UNIT 2 - ACTIVE LISTENING
The strategies we can use in our meetings with teachers to ensure they go away knowing that they have been heard.
Active listening is far easier said than done.
It requires the supervisor to take on a role as active listener that we call 'The Understander'.
The teacher is 'The Speaker'.
The Speaker begins the process by voicing an opinion on a particular
aspect of their teaching or job. This could be during any of the following:
1. the first objective setting meeting
2. the pre-observation meeting
3. the feedback on the observation meeting
4. the final appraisal meeting
The Understander then supplies non-evaluative responses designed
to help the Speaker clarify their thoughts.
The interaction builds up as the Speaker works towards a plan of action.
The vital ingredients of respect, empathy and trust should ensure that the participants feel they are cooperating in a secure environment designed to foster the teacher's personal and professional development.
The key element in this "new" type of discourse is space.
The Speaker is given space in which to speak, space in which to explore, space in which to grow.
Space that is not normally found in day-to-day meetings which contain elements of argument, opinionating and advice.
When involved in this type of discourse it is the Speaker's responsibility
to choose the topic to be worked on.
The Understander is at the service of the Speaker.
More importantly perhaps, it is the Speaker alone who will draw conclusions about what has been said.
The Speaker has the freedom to take the interaction in the direction he chooses but must take personal responsibility for the decisions or actions taken as a result of that interaction.
Therefore when in the role of Understander, supervisors should
at no time seek to criticize the statements of the Speaker, no matter what they
The Understander needs to resist any kind of evaluation, but rather concentrate on showing support by listening.
For personal and professional growth to take place, the teacher
needs first to look at their own performance and attitudes before looking to
the "experts" for answers.
Working as the Speaker, the teacher has the ability to make one's own decisions, to pursue a path without being shown. It may lead to a dead end, but the realization that no progress can be made along this route is one's own. This is empowering as it creates independence as the Speaker develops a capacity for solving their own problems. In contrast, where the teacher relies on receiving "pre-packaged" solutions empowerment will not occur.
This approach to teacher development also makes sense if one sees the teacher as being in the best position to judge the particular needs of a class.
One of the successes of this process is that it can expose what is otherwise hidden. By that I mean that the Speaker is audible, his words can be heard by whoever is present, in this case the supervisor, yet the dialogue is in fact internal; the Speaker is talking to himself.
All too often teaching can be a solitary experience and there
is no guarantee that teachers will find opportunities to discuss their work
for a number of reasons.
In this case "finding a voice" involves, being heard, but necessarily by a sympathetic listener.
The role of the Understander requires disciplined listening.
Talking through one's ideas with the thoughtful attention of another person is a powerful way of clarifying confusion, identifying appropriate questions and reaching significant heights. We learn by speaking, by working to put our own thoughts together so that someone else can understand them.
Unlike conventional conversation, debate or argument where speakers typically have some kind of agenda, or point of view they wish to point across, the Speaker develops his own agenda as he speaks. It is by "voicing" his opinions that he comes to "find" what he means.
In summary, active listening in this setting involves:
- the teacher as Speaker and the supervisor as Understander.
- the teacher clarifying their thoughts, experiences and opinions by talking them through.
- the supervisor actively listening and supporting the teacher.
- the supervisor asking for clarification
- the supervisor 'echoing' the Speaker's words to ensure they have understood correctly
- the teacher extending their thoughts into a plan for action and development
If you are interested in reading further on this topic, please
see either of the following (I have copies):
Edge, J. 1992. Cooperative Development: Professional self-development through cooperation with colleagues. Harlow: Longman
Edge, J. 2002a Continuing Cooperative Development: A Discourse Framework for Individuals as Colleagues. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
With thanks to John Bartrick for the outline of this page.
Now email your tutor with your journal - the word document you have named "Unit 2 ".
At your next meeting with a teacher attempt to use this listening strategy.
Take notes on:
How did you feel during the meeting?
How did the teacher feel?
When were you unable to follow the active listening principles?
Was the meeting a success? Why / Why not?
What were the most notable points during the meeting?
Enter the discussion forum here and add your first turn in response to the tutor's opening question:
"Having experienced active listening, what do you feel are the two most powerful elements of this communication strategy? What did you have the most difficulty with?"
If you have problems entering the discussion board, please email your first turn and the tutor will ensure it is posted and that you gain access.