We are the best experts on ourselves – Carl Rogers
Peter Hudson looks at how the listening skills of a teacher who had been trained in active listening skills helped support a student to find their own way to access new aspects of the school curriculum and ultimately achieve success.
Listening Quote of the Month:
As no one else can know how we perceive, we are the best experts on ourselves. Carl Rogers, 1902 – 1987
That’s all very well Carl, I hear you complain, but the students don’t often show their expertise! Carl might reply that it’s because they are too often told what to do, what to think, and how to behave!
Here’s a real life example of how that expertise can be drawn out by ‘listening’ [Ian is not the student’s real name].
Ian entered the room looking sullen and totally uninterested in the academic tutoring interview. The teacher knew that he was on the verge of exclusion for unacceptable behaviour – he’d been on the edge of a very violent gang.
The teacher asked how he would like to use the time. The exchange continued as follows:
Ian: “Dunno, Miss”
Teacher: “You don’t know what you’d like to talk about.”
Teacher: “Perhaps you could tell me what your best and worst subjects are”
Ian: “I don’t really like any of them.”
Teacher: “You don’t really like any of them.”
Ian: “Well I quite like English”
Teacher: “So you quite like English”
Ian: “Well sometimes it’s not bad”
Teacher: “You say it’s not bad sometimes. What’s it like at the moment?”
Ian: “Not very good”
Teacher: “I see, you actually normally quite like English but at the moment it’s a bit difficult, is that right?”
Teacher: “So what’s going wrong at the moment?”
Ian: “I’ve got this coursework that’s late that I can’t do?”
Teacher: “Ok – would you like to tell me a bit about it?”
Ian: “I’ve got to prepare two poems”
Teacher: “What sort of poems?”
Ian: “Love poems.”
Teacher: “Go on”
Ian: “Well in one poem, it’s about two young people falling in love for the first time. About my age really I suppose.”
Teacher: “Right, that’s a bit about the first poem – a couple in their mid-teens, like you, – first young love. What’s the second poem about?”
Ian: “It’s about two old people. An old couple. They say quite nice things to each other but they don’t seem to be in love like in the other poem.”
Teacher: “Earlier you said you couldn’t do the course work.”
Ian: “Well I can’t really.”
Teacher: “It seems to me you just have!”
Ian: (At this point the first hint of a smile appears on Ian’s face) Well, I suppose it’s a start.
Teacher: (who gave Ian a note pad) “Perhaps you’d like to write down what you’ve told me about the two poems?”
Ian: (takes the pad and scribbles keenly for three or four minutes)
Teacher: “What else do you need to do to turn it into an essay?”
Ian: “Write an introduction and conclusion.”
Teacher: “Ok so write those down too – just notes.”
Ian: (Ian writes again)
Teacher: “Anything else you need to do?”
Ian: “Yes. I need to pick out pieces from the poems that prove the points I’m making.”
Teacher: “Do you want to do that now?”
Ian: “No. I haven’t got the poems here but I think I can get on with it now on my own. And I need to get it in soon”
Teacher: “Fine. Well we’re running out of time, but it seems that you’ve worked out your target: to write the coursework and hand it in quickly.”
Teacher: “Will you tell me how you get on?”
Ian: “OK. Thanks.”
Ian went away with a smile on his face. He did come back and told the teacher that he got a ‘C’ for the coursework but was told he could get it higher if he polished it up. He went on to get good results in his GCSEs and moved into Post Sixteen.
A lucky break? Carl wouldn’t think so!
Peter Hudson is a consultant with Consilium Education, who specialises in developing teacher listening skills and supporting school counsellors. He is a founder of the Motivated Learning Trust.