How To Listen To Others

In order to be heard, we have to learn to listen. Listening can be simple, painless and easy; it can also be complex, painful and hard. Either way, we have to learn to listen if we want to get past just hearing what is being said.

This graphic shows how to listen to others by Adam Fletcher
This graphic shares how to listen to others. It is copyright 2019 Adam Fletcher

This is how to listen to others.

  • Open my heart and mind to others
  • Release my assumptions about others and their interest and ability to speak for themselves
  • Make space for others to speak for themselves
  • Be quiet and listen
  • Ensure opportunities for others to speak for themselves always exist in perpetuity
  • Continue always to stay mindful about my voice, my listening and my actions that affect others
  • Be aware of my conscious and unconscious impact on others
  • Step aside so others can speak for themselves
  • Advocate for others to speak for themselves
  • When they are absent, speak for others who cannot speak for themselves
  • Build my ability to listen

This isn’t meant to be completely comprehensive; instead, its intended to hold space for people who want to learn what they can do for themselves and others in order to build their ability to listen.

What would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Excitement of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning has become an essential arrow in the quiver of youth development and education. But are we doing it right?

As I present on youth engagement through Project Based Learning, I’m reminded of research I’ve done on youth-driven programming across the country. So often, when they’re leading projects, youth choose to take action and make a difference in the world around them. They want the vibrance and vitality of leading change, creating difference and fostering transformation in their own lives and the lives of their families, communities and the world.

That’s a tremendous opportunity! Think of the differences we could make as adult allies if we simply made space for young people to lead the projects they learn from, allowing them to create positive, powerful change in the world around us! Wow! Exclamation points!

Adam Fletcher's Project Based Learning Wheel
Adam Fletcher’s Project Based Learning Wheel positions youth engagement as the hub for all outcomes!

My research has shown me that Project Based Learning should have seven main components:

  1. POWERFUL Youth Engagement—At the core of all Project Based Learning should be youth themselves. Planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, decision-making and advocacy provide potential learning opportunities throughout Project Based Learning as youth are scaffolded for action and supported in transformation.
  2. REAL Learning—Project Based Learning should have meaningful, substantive learning in its core. Learning shouldn’t be fake, pretend, meaningless or inconsequential.
  3. PRACTICAL Problems—Focused on actual challenges and meeting real needs, Project Based Learning should lift the lives of youth and their communities by facing practical problems head-on.
  4. LASTING Efforts—Sustained impact should be a goal of Project Based Learning at every turn. Focused on creating real change, young people and their lives should be transformed.
  5. OUTWARD Outcomes—Looking towards the world around us, Project Based Learning should be conducted toward and presented to people who aren’t involved, including adults, youth and families.
  6. CRITICAL Thinking and Action—Project Based Learning should center on social justice through positive, powerful action. Youth should consider the roles of oppression and empowerment, and the genuine possibilities for them to change the world.
  7. AUTHENTIC Action—Keeping it real is at the center of Project Based Learning when youth focus on what actually needs changed, what problems and challenges they actually face and are trying to solve, and what difference they make.

These components can allow the adult allies of youth—including youth workers, counselors, teachers and others—to enact meaningful, positive and powerful transformation in the lives of their participants. I’ve also learned that only then can we see the all of the positive outcomes that Project Based Learning fosters, including skills focused on Organization, Teamwork, Research; Procurement, Time Management, Project Management, and Problem-Solving. Other outcomes include knowledge about Social Change; Community Building; Project Design and Implementation; Leadership; Social Justice; Courage in Action; and Creating the Future.

If there are higher goals for youth engagement, I still haven’t seen them!

If you want, I hope you’ll share your knowledge and ideas about Project Based Learning in the comments section below.

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Elsewhere Online

  • Freechild Institute—Freechild supports youth and adults working together to change the world in positive, powerful ways. Examples, resources and more.

Critical Thinking Part 1


A lot of people reduce critical thinking to simply telling people that what they’re doing is not enough or inadequate. That’s not what its about.

