Friday, September 24, 2010


I have been tied up with the start of a new school year and have not had time to post anything. So, a good buddy of mine (and great teacher) Steve Markoff of Montclair State wrote the following. His words are ever so true and he says it better than I could have.

Thanks Steve!!!

We’ve probably heard the expression that you were born with two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk. I remember the first time I heard this from an elementary school teacher over 40 years ago. Just how does this apply to teaching? How can we use this to become better teachers?

In order to listen more, we need three things:

1. Someone to listen to,

2. Something to listen to

3. A reason to listen

For too many of us, the answer to number 1 is “me”; after all, we have all the academic and professional qualifications along with all of the knowledge from our years of accounting – who better to listen to? It took me a long time to realize that there was someone else worth listening to in this exchange – the students.

So, now that we have someone else to listen to, we need something to listen to. As long as I am talking, there is nothing else to listen to except the sound of my own voice. What else is there to listen to? Answers to questions, that’s what. The math basically looks like this: more asking = more listening. If you ask a question, then you are going to get a response, and THAT gives you something to listen to. Have you ever thought about one of those people who you think of as “great conversationalists?” If you really take notice, all they mostly do is ask questions about YOU and open their ears and listen. Most of the time it is YOU doing the talking, but they are getting all the credit. Students frequently tell me know what a great teacher or explainer I am, when in fact I am mainly just asking and not doing that much explaining in the first place.

So far 1 and 2 sound easy, but one thing I’ve learned in life is this: People can know what to do and how to do it, but, unless they have a reason WHY they should do it – they won’t. When someone isn’t doing something, it’s one of three things. They either: a) don’t know WHAT to do – that’s easy – explain what you want done, b) they don’t know HOW to do it – also easy solution – train them. Show them how to do it. If they still aren’t doing it, then the solution is WHY – they don’t have a good enough reason for doing it.

A lot of us know that we SHOULD be asking more questions, and HOW to go about it, but we don’t have a compelling reason WHY. I’ve found that once I TRULY WANT TO HEAR my students, and then I have a good reason why. I have a real love affair with what is on the minds of my students. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say in class. As long as I honestly WANT TO HEAR them, I will be a better listener and, accordingly, since it is questions that start that process, I will naturally want to ask more and more questions.

So, if you want to ask more and tell less – create that COMPELLING REASON to listen – truly value what your students say. After all, if they had the winning LOTTO numbers, you would listen pretty closely, wouldn’t you? Well, they might not have that, but they have something that I think is worth its weight in teaching gold. Fall in love with what they say – the rest will become easy.

You have 2 ears and one mouth – so ASK twice as much as you TELL – my elementary school teacher gave me great teaching advice!


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  2. Thanks for the important reminder, Joe. I always have to check myself when I am asking questions. Am I looking for a specific answer, or am I really listening to what the students say. Really listening is hard work.