Five reasons why listening is important for teachers
My top five
Listening is in fact invaluable in schools in all sorts of ways and at many levels of responsibility – for teachers, school leaders, students themselves and parents. This is the first of a series of articles from Peter Hudson focusing on listening in schools. We start with teachers.
There are of course innumerable reasons for being a good listener if you are a teacher. I have picked the five that I think are the most important.
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1. To show respect for and motivate your students .
If anyone is listened to they feel more respected than if they are spoken over or talked at. If your teacher listens to you, you feel that much more valued and if you feel more valued you feel good about yourself which in turn makes you want to do more. In other words, you feel more motivated. Increased motivation makes you much more likely to work harder and if you work harder you 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.
2. To find out what’s really going on with your students
If you are to support your students as well as possible 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.
3. 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.
4. To be the best kind of support for your colleagues at school
We all know that having a ‘natter’ in the staff room and saying ‘well done’ can help you and your colleagues get through the difficult patches in a school day, week or term. But giving them a serious ‘listening to’ can be even more supportive. All that was written under showing respect for students works equally well with peers. At one school where active listening skills had been taught to a majority of staff, teachers would regularly say to others at break, I don’t want to chat today, could you give me a ‘proper’ listening to like we learnt on the course? In this kind of listening session staff would discuss significant problems and then create their own action plan to tackle them: the specific form of listening taught completely obviates the need for you to give advice to the other person, but rather helps them think it all through in a constructive way and find their own way forward. As with students, teachers are much more motivated to take action if it’s their own ideas they are carrying out.
5. To help you with parent conferences
As a parent, I well remember being told this and that about my daughters’ work and attitudes. The teachers often acted as if they were the only ones who knew anything. Trying to get a word in edgeways was often quite difficult. I often went away frustrated and disappointed. I’m sure it’s not that bad anymore, but I expect it’s still difficult for teachers to know how best to deal with some of the more difficult parents meetings. Listening can be a real boon in these situations too. Parents need to feel heard and understood: it all starts with listening!
Post Script: the importance of active listening
But it’s not any old listening. It has to be active listening or motivational listening as I sometimes refer to it. Motivational listening isn’t hard to learn and doesn’t take too long either so long as you are prepared to practise.
Peter Hudson, a past Chair of the British Association of Social Functioning, is a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist. His career has encompassed counselling and psychotherapy in private practice, the state sector with the UK’s National Health Service and in schools both in the UK and overseas.
To contact Peter and find out more about his work, see The Motivated Learning Trust website:
To book Peter for training in your school please contact firstname.lastname@example.org