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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Free Advice: Learning from Others Simply by Listening

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

I had a lesson recently on both the importance of listening to others and how to effectively give advice. Have you received advice that you initially thought you should ignore, but then decided to follow it and were glad you did? Here's what happened to me. Let me know what happened to you.

A few weeks back, I was in Tennessee to work with teachers on the use of technology to differentiate instruction. As always, being an avid amateur geologist, I asked the teachers I was working with where one might go to look for interesting rocks. Knowing there was a lot of limestone in the area, and that limestone means fossils, I wasn't surprised when a fellow told me of a local town park by a river where I might find some interesting pieces.

After the final session of the day, I went back to the hotel, changed into outdoors clothes, and headed for the park. Walking along the river's bank and stopping to look at piles of rocks that had been washed downstream, I found a lot of limestone, but no fossils. Because limestone, unless disrupted, occurs in horizontal layers, it seemed to me this river was working along a layer that was pretty much devoid of fossils. Preparing to head back to my car, I was satisfied to have had an interesting walk and to not have seen any of the snakes that can hang out along overgrown waterways in the South.

I made one last stop by a small boat ramp where folks can put canoes or kayaks in, and I bent down to look at the rocks along the shore. An older woman, wearing large, dark glasses, was sitting on the boat ramp with a small dog. She asked me if I had lost something. I said no and explained that I was looking for fossils, and then we got to talking. It turns out she is a retired teacher who had spent years working in U.S. Department of Defense schools in Okinawa, Japan. She introduced me to her dog, Precious, and told me that I ought to forget about fossils and continue down along the river a piece because the site of the Battle of Stones River was just around a curve or two. I was tempted to politely thank her for the suggestion and head for dinner, but instead, I gave up on my search for fossils and decided to visit the battlefield.

The area was fascinating -- quiet and empty except for me -- and I could only imagine the sounds, sights, and smells of that day in early January 1863 when it was the site of the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War to be fought in Tennessee. I stood silent for a time before heading back along the path and then along the river.

Almost back to my car, I glanced down toward the river one last time and noticed an area that had obviously been recently flooded. I saw scattered rocks, and I decided to take one last look. And that is where I found, right on the surface, a fossilized bison tooth -- a tooth from Bison antiques, to be specific, which my reading tells me lived in Tennessee during the Pleistocene era, some 130,00 to 150,000 years ago.

What a wonderful result from a chance conversation with a total stranger! Her advice was so open: "You ought to go see this." She made no demand. There had been no insistence. It was just a suggestion.

So, how about you? Who has given you advice that made a difference in your teaching, and how was it given? And how do you go about giving advice to your students so that they may be willing to follow it? Please share. (But only if you want to.)

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Andrew Pass's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

During my fourth year of teaching, I had a particularly difficult class. One day I was chatting with a teacher who had a reputation of being one of the strongest teachers in the school. (We met by chance in the parking lot as we were both leaving several hours after school had ended.) I asked him what made him such a good teacher. He said, "I love the students and they know it." (We were both teaching in a middle school.) This teacher then added, "By the way, it's obvious that you love the kids too." This little bit of encouragement helped me realize that I had what it took to be a great teacher. It also helped me realize that it was OK to put a little less of myself into the classroom and encourage students to put a little more of themselves into it.

Natalie Sawalha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading this article, and I agree with it, I beleive that we should consider each massage that are sent to us be faith, and always keep our eyes open for other choices and signs, and this is really important in teaching and dealing with students and other teachers.

Jenny Nabb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

How to give advice to students so they may be willing to follow it is a difficult thing to do. Often times, I don't know that the student really wants advice. Rather a person who will listen to them and focus on what they are saying with there full attention. When advice is sought, I try not to let my personal opinions and beliefs influence the student. I try to guide them more than tell them what I think they should do.

Victoria A Flint's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think listening is a lost art. Our busy lives perpetuate a haste in our conversations and relationships that we rarely take the time to enjoy the process of listening. I believe listening to be a means of showing respect and care. While growing up I did nothing but listen. I enjoyed the learning and developed a large vocabulary. My suggestions are usually centered around reading selections. I enjoy listening to the reasons for reading engagement and then directing the reader to additional selections within their tastes. So far the matches have been beneficial, and some have even come back asking for more suggestions.
V-

 Margaret Ritter's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I don't think many people realize how difficult it is to really listen to another person without having any other thoughts or reservations. Real listening requires an open mind and a clear mind. Recently I was supposely listening to another teacher explain the assigned duties for recess. Something as simple as that! I found myself thinking about other things not even related to what she was saying. I say this to help me remember that my students are doing the same thing sometimes. I need to relate to my students when It is my turn to talk to them about school related matters. I wonder how much of what I am saying are they really listening to and what are they thinking about?

Kenzi Neuman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to say that your writing really reminded me that I need to listen more. Many times during the day, students come to me, but I am not always the listener I should be. Also, it is important as you said to suggest instead of insist. Thank you for sharing your story!

Renata Snyder's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sometimes I feel I am rushing students when they share their thoughts in class so that I can cover a whole lesson. I want my students to know I care about what they have to say, but sometimes I really need to finish covering material before the bell rings. When students come to me throughout the day, I show them I am listening by looking directly at them and setting aside what I am working on. I want them to feel the respect I have for them and their learning.

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