The best way to understand what learners know, and what they need, is to listen to them. By listening, we open ourselves to possibilities, to nuance. If we as educators deliberately get out of the way, we make space for learners to tell us their stories. In those stories, we can hear the hesitation of uncertainty, the rush of confidence, or the occasional misstep as ideas tentatively come together. We hear decisions being made and, if we’re patient, we may even hear vulnerability.
This isn’t some touchy-feely, trophies-for-everybody education system, either. Listening permits assessment. Listening provides opportunity. Listening promotes patience. When students feel heard, they can build their voices. Only then will they feel empowered to contribute meaningfully. Education must begin with listening; to do otherwise presents merely a lecture in disguise.
And sometimes that means sitting with silence. Because silence can teach, as well. When I teach, I begin not with a goal for what I want to provide, but for what I want to uncover. A starting point, provided by the participants in the room — a launch site from which we find the trajectory of our course.
By starting from a place of listening, I teach from a genuine position of compassion, working from where students are, rather than where I expect them to be. Classes I facilitate respond to the needs and situations of the learners.
I carry that emphasis on genuine listening into the scholarship that I write and the podcasts I produce. As host of the HybridPod, I ensure the voices and the stories of each guest determine the episode’s path and the listener’s journey.
Working at a teaching institution and focusing my attention on pedagogy means my scholarly productivity differs somewhat from the typical “publish or perish” research agenda. My work emphasizes human connections and relies on facilitating courses of various kinds.