In general, listening sessions build connection and relationship. As a school founder, I used to conduct listening sessions with community locals, parents, students, and civic members when I felt that I needed to connect and reflect.
Listening sessions within a classroom foster an inclusive learning environment where you can model the behaviors and characteristics that you want to see in your students, such as respect, curiosity, and kindness. It also gives students an opportunity to feel heard and valued. As a teacher, based on what your students share, you can make positive changes in your classroom and close the social-emotional or perhaps instructional gaps that you may not know even exist. In a listening session, the goal is to create a safe and respectful space where students can share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with you and their peers.
Listening sessions can last for however long you would like, can be about whatever topic you would like, and therefore, can be used in multiple ways.
A beginning of the year as a “Get to Know You” activity.
A “reset” at the end or beginning of a unit.
A quick classroom check-in.
Before a big project or performance task.
Ultimately, with listening sessions, flexibility and loose boundaries are what make them successful.
The Listening Session protocol I developed is as follows:
Introduce topic and questions: Decide on a topic that you want to cover in the session (example topics below) and create some open-ended guiding questions around the topic.
Establish transparency: Share the topic with students and explain why this listening session is important. What do you as the teacher want to gain from this?
Take notes: Be prepared to take notes. I use paper and pencil as it minimizes distractions and optically shows session members that you care about what they are saying.
Set the timer: Set your own timer based on how long you want to dedicate to the session. I wouldn’t make it a public timer. My experience is that some session members rush their answer, or don’t respond at all when they see a time-constraint.
Open the floor: Introduce the first question to students and let it go from there! Students may be hesitant in the beginning. The wait time and silence is more difficult for us than for them. You may reiterate the reason why you want to conduct the session, and ask for their feedback in good-faith.
Continue the questioning: Be prepared to ask additional questions, although you may not even need to. Regardless, your questions should probably be off the cuff, based on conversation happening in real-time, however, you know that you have prepared some in the event that you need them.
Example Listening Session Topics:
Course content and delivery at the end of a unit or week of lessons, such as the material covered, the pace of material covered, group vs. individual work, a new teaching strategy that was used.
Assignments and assessments, such as a recent performance task, difficulty of checks for understanding, and rubrics.
Classroom environment, such as physical classroom environment like seating arrangements, lighting, noise level.
Classroom interactions, such as how they feel interacting with their teacher and classmates, including factors such as the level of engagement and participation, the level of support and encouragement, and the level of respect and inclusivity.
Here are some Listening Session tips:
Set the stage: Make sure students understand the purpose of the listening session and that it is a safe space where they can share openly and honestly. Be as transparent as possible.
Encourage participation: Encourage all students to participate, but don’t force anyone to speak if they don’t want to.
Be an active listener: Show that you are listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and repeating back what you heard. Avoid interrupting or offering solutions.
Follow up: After the listening session, consider following up with the students to see if any action needs to be taken as a result of their feedback. This helps to show that you understand and value their perspective.