If you could have one superpower in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?
This question was posed on Twitter a while ago. I don’t remember who posted it or even when it was shared. I just know that I immediately wrote it down as a prompt for a future blog post.
I know that this is going to sound odd, but if I could have one superpower in the classroom it would be to listen carefully and intentionally at all times. Now, what does this mean to me? Throughout my teaching career, active listening and its various iterations have been the focus of many conversations and even professional development sessions for teachers. On an intuitive level, we know the importance of listening to others because we know how it feels when someone listens to us…without an agenda or interruptions. It seems to me that in our busy world we are constantly interrupted from listening carefully to each other. Sometimes the interruptions happen in the course of the school day and sometimes we interrupt our listening because our brains are so full of to do items that we have forgotten what it means to be in the moment. Instead of listening when someone is talking we’re often thinking about what to say in response or about the list of items that need to get checked off by the end of the day or we’re so distracted from constant browsing on social media apps that our brains have a hard time concentrating. What could be so important that we can’t let go of it long enough to listen to someone else? And, I mean really listen without an agenda or self-interest. Listening with our minds as well as our ears, without interrupting or needing to jump in and offer advice or an opinion.
I have been painfully aware over the last year or so of how difficult it is for me to listen to others when they’re speaking. My mind seems to wander often to inconsequential matters and when I tune back in I realize that I had been daydreaming and don’t have a clue as to what was being discussed. (This sometimes happens when I’m reading, but I can go back and reread. It’s hard to do that in a conversation without giving away that I have stopped listening.) I have decided that this needs to change. My family has been telling me to listen better and not interrupt when someone’s speaking for a long time. But, you guessed it, I haven’t been listening! I aim to do better, both at home and at school.
Is this an odd superpower to wish for myself in the classroom? Perhaps. After all, teachers are supposed to be good at listening. That’s one of the ways we pick up on students’ moods and nascent understandings of what we’re teaching. It’s one of the formative assessment techniques that we use to figure out how well our students are doing and where we need to adjust our teaching. Yet, we live in a world were busyness is the order of the day. The busier we are, the more important we are and the more successful we are, or so we think. Well, it turns out this isn’t necessarily true. Some of our busyness is just moving things from here to there and has little to do with productive and significant work. So, the busier we are means that our brains are inundated with a plethora of things that we think we need to get done, but that may not add value to anybody’s life, including ours, that of students or our own families. Instead, we need to commit to fewer projects so that we have more time to do things that matter.
So, all this is to say that slowing down and cutting out unimportant tasks or, at the very least, limiting those tasks, will make room for what truly matters to us. I believe that this downsizing, if you will, will allow us the mental space to listen better and respond authentically to those around us.
Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge