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Students Need Connection: Teachers Can Build It Through a Listening Session

Updated: Feb 22

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 the teacher can model the behaviors and characteristics that they want to see in their students, such as respect, curiosity, and kindness. It also gives students an opportunity to feel heard and valued. Based on what students share, the teacher can make positive changes in their classroom and close the social-emotional or perhaps instructional gaps that one 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 about content delivery, assignments, expectations, classroom environment, etc.

Listening sessions can be used in multiple ways.

  1. A beginning of the year as a “Get to Know You” activity.

  2. A “reset” at the end or beginning of a unit.

  3. A quick classroom check-in.

  4. Before a big project or performance task.

Ultimately, with listening sessions, flexibility and loose boundaries are what make them successful.

The following is a Listening Session protocol, first used in community centers in the Jersey City area:

  1. Introduce topic and questions: The teacher should decide on a topic that they want to cover in the session (example topics below) and create some open-ended guiding questions around the topic.

  2. Establish transparency: The teacher shares the topic with students and explains why this listening session is important. What does the teacher want to gain from this?

  3. Take notes: Be prepared to take notes. I suggest paper and pencil, as it minimizes distractions and optically shows session members that you care about what they are saying.

  4. Set the timer: The teacher sets their timer based on how long they want to dedicate to the session. Don'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.

  5. Open the floor: The teacher introduces the first question to students and lets it go from there! Students may be hesitant in the beginning. The wait time and silence is more difficult for the adults than for them. The teacher may reiterate the reason why they want to conduct the session, and ask for their feedback in good-faith.

  6. Continue the questioning: The teacher is prepared to ask additional questions, although they may not even need to. Regardless, their questions should probably be off the cuff, based on conversation happening in real-time, however, the teacher has prepared some in the event that they are needed.

Example Listening Session Topics

The following are different types of topics that the teacher can cover in a listening session to gain feedback from students:

  1. 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.

  2. Assignments and assessments, such as a recent performance task, difficulty of checks for understanding, and rubrics.

  3. Classroom environment, such as physical classroom environment like seating arrangements, lighting, noise level.

  4. 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:

  1. 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.

  2. Encourage participation: Encourage all students to participate, but don’t force anyone to speak if they don’t want to.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.


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