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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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Comments (27)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

abiglin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

A teacher once told me "Pick your battles." Wow, was she right. As a first year teacher, I can spend the entire class period trying to manage my class without getting anything taught. I have to remind myself to pick my battles, meaning choose what I am going to interrupt my lessons for and how many times I will do it, on a case by case basis for many students. I can get so caught up in the day to day struggle with one particular student's behavior that it can affect how I treat everyone, and I do not want that to happen. Remember to "Pick your battles" and let a few things slide once in a while, even if it is just for your sanity!

Amy Colston's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is the exact advice that gets me through every day! I need to pick and choose the battles to fight during the day, because sometimes the problems that arise are just not worth it. Behaviorally, I find that there are certain students that I can take so much from before I start to have an issue. I will not be picky with them because I know that it will set them off.

Last year, I had one student that was a "pick your battle" type of student. I knew right where his breaking point was, and knew not to cross it. However, there were other teachers that would start with him knowing that the student would explode. It would be crazy trying to calm the student back down, plus the teacher who felt disrespected. If only that teacher would have choose a different battle, then everyone would have been fine!

Amy Colston's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I first started teaching, I was on a team of eight different teachers. I was in a portable with one teacher whom I followed as if I were her shadow. If there was anything I needed, had a question about, or just needed to talk to,she was there.

She spent the year teaching me many different things, but this is the one that I have taken with me: follow the teachable moments. There are times when you are teaching a lesson and you don't know how it got moving in a particular direction, but there are times when you just have to savor the moment. Teach to that moment, because it was student led. They wanted to know about this particular topic, so the students already have an investment.

Time has passed since I was first given that advice, but I still stick to it. These are the moments that both the students and I remember long after all the mathematics that I teach.

Amy C's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I first started teaching, I was on a team of eight different teachers. I was in a portable with one teacher whom I followed as if I were her shadow. If there was anything I needed, had a question about, or just needed to talk to,she was there.

She spent the year teaching me many different things, but this is the one that I have taken with me: follow the teachable moments. There are times when you are teaching a lesson and you don't know how it got moving in a particular direction, but there are times when you just have to savor the moment. Teach to that moment, because it was student led. They wanted to know about this particular topic, so the students already have an investment.

Time has passed since I was first given that advice, but I still stick to it. These are the moments that both the students and I remember long after all the mathematics that I teach.

Amy from Texas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I first started teaching, I was on a team of eight different teachers. I was in a portable with one teacher whom I followed as if I were her shadow. If there was anything I needed, had a question about, or just needed to talk to,she was there.

She spent the year teaching me many different things, but this is the one that I have taken with me: follow the teachable moments. There are times when you are teaching a lesson and you don't know how it got moving in a particular direction, but there are times when you just have to savor the moment. Teach to that moment, because it was student led. They wanted to know about this particular topic, so the students already have an investment.

Time has passed since I was first given that advice, but I still stick to it. These are the moments that both the students and I remember long after all the mathematics that I teach.

Carolyn 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I did not understand the concept of "picking your battles" when I first began to teach. It took some time before I truly understood that it is alright to let some things slide, while others need to be taken care of immediately. I totally agree that as a teacher you set the "tone" of how your classroom will run. As long as students know what is acceptable I think it is fine if you "pick your battles: I think that learning can take place in a number of different environments. It is a fact that all students do not learn the same; therefore, I think that different learning environments are often beneficial to students. I find that depending on the group of student I am dealing with, I need to carefully monitor which battles I will embrace and which I will let go.

Gen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree that it is important to be an active listener with your students. It builds relationships between you and your students. Once I started asking students about what they do outside of school or how they feel about different things, I found that they had a lot to say. These little chidren turned into human beings with individual wants and ideas. Another great part to learning about students is that sometimes you can get a chance to relate something in a student's life to what is being taught that day. I try to know what is going on in student's lives so I also know how I should approach the student. I am not going to start having really high expectations and push a student if I know that a close relative just passed away and that is the reason that they are not really into the lesson (or they didn't practice). I try to always let students know that the more they communicate with me what is going on in their lives, the more I can work with them during tough times and not add on to the madness. I guess it is one of the benefits of being a music teacher. Actually recently I tend to hear about everything that is going on in their lives. I much rather it that way than the opposite.

Amber Turnbow's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My High School volleyball coach was my biggest inspiration in terms of how I teach. She commanded my attention, not by fear, but by believing in me even when I did not believe in myself. I wanted to do my best for her so she was proud of me. Her opinion counted.

I give advice to my students every opportunity I get. I teach young students, so I hope to help move them in positive direction in school and in life by finding as many teachable moments as possible. I listen to their concerns genuinely, and I know about their lives. I ask them questions, and develop a relationship in which I can see it in their eyes that they are listening to every word I'm saying.

Amber Turnbow's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Renata,

I have seen teachers put shoe boxes with a slit in them in their classrooms called the "Talk Time" box. If a student really needed to talk with you, they could write their name on a piece of paper, the date, and put it in the box. You could schedule a lunch, recess, or other convenient time in your schedule once a day or once a week to meet with the students. Good Luck! I am glad it is so important to you that they know you care about what they say.

Larry Silba's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One problem that I think we humans share is putting our minds in the position of something that has not happened. By that, I mean that we cannot (or choose not to) reflect on how things could have occurred, but only on how they actually DID occur. For example, a child who is brought up in a one parent household may be thought of as unfortunate because we can see that the child may have been slighted in certain area's (financial is one that comes to mind). However, we cannot see the possible negatives in this situation. If the child was say fatherless, how do we know that the father would have been a positive influence? We just assume that that would be the case because we can't see what didn't happen. In this blogs story, we can what almost did not exist. How many other things have we missed out on by not listening? That is the problem, we don't know and therefore do not really care enough.

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