Listening to students is something that anyone who has regular contact with students thinks they do every day. Asking students when the last time was they actually felt heard can reveal some different opinions though.
Listening is the first step in the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement. Separately Students and Adults This happens for many reasons, not the least of which being that we routinely separate students from each other, and we keep students away from adults in their communities. Classrooms, student programs, and extracurricular activities all demonstrate how this type of separation occurs.
Keeping different age groups in different areas throughout different times of the day effectively implants and reinforces the inability of adults to empathize with students, and causes students to stay away from one another. In turn, people throughout education and across society can lose the ability to serve as appropriate role models, engaged educators, and purposeful co-creators of the situations and solutions we operate in all of the time.
Really Listening to Students
The first step to alleviating this painful reality is listening. When educators listen to students they demonstrate their commitment to the children they serve. When students listen to educators they show the power of personal connection by defeating the negative stereotype about their inability to relate to people who are older than them.
Listening is not just for one type of students, either: While streams often seek out the path of least resistance when running downhill, educators to students do not have to do the same convenience. This is the matter of seeking “convenient student voice” versus “inconvenient student voice”. Convenient student voice happens when educators seek students who say what we want them to, how, when, and where, and why we want them to.
Unfortunately, this does not usually turn out well students who have been historically disengaged throughout society. These students frequently share inconvenient student voice, whether through actions such as fighting, graffiti, or engaging in other negative behaviors; or through resistance in which they refuse to engage in activities designed to engage them.
Ways to Listen to Students
Challenge this negativity through deliberate activities designed to listen to students:
- Personal conversations, such as one-on-ones, email exchanges, phone calls, texting, personal counseling sessions, and instant messaging.
- Small groups, including group meetings, Google groups, student panels, classrooms, and small training sessions.
- Large groups, like social networking websites, conferences, student forums, and large training events.
Challenges to Listening to Students
It is easy to see how manipulation, tokenism, and alienation can defeat these avenues for listening to students. Some of the other challenges to listening to students include:
- The belief that “Kids are better seen and not heard.”
- The presumption that students are already listened to enough.
- Filtering, in which educators reword what students say to “make it make sense” to other educators
- The practice of picking on the voices that we want to hear, rather than those we do not.
In order to engage students these challenges have to be addressed. There are several ways to overcome them. However, the most important thing that educators can do is continue on the Cycle. The next step is validating.