Teaching: It’s All About Listening

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April 19, 2017

Over the past 10 months, I have had the opportunity to learn with people throughout the state and across the country. From Kenowa Hills to Capitol Hill, there continues to be one simple act that I notice can be most influential: listening. This requires us to be curious. To look beyond the surface. We can sharpen our critical and creative thinking skills, our ability to problem solve, adapt and be a great teammate when we remember to:      
  • Listen to seek understanding rather than listen to respond. If we want to communicate well, we first need to try to understand someone else’s point of view. Our experiences shape our perspectives and our perspectives shape our reality. We can’t force our reality onto someone else. We can only attempt to share with each other and broaden our perspectives.
  • Connect. We are hardwired to do this. We connect by communicating. Every problem in the world is ultimately the result of poor communication. If we don’t learn how to communicate well, we aren’t able to connect. It’s worth investing time and energy in learning how to be an excellent communicator (which begins with listening, of course).
  • Observe. When we observe learners, and listen to their thinking, we are able to respond and support their next steps forward as they work to master new knowledge and skills. This is assessment. This is personalized learning.  
  • Suspend judgment. If we pause and take a curious stance, we learn more. Judgment shuts down our own thinking and the thinking of others. Simply asking, “What makes you say that?” or “Say more about that…” can help us uncover thinking that may help us better understand and respond accordingly.
  • Value others and add value. Every human being needs to feel valued and know that he/she adds value. We need to see others as they are, honor who they are, and believe in them.      
  • Read more; develop empathy. Dr. Peter Johnston notes that literacy is social-emotional learning. We get to socially imagine ourselves in the experiences of others through the books we read.
  • Embrace change and challenges. We are always going to have both. How we respond is what makes the difference. Viewing mistakes as growth opportunities and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable are required. While education is ultimately about learning, we can slip into compliance mode. We must never mistake compliance for learning. We have to fight this urge by digging into what we value and believe, take ownership of our learning (adults and kids), and inspire others to do the same.
Educators are in the unique business of helping develop great human beings who love to learn. Connecting, seeking understanding and observing are a few tools that have helped me learn as much as possible while serving as Michigan Teacher of the Year, and they are all part of the great work we are doing for our students.

Tracy Horodyski is Michigan’s Teacher of the Year for 2016-17, the 10th year Meemic has partnered with the Michigan Department of Education for the MTOY program. She’s a reading interventionist and instruction coach at Zinser Elementary in Grand Rapids and has more than 15 years of classroom experience.
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