Thursday, July 21, 2016

Saying "I Love You"

Implied in the word "teacher," for most people, is the idea of talking. When teachers are portrayed in popular media, we are generally shown in front of a room of dutiful students taking notes as we lecture. Even when early childhood educators are portrayed, more often than not, we're shown as bent over our charges, lips flapping.

The longer I've done this job, however, the more I'm coming to understand that listening is really what we're here to do.

Now, I'm the first to admit that I can be a chatterer, a habit I developed as a baseball player and coach, although to be honest I don't really expect anyone to be listening to my classroom banter because the purpose on the diamond, as it now in the classroom, is to create a sort of unifying rhythm for the "team," rather than to convey any specific information: I could be chanting nonsense syllables and likely get more or less the same effect. That said, every teacher needs to work on something and I suppose that the central one for me is to shut up and hear more.

"Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are indistinguishable." ~David Augsburger

You see, more than anything else, that's what you gain when you stop talking and start hearing: your silence becomes a nest of pure love for the child (indeed, any person) with whom you are. When we set aside our agenda, when we step outside those notions of the teacher who "lectures," when our focus is on hearing rather than talking, we are giving that person our greatest gift.

And there is a distinction, I think, between hearing and mere listening. It is more than just creating a silent space in which a child can express himself. And, indeed, it is even more than truly comprehending or sympathizing or empathizing.

It is not enough to love; you have to say it. ~French proverb

It's only when the child knows she is being heard that the act of listening holds the power of love. And the way we let a person know they've been heard is, in their pauses, to repeat back to them their own words, verbatim; not our interpretation or extrapolation of those words, but rather the exact words they use to express themselves. When a child says, "I am sad," for instance, we let them know they are heard, that they are loved, by echoing back to them, "You are sad." And in that echo, we have said both, "I've heard you," and "I love you."

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Unknown said...
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Scott said...

Less talk. More listening. Truly listening - beyond the words to the feelings; "listening" to actions and behavior. I'm doing this more and more, too. Sitting and watching. Letting the child talk. And, if I say something, I more often say: "Tell me about this."

Thanks, Tom, for reminding me to listen.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tom, as always. You've reminded me to wonder something about those confirming responses that we offer to children's expressions (any person's expressions, really).

I've found that an exact reflection of others' words does seem to maintain the purity of their expression. In other words, these verbatim responses do seem to keep me from co-opting their expressions for myself or polluting them with my own feelings and opinions.

I also wonder about the power of reflecting back to others our understanding, sans judgment, of what they said. For example, a child who has lost something (or someone) says, "I'm sad." I might say, "you wish something was different."

This may cause the person to warp their emotion into something new, something that they think I want them to feel. I wonder if such a reflection is equally likely to demonstrate to the other person that we've taken their statement seriously. We have taken the energy and effort to think about what they have said and what they are trying to express. Might they recognize (consciously or otherwise) that we've made this effort to understand them, that we have both heard and listened? In other words, is such a statement also likely to say, "I hear you," and "I love you?"

-- Jeff
-- Jeff