Want to make a difference in the lives of your students? Want to help them reach their godly potential? Want to give them the tools they will need to be productive Christians? Want to help them through tough times?
To be able to effectively do those things, you have to know what is going on in the hearts and minds of your students. Most young people have learned to protect themselves by giving out as little of that information as possible – especially to teachers. So how can you find out how to best minister to your students?
One of the skills many highly impactful teachers have learned is how to listen to their students on multiple levels. The information gathered from this more intense form of listening gives them clues as to the questions and actions they need to pursue next with their students. So what levels of listening do they use?
- Listening for content. This type of listening is gathering the details the student is readily giving you. Being able to recall the details of a conversation is crucial for being able to ask follow up questions or to do what needs to be done. Sometimes the smallest detail is the most significant one. Pay attention to every detail and sort them out later if necessary.
- Listening for meaning. This type of listening is important for understanding. Just because you think you understand the words your student is using, doesn’t mean you understand them the way the student does or the context in which they are using them. There are many different reasons for this, but it is important to make sure you understand what someone meant when they used certain words. Unfamiliar words, regional differences, slang or the student’s inaccurate understanding of the meaning of a word and more can mean you hear something very different from what was actually meant.
- Listening for emotion. This type of listening is an important key to successful mentoring or discipling. Many times the words students are saying don’t match their true emotions. Think for example, of the various ways someone can say the word “Great”. Facial expressions, tone of voice and other little things can change the meaning of the word from “terrific” to “horrible”. Don’t tune out body language and tone and misunderstand the actual emotions behind what is said.
- Listening for truth. This is one of the most difficult listening skills to develop. Students are subtly trained to tell adults what they think they want to hear. You may have to reassure students multiple times you want to hear the truth – even if they think you won’t like it. There are often ways to fact check what is said, but sometimes decisions must be made much more quickly. Often people give subtle clues in their facial expressions, body language and the way they speak that they are not telling the truth. If you miss these little details when listening, your effectiveness can be greatly minimized. If you hear their truths and they are upsetting – try not to overreact. The emotional overreaction is what scared them away from being truthful initially. It doesn’t mean you won’t address the problems and issues, but you don’t have to pitch a fit in the process.
- Listening for the unspoken. This type of listening is crucial for relationships, serving others and sharing your faith. Many times students are fearful of revealing too much and hold back important information. Sometimes this missing information is the most important. It is important to learn how to pick up on the little signs there may be more details you need to hear.
Learning to really listen to your students will help you minister to them more effectively. It’s worth taking the time and effort to improve your listening skills. By hearing their hearts and not just their words, you an help them grow spiritually in ways not as possible when you have no idea what they are truly thinking.