The ability to listen properly should not be underestimated

24th August 2012 at 01:00
Managers, teachers and pupils all benefit from occasionally talking less and tuning in more

Listen up, line managers. Too many of us, it seems, don't do enough listening. A new study reveals that the number one criticism teachers have of their line managers is that we don't listen properly, that we repeatedly interrupt and, most unforgivably, that we even complete other people's sentences.

Failing to listen properly is disrespectful as well as counterproductive. Teachers become as frustrated and annoyed with inattentive line managers as they do with inattentive pupils. A failure to listen is a failure to communicate.

Much of our day is spent receiving information, so it is a good idea to learn how to listen properly. There is always something useful to be learned from even the most awkward speaker. A good listener is not only more popular but knows more.

Poor listeners are thought to have an imbalance of thought and action and hear largely what they expect to hear. It's not hard to spot impatient speakers "waiting for their turn to speak" rather than actually listening to what is being said.

Being able to spot poor listeners is certainly a useful skill. I remember a student teacher who was a bit too smug about being able to keep his classes quiet and well behaved. But they weren't listening to him either. Effective teaching and learning, the teacher learned, involves more than complaisant pupils.

Listening is the sincerest form of flattery, so we must, of course, listen to all our pupils and, in particular, those who come from homes where no one listens to them. It is the brilliance of a caring teacher that recognises the importance of sitting down and just listening to a pupil who has something to say.

And I have no hesitation in nominating for our profession's highest accolades all those teachers and learning assistants who wander around school playgrounds listening to pupils who have no one else to talk to. Skilful listening brings cheer to many lonely pupils.

But engaging a classroom of young ears requires greater skill in an age when attention spans are shortening. Some teachers now use talking, listening, learning (TLL) strategies that encourage pupils to listen to different viewpoints before developing and articulating their own.

Music and modern language lessons use active listening strategies in which pupils are expected to sum up or paraphrase what has been said.

I just wish my teachers had done a bit more to develop my listening skills because I was, as a pupil, too often reminded of Zeno of Citium's dictum, that the reason why we have two ears and one mouth is to enable us to listen more and talk less.

John Greenlees, Secondary teacher.

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