Schools are built on relationships and if we want to foster meaningful ones, we must listen to those around us when they speak.
But many things have changed since schools opened their doors which have shifted the means by which we build relationships.
It used to be as simple as talking and listening, face to face in a room; people making eye contact, and nodding in agreement or debating heated disagreements.
One has to wonder if listening has become a lost art form with all of our technologies and assorted distractions or has it changed the way it looks?
Within the school day, there are many kinds of communications that happen: casual salutations, conversations around learning, socializing, collaboration, and questions to be asked and answered to name a few, but are we actually listening to each other?
Perhaps if we spend more time knee to knee, enrapt in conversation, more problems would get solved and more folks would feel heard.
Being heard is important to improving school culture.
Here are some helpful tips for engaging in active listening to enhance school community:
Put your phone away! When having a conversation face to face, it's hard to be present with the incessant buzz of texts and notifications. (Of course, social media and phones are a great means of communication when you aren't in the same location, but for this particular activity, silence the ringer and put the phone in a pocket or drawer).
Make eye contact with the person who is speaking. Focusing on the speaker decreases the outside noise that can occasionally distract from fully participating in a conversation.
Try to wait a couple of seconds before answering or interjecting, giving the speaker enough time to finish his or her thoughts before sharing your own. The more dialed in you are to what they are saying, the better you will be able to respond.
Ask clarifying questions where appropriate or follow-up questions to truly understand the challenge or solution and avoid misunderstanding.
Don't be afraid to ask for further clarification especially if you really don't understand. Repeat what you think you heard and ask if this is what the speaker meant.
Try to remain present when speaking with a person about important issues. Don't check the clock or look away. If you are in a rush, make sure to make that known before the conversation starts, so nothing serious gets cut off before it gets figured out.
Answer the questions that have been asked and brainstorm ideas together for moving forward.
Maintain a comfortable personal space that is respectful and appropriate.
Thank the person for sharing his/her/their thoughts with you and make sure to follow up later with an email or text or phone call, to make sure whatever was spoken about is in writing and is understood.
There are many obstacles to creating truly collegial environments, but if we take the time to truly listen, our ability to get to that place quicker is more likely. Open communication where colleagues and students feel heard can only inspire a deeper understanding of the needs of each person.
So each of us has to do our part to really listen. It's okay to be distracted sometimes (we all are), but in order to really enact meaningfully change, we must really hear what people are saying.
What do you hear when you really take the time to listen? Please share
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in February 2016