Earlier this week on The Nerdy Book Club blog, Donalyn Miller talked about how she tried to change the behaviors of her students during read aloud time. What she viewed as distractions were really the ways her students were able to relax and concentrate on what they were hearing. She discovered this by joining in conversation and really listening to what her students were saying. At first I was a little taken aback, since I was secretly applauding her for putting an end to drawing, playing with hair, or laying comfortably on the floor while a read aloud was being conducted – behaviors that really bug me, too. But as she observed and really listened to what the students were saying, she understood what read aloud time meant in her community of learners, and that those behaviors were not necessarily distractions to her students, but ways of participating as part of the community. I’m still conflicted about the behaviors, but I was impressed with how Donalyn put her own desires aside and really listened to what her students were telling her.
A few days later Clare Landrigan from Teachers for Teachers shared how really listening to what a student needed helped her to make a difficult decision. By taking the student’s needs into consideration, Clare was able to put into perspective what was the best procedure for that student and that class at that time.
Peter Johnston talks about the importance of listening in his book, Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives. He says that when we really listen to someone else’s thoughts or ideas, we view that person as a source of learning, and we make ourselves open to the possibility of changing our thinking. I think that is what we must always remember about the classroom – that all of us, teachers and students alike – are open to the possibility of change because we listen, not just hear.
Sometimes as teachers we are so busy trying to get through our lessons that we forget what really matters – the needs of the students in our care. When things are not going well in the classroom, and perhaps even when they are, we need to slow down and listen. Our students will help us find the answers.