5 Tips for Transforming Your Teaching Practice with Active Listening

Male High School Student Talking To Teacher By Lockers

How Active Listening Can Make You a More Effective Communicator

by Jennifer Wilkens

With the new school year just around the corner, many opportunities will arise for conversations with students, parents and colleagues.

Collaboration is an essential part of teaching. Active Listening is a skill that can improve these interactions. Active Listening builds rapport, trust and understanding. This technique requires the listener to feed back what they hear, through restating or paraphrasing, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.

When someone actively listens to us, particularly with empathy—understanding and sharing our feelings—we feel validated. We feel acknowledged and recognized. We feel that the listener has connected with us and seen us. It’s a powerful experience that connects us to one another.

Below are some helpful strategies to support your Active Listening skills:

  1. Validation: Acknowledge the speaker’s key points, pain points and feelings. Listen openly and with empathy, and respond in an interested way — for example, “I appreciate your willingness to talk about such a difficult issue. . .” or “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me…”
  2. Restating: Repeat the speaker’s communication— by paraphrasing not parroting, what you heard in your own words. For example, “Let’s see if I’m clear about this…” or “What I hear you saying is…” or “To clarify, you feel…”
  3. Summarizing: Summarize the facts and key points of the conversation for understanding and clarity — for example, “So it sounds to me as if . . .” or “… is that it?”
  4. Reflecting: Instead of just repeating, reflect the speaker’s words in terms of feelings — for example, “This seems really important to you. . .” “I can see that this makes you feel…”
  5. Silence: Allow for comfortable silences and slow down the exchange. Give a person time to think as well as talk. Silence can be helpful in diffusing or redirecting unproductive interactions.

What are the benefits of Active Listening?

The benefits of Active Listening are endless. Active Listening provides structure for listening attentively to others. It also supports the speaker and listener in actively working through misunderstandings as they have to restate and confirm what the speaker is talking about.

Finally, people tend to share more and ‘open up’ when they feel they are being heard. If a person feels that their listener is really attuned to their concerns and wants to listen, they are likely to explain in detail what they feel and why.

Communication Blockers

In the same way that Active Listening strategies allow for more open and meaningful communication, there are also some things you can say that may inadvertently block communication.

As you work to improve your Active Listening skills, here are a few common communication mistakes to avoid.

  • “Why” questions. They tend to make people defensive.
  • Advising: “I think the best thing for you is to…”
  • Prying for information and forcing someone to talk about something they would rather not talk about.
  • Patronizing: “You poor thing, I know just how you feel.”
  • Preaching: “You should. . .” Or, “You shouldn’t. . .”Interrupting: shows you aren’t interested in what someone is saying.

As you prepare for the new school year, think about every conversation as an opportunity to engage in Active Listening.  Collaboration with our colleagues facilitated by Active Listening will improve our success as educators and facilitate student learning. Feel free to share your stories of how you have engaged your active listening skills and the positive outcomes it produced for you and the speaker.


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