Learning to Listen


Like most people I’m very observant. Watching people and how they interact has always fascinated me. Have you ever noticed that people don’t listen to each other anymore? Whether we are in meetings, or conversing with a stranger, people are simply not listening. It’s a scary thought if this is the case in a classroom setting. Oh, the time wasted and lost when kids don’t listen, they just look like that are. Takes a good teacher to listen to the learning or lack there of to teach kids to listen as a skill. The learner must engage and connect through listening, unless all meaning is lost.

What people have mastered is hearing. We do hear each other. Some may disagree with me about the definition or meaning of hearing. My stance on hearing is that it is a noise that we may or may not notice, as simple as that. I was watching a woman today talking with the manager of a hotel. She was not listening to what he had to share. She was more interested in saying what she wanted to say. Her expression and the way her mouth was opening and closing, looking for a lull, so she could jump in. Her words were filling up in her mouth poised to fire out like missiles, all the while the manager was speaking. She was not connecting or listening with this man. It was like she has a series of things she needed to check off her “I must say these things” list. What a hollow, fake and nothingness conversation. Makes me think of this happening a lot in our classrooms. Kids hearing, and not really listening and learning from each other. This really worries me.

What about adults, we need to model good listening, yet a good portion of us are among the worst when it comes to actively listening and noticing when we are really required to listen.

I know it happens in most meetings, a small number pontificate and do a lot of posturing in hope of being heard. Maybe, that’s all they want, is to be heard. Thats not really good enough though. Who is that really serving or benefiting? When listening happens everything lifts around it.

In the Chinese character for listening there are four things contained inside of its meaning. Ears, eyes, undivided attention and heart. This is what separates hearing from listening in my opinion, especially the heart! Listening with empathy, that’s a whole new world to uncover.

Listening requires so much more and is quite demanding. In a good way though. Could you imagine if students learn to listen with their ears, eyes, heart and undivided attention. The world would be a very different place. At the moment I am in Sapa, Northern Vietnam where I am reconnecting with nature. I’m learning to listen to crickets, bumble bees, the breeze and the flow of running water to name a few. Here the true meaning of “silence is golden” is something I’m able to appreciate. We get so tangled in the busy webs we spin. Let us all think a bit more about how we listen to each other (as role models), to our kids and how they listen to each other. It is such an important life skill! If we can get better at that and I mean doing it well and being consistent, learning might be different from before. Do you really listen as the Chinese character suggests?


  1. Paul Dunbar

    A wise old owl lived in an oak
    The more he saw the less he spoke
    The less he spoke the more he heard
    Wasn’t he a wise old bird?

    Hey Chad, can you share the Chinese character?

    • concentricthinking

      Hi Paul,
      I changed the photo to the Chinese character in the posting. A much more obvious fit. Needed to get some wifi to access the Internet. Some characters for listening have KING also. Just google Chinese character for listening to see different versions.

    • concentricthinking

      Yes! Thank you for sharing this. Meta cognition is so important. Getting the kids to be aware when they catch themselves floating away and bringing them back is a real skill. You’re right, it is all about intention.

  2. lsacker

    We need to learn the art of really listening so we have been using the Harvard protocols at our meetings. This way you don’t focus on what you are going to say but on the words and intent of the speaker . The protocols are a challenge as I for one always have something I want to say… But I am really getting better at listening and so are our teams

    • concentricthinking

      So good to hear from you! At meetings we use the 7 norms of collaboration. Pausing is one of the P words we use to listen. Would you be happy to share some of these Harverd protocols? We would really appreciate something like this to curb some of our own bad listening habits. Can you email them to Sam or myself please. Ps. Just had Lana here for a week. What a shining light she was!

  3. Pingback: Learning to Listen | PYP Blogging Daily | Scoo...
  4. Stephanie

    Listening lies in most school’s language arts curriculum but I’m wondering how much time we really give it. Not just sitting and hearing performances and to the teacher but really listening to each other. I read a book last year called Quiet by Susan Cain which really changed how I thought about school. She argues that how we communicates in school rewards expressive communication almost at the expense of the receptive. I think you go a long way to tipping the balance back through your use of downtime to bring the learning into focus. Thanks again for last week.

    • concentricthinking

      Very true Stephanie. You do raise a good point about how listening IS in the curriculum. Are we really using it. We need to use this more in real-life situations and settings like assemblies or when people present to an audience. Ps. You video is getting a lot of attention. Thank you for taking the time to see it through. We are very grateful Stephanie!

  5. Pingback: Learning to Listen | English Teaching News | S...

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