Students are our best teachers

John Hattie caused a stir when he gave advice to teachers to ‘just shut up’ at a conference last month in Parramatta.  He said teachers need to stop spending their time talking and start listening.  Stephen Covey in his Seven Habits talks about the need for empathetic listening and Daniel Pink recently reflected on the need for leaders to ‘talk less, listen more’.

This sentiment is picked up also in the work of Douglas Reeves and Andy Hargreaves who both make the point that too often, schooling is about adults and the way adults work than student learning.

Pink says that unlike technical skills, empathy is increasingly valued in a conceptual age and it needs to be increasingly valued in the learning environment.  Empathy enables us to better understand our students, their perspective, how they learn and what engages them.

Beginning teachers participating in our system induction program recently had an opportunity to hear students voice their opinions on what helps them to learn effectively.  Students were part of a panel where our teachers asked them a series of questions including: ‘what would you say to your teachers to help you to learn better?’; ‘tell us about a time when you found it easy to learn something?’; and ‘tell us about a time when it was difficult to learn something?’.

Some comments from the students were:

• wanting teachers with a sense of humour
• teachers having good control but also challenging students
• teachers being good listeners and giving students scope for input
• developing appropriate relationships
• getting to know and caring for the students

Our beginning teachers found the experience extremely helpful.

If we are serious about personalising learning for every student, then we need to heed the collective advice of Hattie, Pink and Covey et al.  This commitment leads immediately to a recognition of individual differences in the backgrounds, abilities, interests and learning styles of each learner.  It reinforces the importance of teachers listening and getting to know students as individual learners.

As Hattie says our job is to help teachers learn through the eyes of kids.  Is the maxim for 21st century educators  – talk less and listen more?


12 thoughts on “Students are our best teachers

  1. I agree Greg. Teachers could listen and inquire more. The same applies to principals talking less and listening more! I love being involved in programs where principals and teachers undertake student inquiry processes where they talk with small groups of children and ask what they think. This can have a profound effect and, for some, is the first time educators have inquired more than advocated! Learning conversations take practice yet are foundational if we are to challenge our pedagogical practices and work towards personalised learning. Thanks for your post.

    1. I rally love the idea of advocacy for kids learning. It of course implies good listening and it brings your professional expertise to the task.
      Too often in staff rooms we know more about the local football scores and team performances than we do about how our students are learning. The staffroom could be a focal point for learning conversations.

  2. Thanks for this. It’s taken me six months into my grad dip to realise that it isn’t about the teaching, it is about learning. Looking at how you plan lessons through your students eyes first and foremost and what their needs are. Not sure how to implement yet but I hope I am onto something…

    1. You’ll make a great teacher Stephanie with this insight. I think we need to “let go” of the things we think we need to control in the classroom and be open and prepared to change and take new paths.
      Implementation is an iterative process which has a deep need for metacognition, reflecting on our learning

      1. Thanks for your response. I’m still finding the how and when to step back hard. Fortunately I have a great supervising teacher who pulled me up on a great learning moment today for my students when I needed to ‘just shut up.’

  3. Of course most teachers have been doing these things for years. I find it odd that it takes Phds, conferences in Singapore, and reams of Educational Research for some people to come back to classroom teachers and tell us how we should be doing our job. Most professional development I have attended, and guest speakers I have listened to about student-centred education have simply repackaged what I learned at University and are preaching to the converted. What many of them fail to understand is that in an age of rights and litigation, no-one seems to be commiting any great effort to establishing effective ways of dealing with the percentage of young people who are not intrinsic learners (at least in terms of what they are supposed to learn). At the end of the day, the sad fact is that in Australia in 2011, schools and the community are judging teachers by the results of questionable standardised testing. It is well and good for educational authorities and experts to rebrand learning as long as the sellers realise that most teachers are too concerned with what goes on in their classroom to give them any more time than they would a television infomercial.

    1. Thanks for the comment Paul. I’m not sure what you mean by the ‘percentage of young people who are not intrinsic learners’? I agree that we should not be judging teachers by the results of standardised tests but what are the indicators of progress you are using as a teacher? Richard Elmore says you learn to do the work by doing the work but that doesn’t mean being complacent when it comes to accepting responsibility for progressing all students even those who are ‘not intrinsic learners’.

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