Teach Listening today to avoid another 2016!

Sorry to be political for just a minute but I promise this post has a non-bias, positive and productive ending. 2016 was not the best year of my life. For people like me, the world seemed to shift in a frightening direction towards isolation and polarised societies.

2016 in three words – “Failure to Listen”

As an educator, I’ve spent the last 6 months considering what has gone wrong and is it a matter of failing education producing “post-truth” generations who fail to question such things as fake news. This is where a randomised suggestion from TED.com seemed to offer me a gentle, concise, but powerful solution to all my concerns – Listening. I’d summarise 2016 as the year people failed to listen to others. A year where locking out debate and the thoughts of others became legitimised. Even the idea of listening to experts was questioned on both sides of the Atlantic. So I’d like to introduce you to (or remind you of) Julian Treasure.

5 classroom exercises to heal a world

In this talk, Treasure addresses our society’s shift towards too much noise (think social media and the pace of life) and thus loss of skills in and desire to truely listen to people and our surroundings.

“We’re becoming impatient. We don’t want oratory anymore; we want sound bites. And the art of conversation is being replaced — dangerously, I think — by personal broadcasting.” – Julian Treasure

If only we had  remembered Julian’s 2011 TED talk, we might not have has such an angry 2016. In this talk, he even predicted our current problems when he said:

“We’re becoming desensitized. Our media have to scream at us with these kinds of headlines [Sensation, Shock, Scandal, Reveal, Exposed, Fury] in order to get our attention. And that means it’s harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated … a world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed” – Julian Treasure (2011)

listening-eduwells

Teach Listening today!

Here is an edited summary of Julian’s 5 suggested exercises that I believe could transform your classroom, and possibly even improve grades, not to mention, save the world!

  1. Silence: “Just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate, so that you can hear the quiet again.”
  2. The Mixer: “listen in the [classroom] to how many channels of sound can I hear? How many individual channels in that mix am I listening to? … put names to those channels such as: pencil; tapping; pouring paint; bunsen burner.
  3. Savouring: “This exercise is about enjoying mundane sounds.” Next time you sharpen a pencil, really listen! It’s a great sound.
  4. Listening positions: “Remember I gave you those filters? It’s starting to play with them as levers, to get conscious about them and to move to different places.” This is where you focus on one of the environment’s sounds and consciously enhance it’s volume in your mind by focusing on it intently.
  5. RASA: Julian says “Finally, an acronym. You can use this in listening, in communication. RASA stands for “Receive,” which means pay attention to the person; “Appreciate,” making little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “OK”; “Summarize” — the word “so” is very important in communication; and “Ask,” ask questions afterwards.”

I can see these skills apply to nay specialist area such a students using RASA to challenge each other on science analysis. Savouring as a dramatisation exercise, and Silence in ALL tasks – I already use it at the beginning of Design thinking tasks.

Teachers need to plan consciously for their use of listening and discuss / teach these skills specifically to improve levels of thinking and empathy practiced by their students. Let’s all start using the art of conscious listening throughout education and we help the next generations fight the noise that surrounds them and avoid another 2016.

P.S. 2016 as I saw it …

  1. The U.K. voted to ask foreigners to “leave” only to find out the next day they’d voted for the U.K. to “leave” Europe. “What is the EU” = most popular Google search on that day.  
  2. The U.S. voted to “drain the swamp” only to find that the “swamp” of bureaucrats and lobbyists were simply no longer needed because the the people who funded the lobbying were to be the new government cabinet.
  3. A horrible man in Syria officially asked a horrible man in Russia to help him sort out some people fighting for freedom, allowing the horrible Russian to perform bombing practice on civilians,. Then a tweeting 16-year-old U.S. president-elect called them both “great guys.”
  4. Nobody listened to anyone who didn’t already agree with them entirely.

[political bit over 😀]

 

 

R.I.P. public #Education in America

Every 11 seconds on Wall street, someone has the thought “There are billions of dollars tied up in public education that I can’t make more money on using the money I already have.” The phrase “Corporate education” does not sit comfortably with most voters on both sides of the political divide and so right-wing parties and their financial market friends around the globe try to disguise corporate education models under better sounding social initiatives, such as “School choice.” Trump obviously hasn’t had a thought about education and so has borrowed one from the Koch brothers.

Learning is first about money making

It’s Facebook that personifies the idea that all human activity should now be monetised as the social-media giant indirectly makes money on every photo and comment we upload. [Note: The scary prospect of how much money Trump made Facebook in the last 18 months.] So why shouldn’t the activity of learning be any different? Kids learn while rich investors make money! Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? So, with Republicans in control of every level of government and federal “School choice” almost inevitable, it’s worth looking into whether it works in practice.

This is where I could stop writing and just ask you to Google it. It takes the most basic Google searches to discover that all these market-driven policies are made to sound nice but do the exact opposite they claim to. Like all right-wing policies, they never allow for natural human behaviour such as personal and organisational self-preservation, and greed. This was made clear in “The maestro” Alan Greenspan’s comments on the (his) 2008 global financial crisis, “I made a mistake in trusting the banks would act in the best interests of their investors.” Even the wikipedia page on School choice goes to great length at explaining how the policy doesn’t work!

“Many of the current school choice models do not offer transportation to out-of-neighborhood schools, which discourages low-income families from selecting schools outside of their neighborhoods.[27] The “free market” created by school choice models is inherently unequal.” – Wikipedia

Saving education

The thought that I could save American education by simply asking Donald to go read Wikipedia sounds crazy but his lack of awareness of world issues and life on earth in general, he proved during campaigning, shows me that he’s never read wikipedia anyhow.    The problem America has is that the political discussion is always centred on the funding and organisational structure of education, rather than the experience one receives in the classroom. My own country New Zealand outperforms the US on every indicator at a fraction of the cost. We are worried firstly about what happens in the classroom and how engaged and involved individual children are in their own learning. We can only do this because we have no external pressures from third party interests, such as lobbying corporations like Pearson. Teachers know education better than corporations and business leaders and it’s teachers who run education in New Zealand.

DEAR DONALD…

If you want to know how to improve education for all at a fraction of the cost, learn from New Zealand. I just happen to written a book on the subject, in which I cover how we organise and fund public education to be one of the best in the world.

There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.