Beyond explores active listening techniques for teachers.
As educators we have to juggle so many hats which makes us believe we always have to save the day. In a season where many of our colleagues and pupils are struggling with poor mental health, a lot of us become fixated on “fixing” their problem when they just want to be heard. Our empathy and sense of duty is triggered and we are off – failing to actually listen as we hear what the people around us say.
We may fear that we aren’t doing enough if we don’t actively solve the problem but that’s not true. You don’t always need to fix, you just need to be there alongside them.
Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone else speaks, paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said without judgment and advice (the not giving advice thing proves very difficult for teachers!). Active listening makes the person confiding in you feel heard and valued which is beneficial in all social relationships.
Active listening is especially important when a pupil wants to confide in you. As you know potential safeguarding concerns must be handled delicately so actively listening to a young person will put them in the best position to get the support they need.
Below are some active listening techniques to help teachers become better listeners:
Active Listening Techniques
1. Make time to listen
You have a lot on your plate and pupils aren’t always the best with their timing but if a young person approaches you to have a conversation it is important to find time to do it. You need time to be an active listener so first appreciate the amazing courage it took for them to come and speak to you then set a time and place when they can fully express themselves with your undivided attention.
2. Patience is a virtue
Be patient when someone is confiding in you. Resist the urge to jump in with a solution, rush them while they are speaking or abruptly interrupt and change the subject. It will appear as though the person is wasting your time or their problem is not worth hearing out. Instead, listen attentively, keep eye contact and be aware of your body language. Avoid folding your arms and pulling a bored or irritated facial expression. Face your body toward the other person, and nod your head occasionally as this signals that you are listening to them.
3. Reflecting back what is said
While actively listening, the only time you should speak is when you reflect back on what you have heard and ask the other person to clarify what they said.
Teacher: I heard you say ________ and __________ is what I got from it. Is this what you meant?
Paraphrase what has been said to show that you truly listened. Withhold all judgement and unsolicited advice. You may need to ask some tough questions depending on the nature of the conversation so do not shy away from it. Asking follow up questions to clarify what is said is important because it encourages the speaker to fully express themselves which in turn helps them get the support they need.
When dealing with pupils confiding in you, it goes without saying that you never promise to keep secrets. Always explain you have to refer conversations on to your school’s safeguarding lead for their safety.
Active Listening Techniques: Practice Makes Perfect
Becoming an active listener takes time and a lot of practice. Resisting the urge to “save the day” can be difficult but choosing not to listen can be very damaging to the people around you. Opening up to someone takes a great deal of courage. All you need to do is be respectful and actively listen.
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