[Thanks to my friend John Spencer for a lovely conversation that got me thinking about writing this post…]

When we think about how to help students develop the skills of the inquiry process, one of the things we also need to think about are the skills we need as educators to be the teachers kids need us to be in that process.

One of the things I see most often when I watch SLA teachers teach is how well they listen to their students. Teacher listening is of critical importance when we think about inquiry-driven teaching and learning. And this isn’t traditional teacher listening where teachers are asking a question they know the answer to and are listening for what students got right or wrong in their answers, this is about how we have dialogue in our classroom with an open mind such that student voice can impact our actions in the classroom. And there should be multiple ways we work on our listening — how we listen in whole group discussions, how we listen when we are watching small group dynamics in the classroom and how we listen one on one with a student.

What follows, then, are just some questions to keep in mind as we all work on getting better at listening to students in our classrooms. I think – I hope – that these are all life-long skills for all of us that resonate differently at different times in our teaching career.

  • Are we listening for the moment we can provide our “teacher answer” or are we listening openly, and allowing ourselves to be fully in the moment as a participant?
  • Are we using our voice as teacher to build, not just redirect or move on, so that phrases like “Yes, and…” and “Say more…” are used to build student ownership and agency?
  • Are we prepared to be nimble in our classrooms and change or pivot when students pull a lesson or a unit in a different direction because of the questions they ask or the passion they demonstrate?
  • Are we willing to be vulnerable when students ask questions that stretch us beyond our knowledge base? Are we willing to say “I don’t know…” and then work with students to problem-solve and seek out answers together?
  • Are we able to ask questions not just of our subject matter but of our students? Are we comfortable enough to ask questions like, “How do you feel” and “What do you need?” and really hear what students are telling us?
  • Are we willing to take action based on what we hear from our students? Up to and including what Chris Emdin refers to as “Co-Gen” – co-creating curriculum with our students?

Teacher listening is something that should stretch us as educators. Working on being better listeners in the classroom hopefully helps us be more empathic – both as educators and as people – and it creates classrooms where students can feel valued and valuable as full participants in their learning. And at root, active listening is at the heart of the inquiry-driven clasroom. And active listening is like anything else – it’s a skill we have to intentionally practice to get good at it.

So I’m curious… for folks who are still reading along… two (and a half) questions that may spur some dialogue, perhaps:

  • What do you think gets in the way of teachers engaging in active listening in the classroom? And how do we mitigate that?
  • If you were to focus on active listening in your classroom, or with a cohort of your colleagues in PD, what reflective questions would you add to that list?