Instead, critical thinking engages people in identifying their assumptions, examining their beliefs, and supporting their personal development before, during, and after their actions.

Instead of right and wrong, critical thinking suggests we help shepherd individuals towards a grey space that is neither: Social change is about everyone benefiting. While that may murky the waters a lot of people wade through in order to volunteer, it doesn’t exclude anyone; rather, it builds their personal capacity to be successful.

Surely that can’t be wrong – can it?

10 Ways Motivators Stay Motivated


What drives the people who encourage people to stay motivated?

Recently, I’ve been considering what keeps motivating people motivated. Whether you are workplace supervisors, social workers, professional speakers, parents or classroom teachers, if you are a motivator you have to stay motivated. How do you do that?

I have spent a career working with people who motivate people. Sometimes they do it on accident, and other times they do it on purpose. In my workshops with more than 10,000 motivators over the last decade, I’ve learned many ways these people stay on top of their game. Following are some of them.

1. Avoid the Motivational Traps.

There are three traps facing every person who motivates others: 1) All style and no substance; 2) Knock but nobody’s home, and; 3) Believing the hype. About the first, don’t try to be something you aren’t. With the second, practice being there for others by being present and avoiding distractions. And regarding the third, remember that the seductive powers of flattery are always looking for a victim; you can stand beyond their reach by staying humble, practicing gratitude and constantly acknowledging and accepting your mistakes, and correcting them if possible.

2. Lookout for Cynicism – Your Own and Others. 

Unmotivated people look for fraudulence and gimmicks using cynicism as a knife. They see through fakery and deceit quickly, and challenge incompetence. If you know the subject you’re working on, constantly seek to expand your knowledge, gain practical experience however you can, and be empathetic to learn from the people you’re serving.

3. Find the Motivation BEHIND the Motivation. 

There is always something within us that drives us. If you are reading this article, there is something driving you. But behind that drive lies a deeper reason. Through concentrated self-reflection, you can find the motivation behind the motivation for you. When you’ve found that place, you’ll be able to relate to others in a more genuine way.

4. Get Real.

Stay away from anything that’s too intellectual or theoretical. Avoid speaking in hypotheticals and veer away from hyperbole. People want what is real, because that’s what they can relate to. If you want to stay motivated you have to stay grounded on the earth with the people you’re trying to motivate.

5. Don’t Try to Motivate Other People. 

Speak your truth, and others will be motivated by you. If you seek to motivate others, you will come off as shallow, disrespectful and even callous. Share your authentic self by sharing what drives you, what fears you have and how you actually overcome challenges, instead of spouting out cliches.

6. Don’t Try to Be Positive All of the Time.

Somedays even the most motivated people wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Motivated people are merely focused on what drives them; positivity is a happy by-product of living your passion. Don’t try to be a happy machine; be a real person, and let yourself have bad days when they come. Challenging times don’t mean we’re not motivated; they mean we have another motivation beyond the obvious.

7. Let the Well Run Deep.

People who motivate people have something within them that’s deeper than what shows on the exterior; however, that doesn’t mean motivators need to wear that on the outside. On the contrary, sometimes we have to hold our cards close to our chest. But we should still acknowledge to ourselves what the deepest things inside us are that drive us and allow us to motivate others.

8. Recognize Different Responses. 

Some people are motivated by flash and bang, while others are motivated by depth and substance. Some people have loud, abrasive or aggressive approaches while for others, their presence is presence enough. None of those are right or wrong; they’re only different. Motivated motivators recognize different responses and make appropriate adjustments that fit their own styles.

9. See that Everyone Has the Potential to Motivate Others.

Some people run away from their potential while others actively suffocate and smother it. Others embrace it and flash it so loudly so brightly it burns out. Still others walk with it, gently and consistently, building it and stoking it slowly and with consistently until its a constant in all of their life, all of the time – and that’s what I’m working for. Whatever your approach is, see that everyone can motivate others, whether they’re doctors or fast food workers, poets or presidents.

