It’s a straight forward act: to listen to someone else speaking. We all engage in it. Sometimes we listen to a friend or a family member. Sometimes, we need to listen to instructions from someone we don’t know or from a clip on youtube.
We all do it. We all think nothing of it when we’re asked to listen.
Yet, what really happens inside our mind when we set out to listen to someone else tell us something.
This week, we set out to explore the act of listening.
Instructions: in pairs. One tells the other about someone important in her/his life. The partner listens, with an open heart (concept we’re working on) without interrupting except for perhaps a nod or a ‘mmm’. Two minutes. Go
Sharing. Tell each other: how it was to tell the other person something without them interrupting you? How was it to listen without interrupting?
Telling, listening and Sharing
Back to Full circle: Who would like to share?
Me: How was it to tell your partner about someone important to you?
Pupils: “Good.” “Okay.” “Regular – no difference.”
Me: How was it to listen without interrupting?
Pupils: “Good.” “Okay.” Clearly the girls were far more talkative during the exercise than in the full circle.
Me: Did you learn anything new about yourself?
Pupils: “I like to listen.” “Not really.”
Me: It’s not that easy to simply listen. Often, thoughts pop into our minds and we miss what the other person is saying. Let’s try an experiment.
I’m going to tell you a story about something that happened to someone important to me. I’ll speak for 2 minutes. Your job is to listen. When a thought suddenly pops into your mind, raise your finger, then lower it.
Is it clear? Listen to me. When a thought (a finger popped up) pops up in your mind, raise your finger then lower it.
A just broke up with her (finger pop) boyfriend. She and he decided to split up even though (finger) there were still good feelings between them. (Fingers popped). Now, A is crying all the (fingers) time and is calling herself stupid (finger) for breaking up (fingers) with him (finger) (finger). I told her to think (finger) about why she decided to break up and if the reasons (finger) were still true for her. She said she did that (fingers) but couldn’t stop crying. I suggested that what if a friend told her the story of breaking up. What would she say to her friend? Would she call her friend stupid? (finger) Or would she know what to say to her?
Me: How was that for you?
I noticed that after a while, there were fewer fingers raised. Was it easier to listen to me?
Pupils: (nodding their heads) Yes
Me: Why do you think?
Pupils: “I wanted to hear.”
“I felt a connection.”
Me: Ah. How do you think you could use that in your life?
Pupil: “If we want to learn something, a teacher needs to make a connection to our lives.”
Others agreed with her.
Me: Yes, true.
But what if we don’t have a teacher like that. Is there anything we could do? I wondered if maybe we ourselves could make the connection.
Pupil: “We could hate the teacher – that would make the connection!”
Me: Ah, yes. What else could we do? Let’s think about it.
This act of active listening and actively finding connections is a skill that needs to be cultivated.
What’s interesting about this exercise is not only had I planned it ahead of time, but during our warm-up meeting, one girl said that she had an idea for an exercise: to listen to someone talking!
Further comments: With this age group, 13-14, it’s important to build the lesson gently. No attempt to forcefeed concepts. Each moment of input needs to be encouraged. No negativity in the room.
Example: A few girls rallied around R who decided I had deliberately favoured one girl over her. I guess that this is the default method of analyzing teacher motivation.
I wonder, how to help cultivate the notion of taking responsibility for our perceptions of reality.
Case-study R and the end of lesson relaxation session.
R had gone to the bathroom and when she returned, all the cushions had been claimed. One girl, Y, had two small cushions which she put together as one.
R was upset. She wanted one of Y’s cushions. I indicated the available mattresses. R would have none of it. She wanted a cushion and was determined that I’d tell Y to give it up.
Not seeing the reason to make Y uncomfortable and feeling that R was being stubborn with no reason, I agreed when R decided to sit it out and then leave the room.
The next week: R brings up the subject of the cushion and how I hadn’t insisted on Y giving it up. Clearly, this situation has been a source of frustration and conversation for the previous week.
Happily, I got a chance to explain that using a mattress for relaxation is the best option! I thought I was offering her something ideal. I had no intention of making her dissatisfied.
The girls didn’t quite understand how a flat mattress for relaxation could be better than a lumpy pouf. They compared it to everyone getting to eat chocolate and I offering one girl toffee. How could toffee possibly be a better option?
Clearly, this will take more than one explanation and even then, it might remain something that we’ll have to agree to disagree upon until they reach an age where their body really appreciates a flat mattress on the ground.
R also asked: Can you teach us how to not let bad things bother us?
R is plagued by anxiety. She’s an ADHD child with comorbidities, also involving impulse control. Knowing her only a few short weeks I can only celebrate when she smiles and likes what we do in class. However, her reaction to relaxation is giggling and it’s almost impossible for her to refrain from disturbing others. This makes it difficult for the other girls to get into relaxation mode. How to handle such a girl in my session?