A lesson from Charlie Brown.
“Mwaaahh, mwahhh, mwaahh mwwahh, mwahhh, mwahhh.” That’s all Charlie Brown and his classmates hear when their teacher talks. Poor Sally falls face first onto her desk in slumber and Charlie Brown looks perpetually confused.
This scene might give us a chuckle, but sadly it may be an accurate description of what many of our students hear when we are talking.
Instead of asking our students, “Why weren’t you listening?”, let’s consider four ways that we can get out of the way of our message so that our students can really hear what we are saying.
Four ways we can help students listen
- “Lean in” – Students are more likely to listen to us when they feel that we are genuinely listening to them. We need to move toward our students – to “lean in” expectantly and listen to what they are saying if we want them to value our message. We bless our students by paying attention to them. As we bless them, they become more open to “leaning in” to hear us as well.
- Affirm well and often – Remember the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? That may be true, but we can make that horse thirsty! Leaning in toward our students leads them to the “water” of our instruction, but affirming our students’ growth, God-given gifts, and interests makes them thirsty for what we say.
- Avoid “overtalk” – Often the urgency of our message causes us to “overtalk” a situation. Address the issue, yes, but avoid belaboring the point and exasperating the hearer. Most of the time, “less is more.”
- Say something worth listening to – Whether we teach math, writing, science, art, or Latin, the key to getting students to listen is to say something worth hearing. The things most worth hearing fall outside the content of a class, but rather lie in the character of the teacher. Is our life – our habits, our attitudes, our actions – speaking something our students want to hear?
- Encourage often – While affirmation looks to the past, encouragement focuses on the future. Words like “You can do it!” or “I am confident in you” open a student’s ears to hear instruction on how to accomplish the goal.
- Criticize/correct intentionally – No one likes to receive criticism or correction, yet often teachers fall into the trap of correcting in the name of “instruction.” Good instruction does require correction – possibly even admonition. But if we want our students to hear us, we need to make sure that we are correcting strategically and separate from any affirmation or encouragement. Only then will students be able to really hear our message.