General Articles



Quite often communication in education is taken to mean, effective ways of speaking only. But those is not all, and perhaps not even the most important of the communication activities. Many educationists seem to emphasize listening as a more important part of communication.
The great 19th century educationist Don Bosco used to say that speaking and listening together form one of the three pillars of educational activity. He called it Reasoning. By it he meant that the teacher should be able to speak and listen as long as is needed for the students to internalize a message and bring out their own personal response.
The dictionary defines listen as “to hear with thoughtful attention.” It also mean “fully present with the intention to get the intended meaning of the communication”. Whatever be our definition, one thing is certain: when we listen to them, students feel inspired and complimented; and it enriches and nurtures the relationship between them and their teacher.


Many believe listening to be a natural skill, needing no training or practice. On the other hand, the commitment that helps one to persist at listening when it would be more comfortable to do otherwise, would come only with conscious dedication. Developing the skill to listen and at the same time remaining detached from getting personally involved, requires some amount of practice.
Still another misconception is that whenever someone speaks to us, he/she wants an immediate response from us. Not true. All speakers do not want a response. Good listeners know that when the speaker is talking, the subject matter is often of secondary importance. Speaking is an act of personal disclosure and sharing. To the speaker what is important is himself: his needs, feelings, attitudes, observations and opinions. The topic of the conversation is simply a vehicle.


“Daddy, when you listen to me, listen with your eyes” said the five-year-old Daliah as she put both hands on the sides of her father’s face and turned him toward her.

B. Barlow, a professor at an American University, was reading the newspaper while the little girl talked. “I thought I was listening,” he said. His daughter knew better.

Emphasizing the importance of listening to children, the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Traveled,” says a parent’s willingness to do so “is the best possible concrete evidence of your esteem which you can give you child.


Teach me to listen Lord, to those nearest me, my family, my friends, my co-workers. Help me to be aware that no matter what words I hear, the message is: “Accept the person I am. Listen to me.”


Psychology tells us that depending on its purpose, educative listening can be of two types, viz. Precision Listening and Empathetic Listening.


One of the purposes of listening is to gather information, and in it one needs to be precise; hence the name, precision listening. To be accurate in the information he gathers, the teacher could put to the student lead questions like, “How specifically”, or “who specifically”, or “exactly when did you plan to do that?” Etc. This style of listening helps the student to be clear about the content of what he says.

For this some useful guidelines, would be: 1. Listen fully without interrupting
2. give feedback to the speaker on what was said.
3. Ask for relevant details
4. Clarify, challenge, appreciate
5. Ask if there’s next step to do.

Empathetic Listening

This style is for those moments when a student uses emotionally loaded speaking. Whenever you detect any emotion out of the ordinary from a speaking student, use this style. It is for use when a student is
- Angry, frustrated or upset,
- Hurt, saddened or worried
- Jealous, bitter or sarcastic
- Excited, happy or enthused
- Hopeful, uncertain or tense.

Empathetic listening demands that the teacher puts himself in the shoes of sthe speaking student and do the following:
1. Listen for the feeling behind the message.
2. respond in such a way that he/she knows that you are there listening.
3. Avoid interruptions or lengthy comments.
4. Listen for the relationships that are really important to the student, in his mental framework.

“God’s first language is silence and everything else is translation.” -Thomas Keating

Perhaps you have seen a wall poster of a garden with a gustily flowing stream, with these words:

“If you cannot understand my Silence, you cannot understand My words.” Do you know how to listen to the Silences of students? A FORTUNATE MISTAKE

Sushma the class teacher of Standard Four, happened to meet the father of one of her students in the market. He inquired of her how his son was faring. Since Sushma couldn’t figure out who exactly the gentleman’s son was she answered casually, “Oh, he is O.K.” ‘You mean that he behaves well in class and studies well?” repeated the gentleman. Still confused as to the identity of the child, she replied, “Of course, he is a fine lad.”

That evening he reported the incident to his son Suresh. He couldn’t believe his ears. He had all along felt that his teacher considered him one of the mischievous ones in her class. The next day Suresh asked his teacher if she really told his Dad that he was a fine boy. It was only then that Sushma realized that she had indeed made a serious mistake. Suresh was one of the troublesome students of her class. But it was too late to correct the mistake. Besides it would be too embarrassing to tell Suresh what she really felt about him. So she said pretending to be serious, “Of course, you are a good boy. Do you doubt that?” There was a look of relief on the face of Suresh.

From that day on Sushma had to pretend and behave towards Suresh as if he were a fine boy. Slowly she began to notice that he was indeed improving in his behaviour. In about four months’ time Suresh was a changed boy because his teacher first pretended to and then did believe that he was good...he felt the urge to live up to her expectation.

This is the story that opens C.V. Varkey’s latest book titled, “Gently and firmly”. In the Introduction, he says, “This book is written with only one goal: to help schools and teachers bring out the best in the children who come to their schools.” SCS would recommend it for teachers and educators. Published from BETTER YOURSELF BOOKS, Bandra, Bombay, s4000050. Price Rs. 40.00.

Paderewski’s Preference

A story is told about the great Paderewski, who after a concert in a mid-western town, was found behind the stage, silent, preoccupied. Someone asked him what was the matter. Was he ill? ‘NO! No!’ he answered, ‘but some friends of mine were missing-the grey haired couple on the fourth row from the back. They were not in their usual seats.

Then he explained, ‘I didn’t know them well. I never spoke to them, but I liked the way they listened and I always played for them.’

Entertainers and preachers have been known to be encouraged by regular attenders at their functions who listen well. Why, even teachers teach in class encouraged by those students who are seen to be interested and attentive. It is only natural that students feel attracted to teachers who listen to them.


Here are some points to help you refine you listening skills.
Make time. Since life gets hectic it’s often necessary to make a special effort to stop and listen to someone else.
Show interest. Looking bored and fidgeting is discourteous. If you are unable or unwilling to listen just then, it’s thoughtful to say so. Set another time.
Give full attention. It’s easy to become distracted, yet thinking about dinner or the weather draws you away from what is important at that moment, the student.
Ask questions. When posed with sincerity questions can yield valuable information to help you better understand the other person’s point of view.
Don’t think of your answer. Listening is more than just keeping silent until it’s your turn to speak. Since you can listen and comprehend faster than a person can speak. Use this time to mentally summarize their main ideas.
Let the student finish. When dealing with a loved one you may think you know what they’re about to say because you know them so well. If you listen you may be surprised.
Keep confidences. Keep private matters private. Trust is a fragile thing and once broken the repair can be long and difficult.
Be respectful. There’s a tendency to “write off” someone’s remarks if you don’t place much importance in them as a person.
Practice. This is a time –honored way to increase any skill.