Listen While They Whine, or at Least Pretend To

As most educators know, the most important thing to demonstrate to your students is that you are listening to them. Once they know you are—that you are listening very closely indeed, two things happen: kids feel understood and they feel/become accountable. Being heard means being seen. It’s vital to learning and it’s vital to classroom dynamics. If you lecture too much, zone out when the kids talk, don’t seem wowed by their greatness and concerned when they miss the mark, you don’t have a class that’s working fully. You have a class that’s disengaged. No matter how great a talker you are, and no matter how great your curriculum is, you must learn to stop doing all the fantastic lecturing, and find out what your students are getting from you. (You can see this in the Parkland kids. They aren’t all precociously articulate, but they all expect to be listened to, which makes them compelling speakers.)

Listening is fifty percent of communication.  We’ve heard this a zillion times.  It’s a favorite canard of all professional coaches.  Still, when we teach/supervise our kids’ homework, we often fail to utilize our listening skills. We’re tired. We aim for forever: we want to put an end once-and-for-all to this stupid, waste-of-time homework fight. We pile on the shoulds and the should haves. “You should have started this much sooner. Why did you spend all that time (an actual weird amount of time) in the shower?  Don’t you remember learning about comma splices back in fifth grade?” We’re right. But we can be right as rain and still absolutely ineffective.

I’ve come to believe, as both a parent and educator, that there is no way out of the whining/crying trap but listening to it for at least five minutes. If you try to cut your kid off too soon in the venting frustration and proclaiming inadequacy routine, the issue will escalate, and you’ve given him one more reason not to get started on his paper: he’s pissed at you, and rightfully so. He’s sucked you into the homework fight, and you share his disdain for your own speechifying. If two parents get involved, there’s probably even more noise, and more rightness. And less work getting done.

It’s kind of like when you sleep-trained him: let him cry it out. It’s awful to listen to. You really want to give in to either over-comforting or venting your own frustration. But listening can calm him. Then, his talk may become something full—more trusting and meaningful than the initial complaint. He may be able to articulate his real issues with tackling his homework, and you may actually be able to do something more helpful than lecture. You may find out what his work and his challenges really are.


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