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Say cheese....

Say cheese........

Jan 21, 2016

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply". This quote from Steven R. Covey got me thinking. I recently heard it referred to at a conference late last year and reflected on it in relation to my own behaviour. Guilty as charged! When assessing my own listening, I found that I was usually doing one of two things. A - thinking about something else, smiling and nodding away while busily planning something entirely unrelated in my mind, or B - carefully preparing my response to the speaker. What would I say, how would I say it, how could I impress the speaker with my expertise and uber intelligence! This quote was the springboard to introducing an exercise when conducting professional development sessions with educators, asking them to really listen in to their colleagues and then report back on what they said. Most people find it a challenge, some find it almost impossible.

Over the last month or two I've had the privilege of spending time in different early childhood education and care centres across the country. This notion of listening kept creeping to the front of my mind as I watched programs being delivered by enthusiastic and hard working educators. As I marveled at the passion and commitment of educators to provide rich and meaningful learning experiences for children, and their endless capacity to reflect on children's learning. I admired, from my fortunate position of observer, the determination of educators to come up with interesting and varied experiences for children, to research and discover a thousand different ways to use a cardboard cylinder. And while I watched and admired this dogged determination to do their very best, two words kept repeating in my head. Stop, listen. Stop, listen. Stop, listen.......

Recently while at a centre I had the most joyful and fulfilling conversation with a group of three and four year olds who invited me into a conversation. It started when Bella asked me what my Dad's name was and I told her it was Keith, but that he died a long time ago. They told me their Dad's names - Ian, Paul, Mark, Solomon, etc; and that their Dad's were alive. Great, I said, good to hear. Zac then told me about his foot getting stuck in the pedal of his bike, and how he broke his leg. "Did you have to get a plaster cast on your leg?'' I asked. He said yep, and that his leg almost died like my Dad because it couldn't grow in the cast and was really skinny when the cast was cut off. I asked him if it was OK now, he told me it was good. Great, I said, good to hear. Jacob then said that one time he jumped so high on a trampoline that he reached the moon and saw it, and that it was made of cheese. I asked him how he knew it was cheese and he told me that it was yellow, but that he also took a bite of it, so therefore he knew. Alyssa interjected and said that she'd also been up to the moon, and that it was made out of rock, not cheese. Olivia asked her how she got there and she explained that she flew on an airplane and saw it and that it was grey rock, grey like the jacket I was wearing. Zac said it still could be cheese, and if she didn't take a bite of it, well then how did she know it was rock. Bella asserted that cheese is yellow, a strong argument that met with unanimous agreement around the table, and support for Bella's theory. I could see Zac thinking of a counter argument, he was pretty determined to give his cheese theory another run. And then I asked them, "is all cheese yellow? maybe cheese comes in different colours? I'm pretty sure I had some grey colour cheese not so long ago when I was out for dinner". Raucous laughter ensued, a cacophony of suggestions, each one louder and more outrageous than the last - what about pink cheese, red cheese, purple cheese, blaaack cheese......and then, right at the precipice of the joyful possibilities that the cheese conversation might bring, there were instructions to settle down, scrape the plates, sit on the mat, hands on heads, shoulders, knees and toes, line up and go outside. And it made me think again of listening, of the fascinating views and perspectives of children as they work to understand their worlds, and of the possibilities that are lost when we listen not with the intent to understand, but the intent to reply. When we listen with our own agendas. I'm a big fan of Ann Pelo's work and the value that she places on what she terms "tuning in to children" and the benefits of this for children's learning and development. This resonates with me, but not only for children's learning. Really listening to children reaps benefits for educators, of professional satisfaction, of potentials for teaching, of professional growth. The possibilities for both teaching and learning through the art of listening are endless. I wonder whether listening may bring some respite to educators, a kind of permission to take a break from the pressure of coming up with new activities and experiences for children, and to re frame teaching around their lead.

Footnote: cheese has given me so much in my life, especially when paired with a good oaky chardonnay, who knew it could give me so much more!


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