I've been trying to listen more. It's really hard for me (I'm bossy!), but a few recent events have conspired to keep listening at the forefront of my mind.
I joined Twitter at the encouragement of a new friend and colleague @kinderfynes, and as I slowly get the hang of things there, I have to sit back and "listen". One of the Twitter conversations I read was actually about listening as teachers. Many elements of listening (or failing to) that people were talking about hit home for me: interrupting students, rushing them, thinking I know what they are going to say before they say it, hearing what I want to hear when they do say something...
I've also watched myself on video, thanks to my favourite Andrea Cousineau at Natural Curiosity, who made two mini-documentaries about our program, one that gives a general overview of it, and one about our inquiry into homes and shelters this fall, specifically. It's always hard to watch myself on tape, but it's also so helpful. These videos made me realize that the balance between my voice and those of the students is off.
Then, a few weeks ago, I also had the chance to present a workshop about outdoor, place-based, environmental inquiry with Andrea. During that session, I was reminded about a key element of inquiry: during a knowledge building circle, the flow of the discussion is supposed to move from person to person, as opposed to bouncing back to the teacher after each student. I am embarrassed to say I had forgotten about this flow. Even though I had consciously tried to avoid communicating judgment (withholding comments like "yes, that's right", "good idea" vs. "hmmm", "ok") and steering discussions any more than was necessary, I had allowed myself to comment after each student, thereby creating (and entrenching) a major power imbalance in the way we do inquiry.
Now to work to undo that.
This past Monday I made a start. While making our plans and reflecting on the best strategies we used to get the ice blocks out of their containers for the ice sculptures, I asked the K-pals to choose the next person to speak after they themselves had finished sharing their thought. I told them that picking the speaker used to be my job, but that I thought it should be their job, now. (I didn't tell them that it really should have been their job from the beginning!)
They took on the task with a very serious sense of responsibility, and I was impressed by how the conversation flowed. The kids were able to choose the next speaker easily. There didn't seem to be any stress around choosing between friends, and no one voice dominated, including my own or Miss K's. And we still had a rich conversation - maybe even a richer conversation? - that beautifully set up our experimentation and reflection. I certainly learned more about my students as thinkers and social beings than I would have had I been predominantly focused on managing the conversation.
It was an powerful reminder to me to let go of my need to control and manage, and to listen. I will be trying to be more attentive and open to these reminders after the March break.