BY JACKIE GERSTEIN
I have a few sayings I often use in my teacher education courses and PD workshops for teachers related to active listening. They include:
- If the teacher is doing more talking than the students, then this is a problem.
- One of the biggest gifts we, as educators, can give to our learners is to be truly present for them, to deeply listen to what they have to say.
What this boils down to, for me, is the teacher being an active listener. I get to practice what I preach on a regular basis as I teach gifted elementary students three days a week. For this academic year, I decided to become even more intentional in practicing active listening with the students. I hope my intention has benefitted them. I know there have been benefits for me. I get to really relish in how they see the world. Their stories, ideas, jokes, and wit are often amazing; and I get great joy in hearing them. I also get to witness the joy and excitement through their faces and body language when I respond in awe with what they shared with me.
Active Listening Defined
‘Active listening‘ means, as its name suggests, actively listening. That is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker. Active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening — otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener. Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this ‘feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly. (https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/active-listening.html)
Benefits of Active Listening
The benefits of active listening include:
- Positive classroom culture which can lead to a positive school culture,
- Improved teaching and learning,
- Better teacher-student relationships,
- Learners see themselves as active partners in their own education; they become more invested in their learning,
- Learners feeling that they are in a safe environment where they are willing and able to express concerns, ask questions, ask for help, take risks.
Research shows that it is listening–really listening–to students that is critical to the student/teacher relationship. Knowing their teacher is interested in what they are saying, makes students feel cared about and emotionally connected to a school. Since research shows that feeling connected is requisite to students’ motivation to learn, showing that we listen is important not only as a matter of kindness but also as a motivational strategy. (https://www.thoughtco.com/active-listening-for-the-classroom-6385)
Peter Hudson believes there are several reasons why listening is important for teachers:
To show respect for and motivate your students.
When someone is listened to, they feel more respected than if they are spoken over or talked at. When you listen to your students, they feel that much more valued and if they feel more valued, they feel good about themselves which in turn makes them want to do more. In other words, they feel more motivated. Increased motivation makes the students much more likely to work harder and if they work harder, they achieve more and will receive yet more respect. So a virtuous circle has been started that can do nothing but good for your students — just by listening to them.
To find out what’s really going on with your students
If you are to support your students, you need to know what’s going on in their lives. Some students will be open and informative but others won’t. Active listening is a really good way to get kids to open up. You need to know about difficulties in their academic life as well as their lives outside school if you are to be able to point them in the best direction for appropriate help and support or to give it yourself. Active listening can help in both these areas. A skilled active listener can help students to find their own way out of difficulties which is even better as it increases their self-motivation.
To be an effective role model
Whether you notice or whether you don’t, as a teacher you have a significant influence on students: you are a role model for them. So you need to decide how best to play out this role. Setting an example as a listening caring person will rub off and you will be helping students to develop as listeners too. (http://consiliumeducation.com/itm/2016/09/28/five-reasons-why-listening-is-important-for-teachers/)
Listening Skills for Educators
The following are some easy-to-implement skills the educator can use to develop and enhance their active listening skills:
- Attend to the speaking learner with an open mind; without any agenda except to just listen.
- Use body language and nonverbal cues that demonstrate a focus on the speaking learner.
- Practice empathy skills with both verbal and nonverbal responses.
- Engage in informal conversations encouraging learners to talk about non-school related topics.
- Summarize what you heard the learner saying.
- Reflect back to the learner what you believe to be the thoughts and feelings behind the stated message.
- Ask open-ended questions if and when you don’t understand what the learner is saying and/or if you need further information.
- Inquire about how learners connect to their learning; about their metacognitive strategies.
Dr. JACKIE GERSTEIN is one of Boise State EdTech’s exceptional adjunct instructors.
FOR GRAPHICS AND RESOURCES, go to https://medium.com/@jackiegerstein/educators-as-active-listeners-6fc51f8413b1 .