One of the best ways to persuade others is by listening to them.’ David Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under presidents John F. Kennedy
I will like to begin our discussion here by establishing the relationship between hearing or listening to a child and sense of security and self-esteem:
John Maxwell, a world renowned leadership expert, who has a vision to equip ten million in his lifetime, says his mother had a great impact in his life. She was a ‘compassionate listener,’ he explains, which in turn ‘fostered in me a great sense of security and self-esteem.’
It is important for us to note that listening is the process through which you hear. To hear is to understand and to understand you must employ empathy.
Anyone desirous of making impact in the lives of children must make be ready to listen to them. Listening to them means we are ready to listening to what they mean that they are not saying, what they are saying that they do not mean. We must be skillful in reading between the lines without becoming suspicious.
Let me quickly state here that teachers, who work with children at the kindergarten level, must understand that the children at that level employ non-verbal communication in expressing themselves. It is therefore that we are skillful in decoding their coded non-verbal expression. Please note that there are materials in notable book shops in Nigeria on how to understand the non-verbal expressions of toddlers.
As I round off our discussion here, let me share with you Four Basic Rules of Listening
Listening through: Choose to listen through. Listening through is a function of spirit soul and body. It means we make a decision to withhold judgment until we hear the child out. When have we heard him out? When we allow him to finish all that he has to say in the way he knows how to say it or wants to say it and clarify by asking questions with a genuine interest to understand him. Hearing him out will engender the right response and help us to find solutions to his issues.
Avoid the number one temptation of all conversations: Do not interject even when you are tempted to. The temptation to interrupt when listening to children is very high. Children hardly go straight to the point. I think it is the work of God. I think they do not go to the meat of their discussion until they are sure they have your full attention.
If we are not careful, there is every possibility that we become impatient with them. When we become impatient we do three things. The first is that we dismiss them. This is the commonest response to children. The second is that we assume what they want to say and conclude the discussion for them. The third is that we become disinterested and pretend to be listening.
The tragedy is that the foregoing responses have negative impact on the children. They observe it and withdraw and where they are too young to observe it, their instinct and system observe it and withdraw also. Once a child cannot talk to us either as teachers or parents, we have lost them while they yet live or while they are yet with us. It means we are never going to be part of their joy or part of their pain. We are never going to feel them. Once the code of communication is broken, the cord of relationship is broken. It is a common saying that communication is the blood of relationship.
Relationship with children is not an exception. In fact communication is more needed in a relationship with children. We cannot lead them or give them critical guardian expect we understand their issues. Though we may have many ways of knowing what is happening in their lives, the saying that he who wears the shoe knows where it pinches is ever true even in matters relating to children.
Maintain total focus and attention: Maintain a focus, particularly through eye to eye contact. I do not suggest that we stare at children. It may scare them. What I mean is that we give them attention. A lot of times, children are pouring out their heart and we are busy with other things like reading newspapers, watching a favourite program on the television or reading your lesson notes or marking examination papers.
In such circumstances, we tell them things like ‘go on, I am listening to you.’ The child does not feel comfortable. He quickly summarises whatever he has to say and disappears. Until we pay total attention, we cannot get the best from the child both in verbal and non-verbal communication.
Be conscious of your body language: We may not need to nod excessively. This may give us away easily. We may not also need to show disapproval so quickly. We may affect the psychology of the pupil. There is way we may rubbish the listening process by either a hostile body language or excessive show of approval. Be calm, cool, collected and disciplined.
Meet our Models
Nothing could have prepared Erin Gruwell for her first day of teaching at Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif. A recent college graduate, Erin landed her first job in Room 203, only to discover many of her students had been written off by the education system and deemed “unteachable.” As teenagers living in a racially divided urban community, they were already hardened by first-hand exposure to gang violence, juvenile detention, and drugs.
Enter Erin Gruwell. By fostering an educational philosophy that valued and promoted diversity, she transformed her students’ lives. She encouraged them to rethink rigid beliefs about themselves and others, to reconsider daily decisions, and to rechart their futures. With Erin’s steadfast support, her students shattered stereotypes to become critical thinkers, aspiring college students, and citizens for change. Her strategy was to engage her pupils. She listened to them. For the first time she gave to them what the world around them never gave to them. She gave them listening ears. She encouraged them to write down their thoughts and addressed them. Her goal was to enlighten them by listening and she believed that once they are enlightened, they will be empowered. It worked and it is still working.
They even dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” — in homage to civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders” — and published a book.
While Erin has been credited with giving her students a “second chance,” it was perhaps she who changed the most during her tenure at Wilson High School. She decided to channel her classroom experiences toward a broader cause, and – today – her impact as a “teacher” extends well beyond Room 203.
Currently, Erin serves as president of the Freedom Writers Foundation. She raises awareness by traveling nationwide to speak inside large corporations, government institutions, and community associations. But Erin’s capacity to convert apathy to action matters most at schools and juvenile halls, where any observer can watch the expressions of troubled teens shift from guarded cynicism to unabashed hopefulness.
Her class has been featured on National Public Radio and in national newspapers and People magazine. Paramount Pictures released “Freedom Writers” in January 2007, a film based on this remarkable story featuring Hilary Swank as Erin.
Erin is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine, where she received the Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award. She earned her Master’s Degree and teaching credentials from California State University, Long Beach, where she was honored as Distinguished Alumna by the School of Education.
We have shared the story of Ron Clark with you a couple of times. But we cannot but allude to him again because of the strategy he employed. He took time to listen to his pupils and understood them. He knew and understood about them what their parents did not understand about them.
Due to his ability to listen he became the hero of the children he taught. The children, who did not corporate with him when he took over the class, could literarily lay down their lives for him at the end of the session.
Thank you for visiting…Think the CHILD…Think TODAY…Think the FUTURE…
Note: Excerpted from my forthcoming book: ChildProtectionCREED Handbook. Watch out…
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