Just Listen

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Giving another person our attention is one of the most important things we can give another person. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything else but listen to them. Take them in. Listen to what they are saying and care about it. Caring about what they are saying is more important than understanding what they say.

Have you ever tried telling your story to another person only to be interrupted by them saying they once had something similar happen to them? Subtly, our story ends up being their story and our story ends with them.

We connect with others through listening. When we interrupt someone who is talking we move the focus of attention to ourselves. When we just listen, the focus stays on them and lets them know they and their story matters and that we care.

Listening isn’t easy. It’s something most of us need to learn. But, a loving silence has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.

Circles are the foundation of restorative practices. Restorative circles proactively build the trust students need to safely risk self-disclosure, confrontation, empathy and care with one another.

Circles are exactly what they are called. Students are arranged in a circle shape so that everyone can see every face while having a conversation with one another. Circles are where every student is equally important and has an equal voice. It’s where a student feels a sense of belonging, can speak from the heart and share personal experiences and stories and experience support from their peers. Circles also promote social skill building with the students, such as problem solving, communication, expression of feelings, thoughts and ideas and listening.

The benefit of Circles and the skills learned from them only happen with students when we, the teacher or facilitator, create the right environment for a Circle and model the skills needed for them to be effective. Most importantly, the skill of listening.

Here are 10 tips to help you become a better listener when facilitating a restorative practice Circle or simply having a one-on-one conversation with a student:

  • Stop Talking: “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” (Mark Twain) Don’t talk. Just listen. When a student is talking listen to what they are saying. Don’t interrupt them, talk over them or finish their sentences for them. Stop and just listen. When the student has finished talking you may need to clarify to ensure you have received their message accurately.
  • Prepare Yourself to Listen: Relax. Focus on the student. Put other things out of mind. The human mind is easily distracted by other thoughts. Concentrate on the messages that are being communicated.
  • Put the Student at Ease: Help the student feel free to speak. Remember their needs and concerns. Nod or use other gestures or words to encourage them to continue. Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare – show you are listening and understanding what is being said.
  • Remove Distractions: Focus on what is being said. Don’t doodle, shuffle papers, look out the window or pick your fingernails. These behaviors disrupt the listening process and send messages to the student that you are bored, distracted and not listening.
  • Empathize: Try to understand the student’s point of view. Look at issues from their perspective. Let go of preconceived ideas. By having an open mind we can more fully empathize with them. If the student says something that you disagree with wait and construct an argument to counter what is said, but keep an open mind to the views and opinions of others.
  • Be Patient: A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean the student has finished. Be patient and let them continue in their own time. Sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for them.
  • Avoid Personal Prejudice: Try to be impartial. Don’t become irritated and let the student’s habits or mannerisms distract you from what is really being said. Everybody has a different way of speaking – some people are more nervous or shy than others, some make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace when talking and others like to sit still. Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.
  • Listen to the Tone: Volume and tone both add to what a student is saying. Let these help you to understand the emphasis of what is being said.
  • Listen for Ideas – Not Just Words: You need to get the whole picture, not just isolated bits and pieces. Maybe one of the most difficult aspects of listening is the ability to link together pieces of information to reveal the ideas of others. With proper concentration, letting go of distractions and focus this becomes easier.
  • Wait and Watch for Non-Verbal Communication: Gestures, facial expressions and eye-movements can all be important. We don’t just listen with our ears, but also with our eyes. Watch and pick up the additional information being transmitted via non-verbal communication.

In tomorrow’s webinar, “How To Successfully Bring Restorative Practices to Your Students”, you will have the opportunity to experience a Circle and practice your listening skills. You will also learn the steps you need to take to successfully integrate restorative practices, including Circles, into your school, community organization or agency. The webinar will also give you examples of how you can use restorative approaches and facilitate Circles virtually with students if meeting in-person isn’t an option.

and the value of tomorrow’s webinar increased even more with the addition of an additional guest presenter – Nicole Herrera! Nicole is a Social Emotional Learning Specialist for a middle school in Jefferson County Public Schools, located in the Denver area. She has four years of experience implementing restorative practices in a school setting. She is also a school district resource and hosts professional development training for restorative practices.

The combined experience and wisdom of Bill and Nicole makes this a webinar you don’t want to miss. Register today to ensure you have a seat reserved.

How you close a Circle is just as important as to how you open it. There are many ways to effectively close a Circle. One way is through silence. Everyone in the group holds a moment of silence and reflects silently on the process of the Circle or holds a moment of silence to hold each other in regard or to silently acknowledge each other. The students don’t talk. They just listen – to silence.

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