10. Live Your Truth.

Whether you motivate clients from behind a desk everyday or walk the streets trying to motivate a sale, live your truth as much as you can. Don’t be two-faced, tell lies or act like you’re something that you’re not. If you don’t think you can motivate people today, stop trying for the day. But remember the rest of the steps I outlined here, then get on your horse again tomorrow. If you think you can motivate others but aren’t, stop waiting and get to it! Starting with your kids or friends, be a motivated person whose example enlivens and motivates others.

These lessons aren’t just made up.

I know these are real partly because they’re based on my conversations with other people and learning from what they’ve done. However, I also know they’re real because they are the lessons I’ve learned. I have stumbled and fallen, felt unmotivated and disappointed people before. I learn though, and that’s what I want to share here.

Do your work and be who you are, and if you motivate others they’ll let you know. If you want to motivate others, don’t set yourself on a pedestal and expect your followers to be instantly motivated. Instead, spend time building your expertise and deepening your know-how. There will come a point when you’ll know its time.

If you’re already a motivator, I hope this article has reminded you how to stay up. If you want to become one, I hope this has given you some ideas.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Every Resource I’ve Made for Schools

1+soundout+logo1Are you a student, a K-12 educator, education administrator, school advocate, concerned parent, a nonprofit partner, or somebody else in the community who is concerned about schools? Following is a list of resources I’ve created focused on schools. Let me know what you think in the comments section below!


My Resources On Student Voice


My Resources on Meaningful Student Involvement


My Resources on Student Engagement


My Resources on Education


My Resources on Democracy in Education

Does Academic Achievement Happen Other Places?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHazel Owen is a spectacular educational consultant in New Zealand. Recently, after reading an article I wrote, she asked me a number of questions. Today, I’m addressing this one:

“How, given that what ‘achievement’ comprises is set by the society from which some youth disengage, can a sense of achievement be felt by these youth without compromising the principles by which they have chosen to live their lives?”

I wrote:

By acknowledging young people where they’re at right now, we can engage young people in “achieving” in things they’re doing already. If a young person is engaged in their family’s rural lifestyle, what learning opportunities are their in that setting right now? When do young people get academic credit for all the learning they’re experiencing through video gaming or online social networking? This is to say nothing from the students who are making art in the garage, building science projects in the shed, or studying geology while climbing rocks on the weekend. Acknowledging youth where they’re at means not making it an “either/or” situation, but a “both/and”, meaning they don’t have to choose whether they achieve our goals as adults, or their goals as autonomous humans.

I’d love to hear what you think. Leave any comments below!


Activity: Ten Things Icebreaker

Following is an icebreaker that can take between 15 and 30 minutes to lead. I’ve found it works best with groups between 15 and 50 people, from 8 to 80 years old. The only supplies you’ll need are a piece of paper and a pen for each small group (see below).

Ten Things Icebreaker 

  1. [1-3 minutes] Divide the large group into small groups of four or five people by having them number off. [7-10 minutes] Tell the small groups that their assignment is to find ten things they have in common, with every other person in the group, that have nothing to do with work. Tell people no body parts (we all have legs; we all have arms) and no clothing (we all wear shoes, we all wear pants). This helps the group explore shared interests more broadly.
  2. Tell the small groups that one person must take notes and be ready to read their list to the whole group upon completion of the assignment.
  3. [1-2 minutes] Ask for a reader in each small group to read their whole list of things in common to their small group.
  4. [3-5 minutes] Ask each group to read their whole list to the whole group. Because people are your best source for laughter and fun, the reading of the lists always generates a lot of laughter and discussion. You can also catch the drift of the conversation in the small groups based on the transitions made from item to item.
  5. [3-10 minutes] Tell the groups that the lists they have created are perfect, no matter how many items they have, and debrief.
For more activities, download my Guide to Games for Social Change from The Freechild Project! 
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!