Being a school leader who actively listens helps you make better decisions for your school. How do you learn to be one?
A school is a living space where everything is fluid. It is a journey of conversations, from one moment to another. In other words, a school comprises trillions of short conversations happening each moment between the children, educators, parents, and school leaders. Your ability to actively listen to what matters through this cacophony of voices decides the emotional health of your school.
Of all the conversations one engages in a school, the one-on-one interaction between a school leader and teachers can set the tone for the day. Teachers emulate the school leader. How you listen to your teachers decides how they listen to their students. Here are two questions to help you navigate the complex landscape of one-on-one conversations between you and the teachers in your school and lead by setting high listening standards.
Are you listening when you are listening?
Do you often find yourself distracted while listening to your teachers? Do you find yourself multitasking as you are listening to someone? If this is the case, it might be that you are unable to prioritize your tasks. Pause and think about how it would feel if you find your listeners distracted when you speak. Will it leave you disappointed, or will it make you feel heard? Doing something else as you are listening is a huge barrier to communication. If you find yourself doing this often, give up this habit and develop a seamless connection with people through active listening.
Active listening requires the removal of all psychological and physical barriers while listening. What does it mean? Let me explain this with the help of the following two scenarios.
Here is a scenario where a school leader is not ready to actively listen. A teacher enters the office of the School Leader who is busy working on something:
Teacher: I need to talk to you about some personal issues.
School Leader: Is it urgent?
Teacher: Yes, but if you do not have time right now, then it is okay.
School Leader: Alright! Then we can talk about it some other time as I am working on something urgent.
Teacher: It is okay. Thank you.
Here is an alternate scenario:
Teacher: I need to talk to you about some personal issue!
School Leader: Alright! Have a seat? Could you give me two minutes, as I need to complete this?
Teacher: Yes, of course.
School leader: (After two minutes.) Thank you! Yes, please tell me. You mentioned you wanted to discuss something personal. I hope all is well at home!
Teacher: Yes, thank you for asking. I just wanted to inform you that my mother-in-law is not well. It looks like I may have to resign. I may have to go on leave for a few days because of this situation. I am clueless as to how frequent this is going to be. I am not sure. I am sad as I do not wish to leave, but I need to look after my family.
School leader: Do not worry! I will do everything I can to assist you. You are a valuable team member. Tell me, how can I help you?
Active listening opens a direct communication channel and leads to building connections with the educator. Avoid distractions while listening and ask questions. Asking questions ensures that people are heard and understood. It enables one to comprehend the viewpoint of the other better and to respond empathetically to what is said.
Are you sensitive to the context while listening?
Do you find yourself making bad decisions even after actively listening? It happens when you pay too much attention to irrelevant details and are not sensitive to the context of a conversation. As a listener, you should be able to pick up both verbal and nonverbal cues and prioritize information to understand the context of a conversation.
More often than not, the context of a conversation is more crucial to decision-making than its content. There is more to a conversation than what meets your eye, and the purpose of active listening is also to figure out what led the person you are talking to tell you what they are telling you. It is especially true in the context of a school. A school is all about aligning organizational values with those of the people who are a part of it. Understanding the context of a conversation will help you make sense of the values that are driving that conversation and see if they contradict the school values or not.
Consider each one-on-one conversation with a teacher as an opportunity to solve a problem, a chance to align them to school values. Apply the simple 5W1H Model to understand the context of a conversation. 5W1H Model helps you ask questions to discern Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. 5W1H Model is about blending a systematic problem-solving approach with active listening.
When a new school leader joins an educational institute, the school community has apprehension and a sense of instability. Will you not agree that listening to what others say is the most impactful practice, especially when you are taking over the leadership of a new school? Let me share an example from my interaction as I joined an organization as a new principal. I conducted one-on-one interactions with each teacher and administrative faculty of the school. It helped me understand their journey, expectations from the school, and mindset. It helped me analyze how they understood the school's vision and values. At the same time, I shared information about myself with them, making them aware of my journey. I also shared what I expected from my role as the school leader. It helped us know each other better and express to them that I am approachable and accessible. It set the initial tone of engagement with my team.
About the Author
Richa Prakash is an educator, learner, and a quester. She believes that we can learn a little each day and grow a little each day. Richa was the Founder-Principal of G. D Goenka Public School in Firozabad and has spent over 18 years in the school education space. She is presently the Principal of Allenhouse Public School, Panki, Kanpur. She believes in leading with empathy and distributive leadership to empower other educators and students to ideate and collaborate at different levels to leverage the possibilities of a better tomorrow. You can connect with Richa here and read more about her work here.