Two ears, one mouth: Listening as a means to learning

Active listening is the precursor to learning and leading. Hearing a balance of perspectives makes for good planning and decision making.

by Michael Salvatori, OCT

A Turkish proverb holds that if speaking is silver, then listening is gold. I’ve always appreciated that but never more than during the last few months as the College’s Registrar.

In my early travels and various conversations, I was often reminded of how important it is to listen to our stakeholders as we think about our work on behalf of the profession and in the interest of the public. I have also reflected often on the roles of teachers and the importance of communication, particularly at this parent-teacher-conference time of year.

In my experience, effective teachers listen actively. They don’t talk over parents. They don’t rush to fill silences in others’ sentences. They don’t jump to comment when the person they are speaking with stops for a breath.

The best teachers also hear what students say when they’re not speaking. They heed the messages inherent in gesture, demeanour and behaviour. They pay attention to mismatches between word and deed.

“Real learning begins with real listening.”

I have found that real learning begins with real listening. As a teacher, when I spoke with parents it was to share information so that we could agree on plans to build on their child’s strengths and self-esteem, address any concerns, chart progress and adapt as needed.

Any success I had as a teacher came from listening. Sometimes it meant getting out of my own way, curbing that inner voice and avoiding instant analyses or quick opinion. My goal then (as now) was genuine understanding leading to mutual respect.

In my interactions with internationally educated teachers, I have also come to fully appreciate intercultural competence as an element of effective communication. As author E.M. Forster wrote in A Passage to India, “A pause in the wrong place, an intonation misunderstood, and a whole conversation went awry.” Understanding and respecting the communication norms of other cultures is vital.

Metaphorically, I keep my ear to the ground, listening for word from the Ministry or the field about changes proposed or in the works, always wondering what they will mean for certified, qualified teachers and how parents and students will be served. Listen first. Listen closely. Respond accordingly. That’s my rule.

For example, we’ve met with supervisory officers and directors of education from around the province to listen to how they think it best to implement new laws that affect their qualifications.

We’ve met with parents in the French community to plan a provincial forum for parents that includes the Ministry of Education and the Education Quality and Accountability Office.

“Listen first. Listen closely. Respond accordingly.”

We continue to refine ways to gather information from College stakeholder groups, using technology to bridge distances and facilitate greater feedback on changes to Additional Qualification courses offered in areas such as guidance and career education and kindergarten.

We’ve participated in a provincial think tank to examine Additional Qualifications for technological education teachers.

We are listening closely to our colleagues across Canada as we prepare to implement labour mobility legislation that affects teacher hiring nationally.

We continue to listen to Ontario’s First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities so that we can improve their access to the teaching profession.

I place a premium on listening to College members and stakeholders. Hearing your ideas and reactions enriches and influences my thoughts and direction. A balance of perspectives provides the necessary foundation for planning. I believe that governance and administration must be predicated on thorough understandings. Knowledge before action. Understanding before reaction.

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