George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

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mo's picture

In 2014, I would fund education like the military and then see what could become of the education system.

It would be nice to see what a little money can do.

Mark Wilding's picture
Mark Wilding
Ed PassageWorks Institute

Dear Robyn et al: I like this thread of conversation. I think this was Elena's intent - an invitation to speak and listen to many points of views and ideas - to "inquire","respond", and "disagree". The "both/and" is so vital. I commented before about how 'Communities require an interesting mix of reflective and proactive // personal and collective // inner and outer practices.' -- And as noted by several folks, there is such a strong tendency in education to cycle through a constant stream of "silver bullet" solutions that tend to focus on one extreme or another. It seems to me that inquiry and authentic listening can lead to independent creative thinking and/or collaborative team work. As Robyn says -- "balance is an integral part of communication." It is interesting that the words "whole" and "health" share a common etymological root. How might slowing down and listening lead us to greater understanding of each other -- and a more whole and healthy view of our work as educators? To re-member or put back together? -- All the best to everyone for 2014!

Ina Demers's picture

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. (from the article above, first sentence of the last paragraph)

With attempts to globalize our education, I, who came from one of the Asians countries and was teaching there, have learned so much about American education/teaching for the past 26 years and am certified to teach in my state for the past 13 years. However, even though our student population comprise of 30% immigrants/refugees, who speak 75 languages at home, not too many of us have focus on what education is like in different countries, and how we integrate those within our education here, locally!!
It is because not too many, or very few educators/administrators will "LISTEN" to what we can give in terms of curriculum. The process of integrating will be slow, but that is better than none!!
That is why I feel that this dialogue in this blog may become a venue for educators across America to listen to each other and TRY to understand what adult immigrants/refugees can provide us to help make education better for all students.
Our Adult Education program/s are at full or overflowing capacity and funding keeps being cut. These are parents of our students and they can be in our team to help educate their children when they are at home. First and foremost, adult immigrants/refugees need to become proficient in the language, which should be provided for and included within the school system!!
I am not sure how many of you have a large number of English language learners at your schools, so this may not be an issue.
Thank you for "listening!"

Debbie Ruston's picture

This is quite interesting - "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."

Why do you think communication is not valued as a core capacity when it is such an important skill in life and in business?

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

"Why do you think communication is not valued as a core capacity when it is such an important skill in life and in business?"

Hi Debbie! I think it *is* valued- unless by valued you mean tested and honestly, I'm grateful we don't test communication skills! The folks I work with- teachers and graduate students mostly- are very clear that they strive to teach and assess communication at the classroom level.

When I taught in Missouri, every student was required to take a basic speech course to graduate. It was about 50% public speaking and 50% interpersonal skills. I spent a lot of time teaching kids how to resolve conflicts without yelling, how to listen- really listen- when someone else was sharing, and how to understand nonverbal communication. I think that's evidence that communication is valued as a skill. What would it look like to you if it were more valued?

Debbie Ruston's picture

Hi Laura

I was asking the question myself, and took this quote from the original article that stated it is not valued as a core capacity....

Best regards

David Franklin's picture
David Franklin
HS English - Philadelphia area

You're absolutely right about this and I completely understand that this is a "wish." Unfortunately, before you can have genuine dialogue/listening between all factions, you have to break through the first barrier which involves everyone defending their own best interests, first.

I can only speak for my little corner of the world of course, but the administrators are busy justifying their jobs to the point where they have become adversarial with the teachers. So, the teachers have to protect themselves from the administrators, as well as the parents and students, who see them as an obstacle (in terms of grading) to college entrance or class ranking.

So, my "magic wand" would be waved in an effort to eliminate everyone feeling like they have a territory they have to defend. Then real conversation and listening can begin.

Robert Leslie Fielding's picture
Robert Leslie Fielding
I am a semi retired teacher who is still interested in teaching.

Communicating with others must begin with communicating with yourself. Most of us don't know all of what we think about any one topic - I say most of us, when I really mean all of us.
I began writing a series of Socratic dialogues in which the object of the exercise was not to win or score points over myself, but rather to get to the truth of something as I believe it. I got hooked on this and wrote a whole series - over 90 - and then published them. I'm not promoting my book here, but I do wish to introduce the idea of writing Socratic dialogues (imaginary/imagined conversations - between yourself and yourself, taking one as the persona of somebody you know a little about - say Aristotle, and then, by using one of his quotes, delving deeper into what the quote implies and really mean. You should try it, all you need is an open mind and a pencil and paper, or a laptop.

Summer Johnson's picture
Summer Johnson
2nd Grade ELA/SS Teacher from Corpus Christi, Texas

I agree that if parents, teachers, administrators all work together to reach our children we will have a higher success rate. When we communicate to parents, they feel included and important which in turn will most likely have them back you up on work and have that open line of communication where they can share things with you (teacher). By listening to their stories, you can understand them better and be able to serve their child better.

John Star's picture
John Star
Online College Professor

I think you made some solid points here and have a wonderful vision for the future!

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