George Lucas Educational Foundation
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"The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard." - William Hazlitt


How many times have you sat through a seminar or webinar discussing the fine art of verbal communication? If you're like me, probably quite a bit.

In my early career as a school principal, I used to spend hours poring over books and resources that I thought would support me to be a better speaker. After all, in this capacity, I was going to be responsible for speaking to large groups of students, teachers and parents -- not to mention my fellow administrative colleagues. I needed to be prepared to impress them with "pearls of wisdom" that would keep my audience riveted to their seats!

At least, that's what I thought.


As a classroom teacher, I was never at a loss for communication. This was a big plus for me, especially as I spent quite a few years teaching kindergarten. The ability to communicate with four- and five-year-olds is nothing short of miraculous. But better still, understanding what they are trying to communicate is even more so.

When I was in the classroom, taking the time to listen became a real art form. It was a challenge, but I worked on it. For those critical conversations with my students, I'd get down to their level and make sure we were eye to eye before I started talking -- or, more importantly, listening. As the conversation with my students played out, I stayed right there, bent down on my haunches, until I was certain that our conversation was complete. In short, I listened with my eyes.


Fast forward ten years, and I'm now in the principal’s seat. Where I’d had this idea in the past that "speaking" was going to win over my community, I found that I was mistaken. Through trial and lots of error, I learned that the true power of developing myself as an educational leader came when I discovered that listening was the key to building passionate, meaningful relationships. It was also the key to better understanding the needs of those I served.

When was the last time you attended a seminar on the importance of listening? I'd venture to say not recently. Yet learning to listen well is a skill that I believe must be sought, cherished and embraced. In the moment that I went back to my classroom roots and became a better listener, my focus as an administrator changed. It became an enriching experience to know that I could be present for those who needed me by listening with my eyes.

As I challenged myself to speak less and listen more, the doors of opportunity flew open to help me support those who were struggling on my campus. From classroom challenges to personal family matters, I was there to listen to my school staff's and students' concerns. I listened hard and often gave no response, except perhaps a nod or a smile. But those small reassurances, given freely, were often all that was needed. Embracing the precious act of listening changed my world -- and I would offer that it can do the same for you.

Are you a good listener? Do you listen with your eyes? Do you look up from that device or from your task to give your full attention to the speaker? If you answered no, you aren't alone.

The art of listening is one that we've ignored for too long, but must seriously get back to mastering.

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DearTeacher's picture
6th Grade Science Teacher from SC and a teacher encourager online.

Thank you so much for this reminder. It is so easy to forget that listening goes further than speaking. This goes with my students, family, and coworkers. It is easier to think of being a good speaker as being a good communicator. Speaking is only half of communication, listening is just as important, or arguably more so! Great post! You are awesome!

Derek Pule's picture
Derek Pule
Distance Education Specialist

Listening is very powerful and it's actually incredibly difficult for most people. I know its a work for me personally. Great article Lisa!

Melissa's picture

This was a great reminder as a start a new school year. Sometimes you forget to show someone you are listening, because you get wrapped up in your daily demands. Listening with your eyes shows students, colleagues, family, etc. that you are focused on what they are saying and show support. I plan on listening with my eyes as I begin a new school year and I will share this with my collegues as well at our first meeting. Its a gentle reminder of the importance we play as teachers. Thank you!

Rebecca LaShier's picture

Thank you for this article reminding us how important it is to listen. As teachers we have so much to accomplish that we tend to multitask all of the time. This includes when we should be giving all our attention to the student who is talking. Too often, I find myself checking over papers, looking around the room, thinking about what comes next, rather than concentrating only on the student and what they have to say. This article made me realize that that is not really listening. As this new school year begins again, it is my goal to start being a better listener and to listen with my eyes.

Mrs. Kari Kelly's picture
Mrs. Kari Kelly
Elementary music teacher from Montgomery, AL

Thank you so much for the reminder that part of being a good leader is remembering to listen. Our school's theme this year is "Learning to Lead," and listening is what the L stands for in the acronym of "lead." And as with you, I do my best practice of that with the kindergarten children. I find they are more willing to talk with me if I am down on their level, but it seems to work with all the grades. I met a new student in the hallway today who was sitting on the floor waiting on her dad, so I sat next to her and we got to know each other a little better. And when students know you will listen and trust you, they are more willing to learn from you. As I heard once in a TEDTalk about education and the way children learn on NPR, "Kids don't learn from people they don't like."

With my colleagues, making sure I understand them is more beneficial sometimes for me than it is for them. Not only can I learn so much from them since they have been teaching longer than I, but when they ask me to help them with something, it saves us both time when I repeat things to be certain I got them right when I was told the first time. I like that at our weekly meetings, we always have a little time to make sure we're all on the same page regarding different programs and curriculum and even students. When we present a united front, it provides a more secure feeling for the children in regards to their comfort in the classroom.

I think listening and understanding are both essential to the management of a school and beneficial to every member from students to staff and administration. I look forward to reading more of your blogs!

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

Wow! I appreciate all your kind comments. Thanks so much for letting me know that my post resonated with you. Cheers!

Ashley's picture

Thank you so much for this article!!! I am always trying to learn how to be a better speaker but I need to remember that I should learn how to listen better too! I understand how great it feels to be understood and listened to and how frustrating it can be to have someone agree but not quite understand or rush to give a solution.

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