Day 484, July 14, 2021
The Art of Listening
Tonight's soundtrack: Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Opp. 53, 54, & 101, Alfred Brendel
It is wonderful to have engaged students. Tonight I had an open office hour and seven students showed up. It was wonderful, almost like having a mini seminar class. While I left Tuesday's class feeling a little deflated and worried if students were following my logic in constructing the class, today's students showed up for office hour all moving forward with great ideas and had early drafts to share and questions to ask. It was a great relief.
I suppose it is a bit like performing as a musician or an actor on stage. Because we know how good things can be, when we fall short, like when you start class by talking for five minutes before someone pipes up and says, "Professor, we can't see your screen, we only see jagged lines." Oops, so much for that little mini lecture on the Montague Sand Plains.
For tomorrow, I think I'll start with a little video of the Sawmill River and then the students will be doing peer feedback again.
I am realizing that part of the importance with peer feedback is how well you can listen.
What is the purpose for the endeavor? We need to know that. Then we can listen with the express purpose of finding that crucial thing, that sentence, the phrase that captures the thesis, the hypothesis, the argument, the problem.
As part of my new job, our leadership team was scheduled a series of meetings with a coach. When I was in high school, I loved my wrestling and football coach, Dave Baldanza. I would have hiked ten miles backwards for that guy, but since then, I have not really had many memorable experiences with coaches. When Yves arrived at GCC, she talked about getting coaches for senior staff members, but I was not sold on the idea. I wasn't resistant, but I would say I was ambivalent about the prospect. I could not imagine what a coach would do for me.
But, with the new job, the coach met with us as a team, and that was actually fantastic. It allowed us to try out different ideas, to better understand where we are similar and where we might differ. But what impressed me most of all was how well she listened to us. With three people talking, giving anecdotes, ducking down into little rabbit holes, and meandering here and there, she was able to pick out the important parts and clarify what we were thinking about. She was able to take complex information and make it easier to handle and examine from different perspectives.
Perhaps different from a therapist (or maybe this is the unsaid curriculum of therapy), she was modeling how a good leader with more patience, more perspective, more frameworks, or more distance could reframe and explore an issue.
Of course, maybe one needs a little distance and detachment to be able to simplify things and separate the the sound and fury from the substance. I am reminded of middle school or high school relationships and how friends always had some kind of perspective, or maybe I imagined I had some insightful perspective that people engaged in a heated (albeit innocent) affair, did not.
I enjoyed our time working with the consultant, more than I expected I would. None of the issues we brought to her were crisis issues, but there were complicated issues, and I would like to think that some of my students might feel similarly when I am able to listen closely and draw out the key important phrase in their introduction or proposal. To be listened to and understood, can feel surprising, almost magical.
So, I think part of what I need to do with students tomorrow is help them tune their ears to listening, and help them understand how important that can be to the person who is being listened to. We are looking for not just affirmation, but insight. What are we thinking about and trying to say, but not saying? What does it mean to be understood?
I suppose that is a complicated thing.
Take care and be well,
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