The Best Listening Strategy In The World
Here at SCM, we’ve covered a lot of listening strategies over the years. We have a category dedicated to the topic.
But we haven’t yet covered the most effective listening strategy of all.
The reason is that it fixes a whole host of classroom management issues, not just listening. So we’ve covered it in many other ways.
It is a strategy, though, that gives power to your words, causing students to listen to you and follow your directions.
This came into stark contrast for me recently. You see, I had a group of students for several months before they moved on to another teacher. I loved teaching them.
They were fun and polite. They were easy to work with. A dream class. In fact, I boasted about how wonderful they were to their next teacher.
Then a couple of weeks later I saw them.
I had a chance to observe them during a lesson with their new teacher. They looked the same, physically anyway. They waved and smiled and said hello. But otherwise I didn’t recognize them.
They were off task most of the lesson. They played and cursed and roughhoused. They made fun of each other. They were obnoxious and immature.
Most glaringly, they didn’t listen well. Some had their backs turned and were talking when the teacher gave directions. Half the class didn’t seem to know what to do. The other half took their sweet time getting to work.
The teacher angrily called them out, gave a stern lecture, threatened. But not much changed. They were rude in a way that let the teacher know that they held the balance of power in the relationship. It was hard to watch.
The teacher pulled me aside later to complain about them and wonder how I could have painted such a rosy picture.
I gently asked about accountability. The teacher said that they were always held accountable and added that they (the teacher) had a wonderful relationship with them.
This couldn’t possibly be true, but I held my tongue.
As fate would have it, I was asked to supervise this same class for an hour so the teacher could attend a meeting. I couldn’t wait, honestly. I love all things classroom management and was fascinated with how they would react to me.
Would they continue to be rude and lazy? Would they straighten up right away?
I took over the class during an activity and decided just to watch and say nothing. They were as awful as when I observed a few days earlier. They were arguing. Some were chasing and pushing. It was loud and disorganized.
Finally, I stopped them. I waited for silence, then waited some more until it got awkward. Then, I just reset the expectations where they belonged. I told them what they needed to do and how they were going to behave. That’s it.
Then I turned them loose.
And they were great, normal. They focused and worked hard. Their behavior was good. They were polite. Like flipping a switch, the same as the day they left my class.
So what happened? Why did they listen to me? Do I have some magic ability?
I can assure you I don’t. The hard truth is that most teachers believe they’re consistent but they’re not. They believe they hold students accountable for every act of misbehavior—and will swear to you they do—but they don’t.
There is a great disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to classroom management. A huge swath of teachers will tell you that there is one boundary for all students in their classroom.
But in practice, when the rubber meets the road, that boundary is movable, negotiable, ever-changing and evolving and marked not in clear, sharp relief, but in a wide and fuzzy gray area.
They are not referees who call ’em like they see ’em.
Not even close. They’re judges who decide to hold students accountable (or not) based on their mood, their fears, the time of day, the severity of the misbehavior, and who is doing the misbehaving.
Most often, they try to persuade, convince, lecture, berate, question, manipulate, and talk to students into behaving—and call it all accountability.
Other times, they make an “executive decision” and let students off the hook, believing that they’re doing them a favor that will one day be returned.
It took me less than a minute to fix my old class. I didn’t use any secret strategy or wave a magic wand. I did nothing special. They listened to me because my words were backed by a history of consistent accountability.
I had a reputation for doing what I said. It was a sure thing they could take to the bank, and this makes all the difference.
The big and great powerful listening strategy is follow through.
Note: The story above was changed to protect the identity of those involved. Also, we had a huge response to The Smart Exercise Plan for Teachers. Click here for more info.
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