Are You Listening?

So I walked into an interesting meeting this past week that inspired me to talk about the importance of listening. The meeting involved some members of our community who had some very different opinions and perspectives about a certain issue, and they were all so determined to get their point across that they literally didn’t hear a word that anyone else had to say. They were talking over each other, taking things personally, getting extremely defensive at any suggestion that there might be an alternative approach to the problem, and as a result, the meeting ended abruptly without a single thing being accomplished, and a lot of negative feelings.

The incident got me thinking about a couple of things that when implemented, in my opinion, will make our school and community stronger. Meeting protocol staff development, as well as some training on how to effectively approach a conversation, especially a difficult one, will definitely go along way to ensuring that we continue to work together in an environment of trust, collaboration, and respect. With regards to meeting protocols, Robert Garmston and his work with THE ADAPTIVE SCHOOL, talks a lot about the necessity of meeting facilitators, scribes (minute takers), time keepers, and the 4 P’s (pausing, probing, paraphrasing and presuming positive intent). When meetings are planned with this structure in mind, along with an agenda that clearly articulates the purpose and intended outcome, participants feel secure knowing that they will have a chance to speak, that time will be used effectively, the important points will be noted and distributed, and most importantly, that everyone will be HEARD.

Now, much of what I have just described is already happening in a few of the meetings that I attend, and I don’t think it would take much work to get everyone on board with this particular structure. The real work, however, is the attention that we need to give to the concept of active listening. Being a good listener is a difficult skill that takes work and self regulation. It is something that we need to practice and be aware of when we enter into any conversation.

The idea and skill of pausing before you respond to a person, so that you truly understand what was just said, as well as giving yourself time to say what you want to say, is remarkably challenging. The discipline that it takes to paraphrase what you’ve just heard so that misunderstandings don’t derail the conversation is also incredibly difficult, and knowing what questions to ask in order to probe, or dig deeper, is a skill that takes much development. The most important one of these 4 in my opinion, and the one that kills conversations before they even begin, is the notion of presuming positive intent. If we all enter into every conversation with the belief that every person is coming with the intention of doing  what is best for kids, then that’s more than half the battle. Of course we are going to disagree with each other, and having conflicting educational philosophies is part of what makes us a wonderful school, but if we don’t truly LISTEN to what a person is trying to say, or make an attempt to understand their point of view, then defensiveness and hurt feelings will stop us from accomplishing what is best for our students.

So with all that being said, I will begin this work tomorrow in my Grade Level Leadership meeting, and we will start looking at how to run an effective meeting using Garmston’s protocols. They will then start modeling this approach in their team meetings and over time it will hopefully become something that is a part of who we are. This week, please think about how well you are actually listening to people when they are speaking to you, and see if you can really understand what they are trying to say. Think about the 4 P’s and identify a certain skill that you need to develop. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for your students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……….
To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation
– Chinese Proverb

Attachment – The 7 Norms of Collaboration (PDF) 7 Norms-1

Web based Interesting Articles about Listening………..
http://712educators.about.com/cs/activelistening/a/activelistening.htm
http://www.brodow.com/Articles/ArtOfListening.html

Great TEDTALK – 5 Ways to listen Better by Julian Treasure
http://blog.ted.com/2011/07/29/5-ways-to-listen-better-julian-treasure-on-ted-com/

One Response to “Are You Listening?”

  1. Peach Says:

    Dan,

    Another great message. Ineffective meetings are a huge drain on energy, time, culture, resources, etc. Ensuring that meetings are efficient and effective is a huge step toward improving collaboration, and you’ve done a great job of highlighting its importance. I’ve been gradually trying to improve meeting practices this year using many of Garmston’s tools and Google Docs to house agendas, share documents, and generally creative a collaborative, transparent culture. Things have started with two small groups, but now other groups are starting to take a interest, seeking additional information, and may be about to make a shift. I’ll definitely share this post with them. Nicely done!

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