What Happens When We Shut Up and Listen

I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind talking.


It seemed sort of a necessity when it comes to my belief in what a teacher is: storyteller, salesperson, counsellor, coach.

If we’re not using stories to connect kids to learning, we’re selling a message we believe in, solving crises in the sandpit or else coaching our kids through some bloody hard times (seriously, when the hell do you need to divide a fraction by a fraction in real life?).

Talking just seemed to be the way of the world.

Until I learned I was an idiot and had it all wrong*.

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Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to be a student in a program focused on mentoring and helping educators develop their leadership knowledge, style and qualities.

While hearing some amazing leaders speak, I’ve been continually struck by a consistent idea:

If we actually listen to those around us, we better understand them, get to know how they see things and then can better connect with them.

Which all sounds great…

but, how can you actually listen?

Let’s start with something simple – rehearsing.

Every single morning at 8:45am my school corridor doors are kicked in by excited students buzzing with energy, ready to give you updates on the “totes funny” snapchat hilarity from the night before.

Excited teachers

This leads to 29 students storming into my room bubbling with insights, gossip, discoveries and life stories. Some of it is amazing. Some…isn’t.

So, when faced with a student providing you with the step by step moves they took to create a multi-dimensional nether portal (with obsidian, flint and steel) I may or may not start rehearsing how I will respond in my head.

“Really? That’s awesome! That must have been great!”

Eye Rolling

Or, whilst exhausted after a full on day, and sitting in the midst of a completely unproductive meeting a team member begins to share their perspectives on how we could tackle an issue we are facing with some of our kids.

Having already heard their opening I’ve made a preempt what they are going to say. The whole time they are speaking to me I’m going through the motions, nodding, while practising in my head how I should respond.

Since I already know what I am going to say, and not actually listening to the student or colleague in front of me, it frees me up to focus on things I want to focus on now…

but what it really does it cut me off from actually discovering something new

Rehearsing kills real listening.

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As soon as you start thinking about what you want to say and how you would respond, you stop hearing.

The next time someone comes to you seeking help, asking a question, or simply venting about a problem, instead of spending time thinking and talking to yourself, just stop and focus on what they are saying to you.

After all, just because we are listening, doesn’t mean we’re actually hearing what is being said.


3 Simple Steps to Be a Bloody Good Listener

  1. Ask if they are looking for a solution or simply need you to listen
  2. Then, focus on what they are saying, not coming up with a solution in your head while they talk
  3. Finally, remember to shut your mouth, look at them and breathe
*Don’t get me wrong, talking IS very much a part of my world (particularly when teaching), but I never realised just how much I also listen and learn from listening


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