important to listen to ourselves so that we are at our best to listen to others.
Today, please listen to your students, their parents, your staff and yourself.
If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
A. A. Milne from Winnie The Pooh
In this episode of My Bad Steven Weber talks about how not taking the time to "pause and listen" really blew up in his face. It's only 9 minutes so if you have the time I think you'll enjoy this episode.