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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

In order to work for change in our schools, we must visualize the changes we want to see. In 2014, the change I'd like to see is in how we talk and listen to each other, how all of us -- teachers, administrators, students, parents, staff -- talk and listen to each other. This single change, I do believe, would be transformational.

It would lead to stronger, healthier, more resilient communities that would be capable of tackling the challenges facing our schools and world.

Of this I am certain: We cannot transform our schools alone; we can only do so in teams and communities. Teams and communities are built through dialogue. Our relationships are knit together with words, and yet, so many of us working in schools struggle with this skill. It's not something we've ever been taught and we rarely are given opportunities to practice. It's simply not valued as a core capacity.

Understanding One Another

If I had a magic wand, I'd make 2014 the year we learn to talk to each other. I wouldn't create goals or objectives for this initiative, but I would prioritize it in classrooms, staff rooms, professional development calendars, report card conferences, and so on.

I wouldn't gather data on it and look for benchmarks or hold people accountable for learning to communicate, but I would ask, towards the end of the first year, if people feel closer to each other, if they feel cared for, if they feel more understood than they were a year ago.

I'd ask this of parents, children, custodians, cafeteria workers, teachers, coaches, curriculum specialists, superintendents, deans, principals, and so on. I'd ask: Who do you feel listened to you well this year? Who asked you a question that deepened your thinking? Who did you learn something about this year? What new understandings of someone else did you arrive at this year? Who do you feel understood you better this year?

Listening leads to understanding. There's an understanding deficit in our education world.

We'd start by slowing down, by creating time for conversations, for listening. We'd learn some skills, skills we never teach in school, but essential ones for all. We'd learn how to:

  • Use active listening to ensure that you've accurately heard someone else and to help another deepen his or her own thoughts
  • Disagree with each other and how to have productive, healthy conflict. We'd learn how to make decisions together
  • Distinguish decisions which must be made by someone
  • Formulate questions when we don't understand
  • Respond to questions from someone who doesn't understand

The Art of Inquiry

Parents would come into a parent-teacher conference, or to Back to School Night, and they would be asked, "What do you appreciate about your child? What are you most concerned about? How could we work together to support your child? What do you want me to know about your child?" The parents would talk. The teacher would listen.

At the start of the school year, a principal would ask a teacher: "What do you want me to know about who you are? What is the one thing you'd like to change in our school this year? Who would you like to be for your students? How can I help you meet the needs of all of your students? What do you need from me?"

Learning to listen doesn't mean that we stop all other work. It doesn't mean that the principal ceases to lead from a collaboratively built, living vision; it doesn't mean that teachers stop offering challenging texts or allow their classrooms to become unruly. It would mean that we'd pay much more attention to how we communicate with each other, to how we listen to each other.

Authentic dialogue could lead to stronger communities, to deeper understandings across difference, and to finding creative solutions to the problems that exist in our schools and country. That's my hope for 2014: that we learn how to slow down, listen, and effectively communicate with each other.

Share with us your hopes and aspirations for the new year in the comment section below.

Comments (20)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

This is my dream, too. Unfortunately, so many times, there seems to be a tone deafness when people express frustration, or confusion, whether its teachers, students or administrators, to what the other party is saying or feeling. Likewise, I think we have to continue to make parents a constructive part of our conversations, and realize that they are a hidden resource to really help kids and schools succeed.
I recently heard about an event called ParentCamp- (started by Gwen Pescatore) like Edcamp or Podcamp- that has sessions for parents to not only find out more about what's happen in schools, talk about technology and social media and how to help our kids, but also form those closer community bonds between teachers, students and parents that's needed to make a strong community.

I hope this dream comes true in more and more places in 2014!

Ina Demers's picture

A GREAT BEGINNING

This will be a great beginning as we began to get into 2014.

As English is not my first language, I feel that often time I am not really heard, and my words are just passing "deaf" ears, or misconstrued. Perhaps, I am not expressing myself in the American way/s but I feel that even though I mastered the language, not too many people "really" listen and are present when I speak. Being an Asian woman does not give me much recognition in what I try to convey. Often time, I think that my hard work is misunderstood and as I want to be more productive, it make others feel strange. I could be wrong but culturally, academically, and spiritually, in spite of the 38 years of being an American citizen, I am perceived as a threat........., which I am not sure if this is true.

