Want to Know vs Want to Win: Learning to Listen

I had a whole, long thing in my head about a topic, and then brilliant thinker who I follow from afar summed it up in 140 characters:

This made me think a lot about conversation, power, and intention though, especially in the context of my own classroom. A lot of times, we taught to enter into (perhaps difficult) conversations by asking questions: why do you think that? What makes you say that? How did you come to that conclusion? etc.

I’ve come to realize, though, that sometimes people are entering into the conversation differently than I am, and sometimes, as teachers, it’s easy to default into a line of questioning that is not helpful. This leads me to ask (often myself):

Are you asking because you want to know? Or are you just asking because you want to win?


I acknowledge that fighting for the sake of fighting (or perhaps “debating for the sake of debating”) is fine. Some people love that, and I think that it can be really great. My boyfriend loves a good debate, and is the type of guy who watches Fox News just to feel riled up and be incensed at people. If that’s your thing, that’s cool.

But just because you love that doesn’t mean the other person does, and it’s important to think about that other person. Empathy matters! It’s important to respect the other person if they decide they’re not about where this conversation goes. It’s not because they’re “weak” or “scared,” they might just not be the type of person who wants to go 10 rounds for the hell of it.

My issue with it in a lot of cases though is that it I feel like rarely leads to sharing or increase of knowledge. If you are debating or asking questions just for the sake of pushing buttons, you’re not really listening to the other person. So, instead of actually taking the time to process what they’re saying or trying to hear the opinion, you’re only listening to them so you can come up with you’re next argument, so you can find the best way to poke holes in them so you can win your points.

That’s fine, I suppose. If your purpose is to win all points and ruffle some feathers (yours and your opponents), then do you. But I don’t know if it’s the best way to lead to actual conversation and intellectual growth.


Here is where it comes back to the classroom, though. As teachers, we are always in positions of power and privilege over our students. No matter how smart my students are, I am the adult in the room. I am the one (theoretically) guiding this class, and in charge.

So when I want to have a discussion with my students, I HAVE to be asking myself: am I asking them because I really want to know? Or am I asking them because I’m right and their wrong?

Clearly, the latter has some of its merits. Guiding questions can be a good way to question students and let them find their own way to the answer while providing some clues for them to follow. But I think as a teacher it’s very easy to fall into that type of questioning even when there is no real right answer, or students can be pushed to think outside the box.

If I want my students to truly reflect on something, I shouldn’t be trying to score points of them, or only half-listening because I want to prove MY point, I should be actually listening to themDoing so might lead not only to them teaching something to teach other, but teaching something to me too.

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Over-Planning and Keeping the Adventure

Hello again. It seems like I got a few followers from my last post. Cool! Hi! *wave*

Anyway,  I just set a 5 min timer. I’m going to try and write for at least as long as my students have to. That seems like a good start (though I’ll probably go over).

I had to ignore the alarm I set on my clock to write each week because I got caught up in lesson planning. I’m pretty behind of what I thought I’d get done over the break, which I finally realized today. Definitely my own fault– I forgot to bring the books my kids are reading, which is about the dumbest thing ever. I blame the sudden and complete overthrow of productive-brain for vacation-brain.

So I started jamming today, and realized a few things:

1) The online app for student discussion I had planned on using with my students doesn’t actually fit my needs. Through a series of tweets, a facebook post, and even a G+ post, I’m trying to crowdsource the best response. BTW if you stumble upon this post and know one, I’d love to hear from you.

2) I need to give my students more formative assessment over the course of a book. They asked for it! I allowed my students to give feedback, and most of them said they want to do MORE while we’re reading. So, time to get crafty and figure out some great projects for them to do.

and finally 3)

I’m worried about over-planning, however, and ruining the sense of adventure and spontaneity that I can gain with my students.

Some background: I’ve never been great at lesson-planning, or just planning in general. It’s always been a HUGE area of struggle for me in my practice. I have the skills to create a good project plan, but when it comes to the doing of something, I’m a big procrastinator. This is actually a reason I went back to the classroom– the jobs that I had had were all fuzzy and “project based,” which I appreciate, but realized is not an environment I do well in. I am trying to own the fact that, unless I’m REALLY COMPLETELY hyped about a project, or someone is going to hold me accountable to get something done (like, say, 28 children in a classroom looking at me saying, “What are we doing today, Ms. T?”), it’s going to be completed in the 5 minutes before I need it.

Now, this has been generally fine this year. I did make a point to unit plan my year, and the school I work at has a daily English curriculum that we follow each day. Beyond believing in it as a curriculum, it makes my life MUCH easier as a teacher. That said, I am worried about getting lazy and falling back on this too much, something I think I may have done at the end of this semester, and lose out on the opportunity to do some great projects.

SO, I’ve been trying to get better about planning. What I’m worried about, though, is that if I over-plan now, I won’t leave any wiggle room for some fun projects I come up with on the fly. For example: after hearing some of my students talk about Instagram, I got the idea to have them create Instagram accounts for characters in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (my example). I threw the activity together that morning, which was nuts but often where my best ideas come to light, and the kids and I had a blast. They also did a great write-up.

In general, I am trying to leave things more up to God to point in my direction (I think St. Ignatius called this “spiritual freedom” or “ambivalence”). This morning, for example, I had planned to do a 12-mile long run. I wasn’t feeling it almost as soon as I started, but I tried to keep moving and power through. As I was running, I realized that there was a national park open I’d never explored before. I decided to head over and check it out. Did it screw with my splits and mileage? Sure, but it was really pretty and certainly fun.

So how do you find balance between good planning and the freedom to play? How can I make sure I don’t get lazy and not push my kiddos and myself, but still let us take the time we need? In an education environment so test-heavy and over-focused on scores (which I am always worried my school will become), I want to make sure I enjoy the fact that my kids aren’t hindered by this and we can take the time to explore stuff.


Anyway, beyond that, life’s good. Planning, writing, running, napping. Ah vacation, you are great.

I also, by the way, have a 2015 Resolutions post coming. I decided to submit something to HuffPost Hawai‘i though, so we’ll see if it gets play there first.