“When you listen, you become immersed in the lived experience of others. And if you listen with compassion, you get it. And THAT leads you to solution.” — Dr. Folami Prescott-Adams
IF YOU’VE SPENT MORE THAN five minutes around schools, you’ve probably got a reflexive reaction to the term education reformer. The very phrase tends to spark either cheers or catcalls. You’ve seen the effusive profiles of heroic charter school leaders who are working wonders. And you’ve perused the bitter blogs attacking those same leaders as “deform- ers” bent on destroying public education.
Education is brimming with passionate people who see schooling as a way to make a difference. Most of the time, passion is a wonderful thing. It lends us energy and gives our work meaning. In school reform, though, I sometimes think we suffer from a curious malady: too much passion. — Excerpt from the Preface of Letters to a Young Education Reformer by Frederick M. Hess.
The words from the excerpted Preface above spoke to me (and I hope they speak to you, too) as Hess tries to break down what it means to be an education reformer.
He summarizes what I see as a daily struggle. If we are to move beyond a set of reforms to a true understanding of why our schools need transformation and what that can look like across charters, neighborhood schools and every other attempt made to get it right – then we will have to listen to each other.
When a passionate parent speaks at a Board meeting, how compassionately are we listening to their concerns and frustrations? When a new teacher shares both the challenges and small wins they experience in the classroom, are we listening to their joy with compassion? If we can find the compassion and listen to their joy in their own words, we can use that to encourage them and work towards solutions for the challenges. Likewise, when a superintendent shares a vision for the district, if we listen compassionately for the elements that spark our interest and match our talents and resources, we can all reach the BIG goal.
So how do we listen compassionately? Here are a few tips.
- Listen with positive intent. You have to assume the speaker wants what’s best for students and community. If you have any doubt, ask yourself what’s in it for them if schools fail?
- Listen for the next question you can ask to probe or clarify. Instead of listening to respond, try this method. You are truly a listening ear when you help the speaker draw clearer conclusions and connect their passion (never too much, in my opinion) to action.
- Listen with an open heart. The overwhelming majority of people wish to be happy and to avoid pain and suffering. With that in mind, our compassion can help us listen knowing that the speaker’s opinion is grounded in their experiences – some joyful and some painful. In listening, you get to experience their heart – even if they are speaking from a place of anger or mistrust.
- Listen with no expectations for closure. I wish we could solve our education problems with a conversation, a contentious board meeting or an enriching gathering of parents. Well, we can’t. Each experience can get us closer to solutions if we listen – with the intent to act on what we have heard.
Try the ideas shared above and in your own reflection time, ask yourself what you learned and how you can find a solution in the words you heard and the emotions you felt.
That is your homework. Welcome to Education Transformation 101.
P.S. – If you are thinking about running for the APS Board of Education or want some help evaluating the candidates, consider the ideas offered here.