Having said that, my feeling has yet to fail me thus far!!
So listening to each other, really present and listening/understanding, will be key to our educating all our students, especially since there are so many variable within the very diverse students' population.

The Art of Inquiry will be a great way to work on to achieve collaborative ways to help each other and to become better educators.

Finally, we also need to include educational technicians, who are also deeply involved with students who need special attention and with teachers who need us to deliver special services to their students! All school staff are involved with students' education in every way!!

Thank you.

Mark Wilding's picture
Mark Wilding
Ed PassageWorks Institute

Elena: Beautiful - thank you for this! We are engaging in a collaborative project with our faculty to develop a greater understanding of learning communities. Communities require an interesting mix of reflective and proactive // personal and collective // inner and outer practices. I will be listening for more from you on this topic. -- Onward! - Mark

Aaron Buck's picture
Aaron Buck
Middle School Orchestra Teacher from Ithaca, NY

I believe that you are on the right path. Listening is one of the key components that is missing from educational reform. Especially starting from the top down. Parents are key, yes. Teachers are key, yes. The most important part of the conversation to school reform is to the ones most impacted by this reform. The students. I am blogging about school reform and change for America's schools. We can all brainstorm ways of change, and then get to work in our communities. I am ready for change, not just more talk. Keep up the great blog!! Happy New Year!

Aaron Buck's picture
Aaron Buck
Middle School Orchestra Teacher from Ithaca, NY

I believe that you are on the right path. Listening is one of the key components that is missing from educational reform. Especially starting from the top down. Parents are key, yes. Teachers are key, yes. The most important part of the conversation to school reform is to the ones most impacted by this reform. The students. I am blogging about school reform and change for America's schools. We can all brainstorm ways of change, and then get to work in our communities. I am ready for change, not just more talk. Keep up the great blog!! Happy New Year!

Roimata Baker's picture

Listen. To actively listen, to understand, to culitvate this in others and to model this to students.

Robyn Hill's picture

I am a teacher and have seen much of the all team work approach as an educator. I value team work utterly and completely, however, and a big however, I also value independent ideas and independent work. Forced teamwork, with no time for introverts or quiet thought, suffocates authenticity. It stops the proverbial fish from swimming in a direction different from the flow. It can produce favoritism among students and defeats individuality if it is used exclusively. Some of greatest ideas were rejected by the masses and I fear an all teamwork trend is counter productive if it doesn't allow room for independent thought and creativity. I hope we welcome the ideology where enlightenment is encouraged and one doesn't have to find a bandwagon to jump on to be an accepted voice. I hope we use this New Year to be proud of the voices we call our own, and encourage others to see the value of the independent thinker as well. We are responsible to demonstrate this to our children. We teach the young to be independent thinkers, to stand for what they believe in, despite adversity. We need to open the floor back up to all idea makers and give them time to cultivate their own thoughts, instead of looking upon them as trouble makers. Hoping we all take note on the damper this puts on artists, writers and boat rockers who make our lives interesting, if they are now deemed as "poor team workers" for disagreeing or not having the chance to share their ideas. Where instead, we could make it a cultural responsibility to leave opportunity for individuals to become the very visionaries they might be if given the space they need. We need make sure balance is an integral part of communication.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Robyn!

I understand what you mean- we need time for everyone to do their own work and not rely on the team, as well as come together as a group. Sometimes the answer is to give kids a choice and help use this as one way to help differentiate instruction- it doesn't ever have to be all one way or the other, and I think we have to remember that, as parents, teachers, kids and administrators- there are usually other solutions available that doesn't require lock step compliance but still meet the same educational outcome/endpoint.

Suzanne Grenoble's picture
Suzanne Grenoble
Foreign Language teacher from Vermont

There are different ways to attend to others. One way is active listening. Another way is really seeing someone. My husband attends to others by asking questions. All these ways emerge from an attitude of service to others. It doesn't mean you have to slow down. It does mean you have to be intentional in your communication with others. The best teachers do this.

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