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’.
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?