Listening: The Most Powerful Teaching Tool
Truly listening is perhaps the greatest gift a teacher can give. Think of the power of the teacher that influenced you the most. Perhaps even the one that got you to consider teaching as a career. You may realize that it was not necessarily the information which that teacher bestowed that got you hooked but more their power to listen and actually hear you.
Dr. Caleb Gattegno wrote what the ages of wisdom have told us about being a good listener. Not only does it create a more fulfilling life for those can master listening, but it can convey a sense of empowerment to those who experience being the subject of your listening.
“Listening is a component of true relating and is as much in our favor, to our advantage, as to that of the other or others. It shows us as much as it shows others, that as humans we know we have to take steps to affirm, to convey, our participation in a relationship we allow to involve us, to consume time in our life,” Dr. Gattegno wrote.
But good listening is something we need to practice, even though we were born with a deep capacity to listen. After all, we mastered the formable task of learning a language at a very young age on our own. That would take super sensitive listening skills to pick all the meanings and nuances of our native language.
But as we grow up we tend to develop filters on our hearing. Like in the Simon and Garfunkel song, The Boxer says: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Dr. Gattegno posed the following questions when it comes to how we listen: “Do we find our self still and present in our ears? Or, as soon as we receive the first words, do we catch ourselves starting our own commentary and feel our split presence: something of us interfering with what is coming?
“Do we feel that emotions related to the person talking, but not to the matter of the talk, are aroused in us?
“Do we resent being involved in the talk but say nothing about that and pretend to be paying attention while our mind entertains other subjects?
“Do we hear ourselves saying to ourselves but not to the other person: “Must you do this now?” or “It will soon be over” or “When will it end?” or “Why do you go on?” or “Must you go on and on?” or “Must you tell me things twice or more times? I got it already.” And so on.
“It rarely occurs to us that all this inner chatter is controllable and does not present itself on the occasions when we really listen, when what is said and how it is said become the objects of our attention.
“It must be said that interference does not only take the form above. The negative tone of all these remarks can be replaced by a sense of pleasure and still there will be no time for listening. Have we not been anticipating a speaker’s words and added our own words in every slightly prolonged silence
between some words, and found that the words we add are favorable to our ego, even if they do not materialize? How could we be listening if we allow such inner behaviors?
“Naturally, to know how to listen does not carry with it that it makes us uncritical of content or manner of delivery of talks. It is not meant for that end but to make us into people who can recognize that to be humans is to be present in what our self does on all occasions in the here and now. In particular, to be watchful that we give the occasion what is due it: to a person talking, the right to be heard fully; to a lecturer, the right to tell us what he or she thinks on the topic which brought us to the lecture; to an orchestra or a theatrical company what it intends to convey of its own conception of what is being performed. Listening is a component of true relating and is as much in our favor, to our advantage, as to that of the other or others. It shows us as much as it shows others, that as humans we know we have to take steps to affirm, to convey, our participation in a relationship we allow to involve us, to consume time in our life.
Dr. Gattegno advised that we need only become aware of being in the moment when we invest our time in communicating and be aware of how we are listening. This exercise is a akin to building an inner muscle for listening and in doing so we become also aware of the power that good listening brings to people.
For teachers this experience is crucial for success and fulfilment , Dr. Gattegno believed. He incorporated this belief in all his teaching approaches and teaching materials. He believed that without a conscious effort to develop listening we remain in a “handicapped” of disabled state of being.