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Research tells us that between 75% to 80% of the communication flow in most classrooms is from the teacher to the students.
While sharing information and directing instruction is a necessary part of the classroom learning experience, so is a teacher’s ability to listen to students.
Listening to your learners means more than just hearing the words they use, or hearing to catch right answers and identify misunderstandings.
Being a positive listener takes skill, and, like every helpful teaching skill, requires practice. Test yourself to determine if you are a positive listener:
1. Do you give your learners undivided attention when they are talking to you?
2. While listening, do you maintain good eye contact?
3. Do you make sure you have enough time to listen when your learner approaches with a problem or question?
4. Do you clear your mind of all distraction so you can be fully present to your learner?
5. As you listen, do you empathize with your learner and try to understand what they mean, not just what they say?
6. Do you let your learners finish what they are saying before you give input?
7. As a listener, do you convey acceptance of your learner regardless of their manner of speaking or choice of words—even if you don’t agree with them?
8. Do you resist the temptation to stop listening when you can anticipate what a learner is about to say?
9. As a listener, do you remain non-judgmental?
10. Do you make sure your learners know you are listening by smiling, nodding your head, or giving some other acknowledgments?
11. When appropriate, do you give feed back or reflect what they are feeling so they know you understand?
12. Do you remain separate from the problem, trusting the learner is his or her own best problem-solver?
13. Do you intentionally use listening as a helping resource for your learners?
14. As you listen, do you suspend your own thoughts and feelings in order to “be present” to your learner?
15. As you listen, do you try to make yourself aware of God’s presence in the life of your learner?
12-14 yeses: Good work!
7-11 yeses: Keep practicing
0-6 yeses: Take a class on listening!
The following three characteristics can help enhance your listening skills:
Empathy: This happens when listeners feel what the other person is feeling. Empathy means being able to appreciate and experience, to an appropriate degree, what the other person is going through without losing your self in the other person’s stuff and inability to cope with his or her feelings.
Acceptance: Exhibiting this trait lets your learners be exactly who they are at the moment. Acceptance doesn’t demand people to be different than who they are or how they feel at the moment.
Genuineness: With this characteristic the listener is required to reveal his or her own internal experience. In other words, positive listening involves transparency, honesty, and the willingness to reveal oneself.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.