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The power of REAL listening…


                Last week I had the good fortune to attend LSCI training for classified staff in one of our local school districts.  The training goals were to help participants be more effective in their work with students with challenging behaviors, through an increased understanding of the LSCI process.  Our trainers, Troy and Kela, did a fantastic job and it was great for me to be able to watch participants’ response to the content of the training. 

If you have been through the LSCI training, then you have seen the clip from “Boston 24” that shows a conflict between William and his teacher. This clip is great at showing how communication can break down quickly and the damage that is done when students feel disrespected and disconnected from us as adults.  This clip is not staged and these are not actors. 

I have seen this clip probably 15 or 20 times and my response is the same; “ How can this teacher be so unaware of the impact of his behavior”?? Of course there is always another side of the story, and part of the story we  can’t see from this very limited opportunity to peek inside the exchange between these two people.  The most reasonable question is; “..what has happened in this relationship in the last days, weeks and maybe even months”?  It is fairly obvious that at this time there is NO positive relationship.  This teacher had the opportunity to shift the dynamics, and instead, he refuses and makes the (probably unconscious) choice to use his power in a controlling, negative and counter-productive manner.

With every situation and with every student, we have a new opportunity.  When I watch this video I am always moved when William and his principal are discussing his restitution.  William is explaining that his Mom works two jobs, he has four younger brothers, and his Mom will be unable to pay for the broken window.  The principal LISTENS, reflects understanding and then responds with “..we’ll figure something out..”.  What is William’s response? He says “Thank you” …and he means it!

William is not a bad kid.  He is a young person with a lot of pressure and responsibility.  He has been kicked out of several schools before arriving in this school, and he is 18 and this is probably his last chance.  William is doing the best he can. He is in the midst of a self-fulfilling prophecy that is easy to see and his thoughts and feelings about adults are fairly obvious. William is a student who is used to struggling against those in power and those who exercise their power and control in ways that are not in the best interest of the student, because they can…

Could this interaction have gone differently? Was there a better outcome waiting to happen? Is it so far outside the realm of possibility to think this just didn’t need to happen, and perhaps William might have had an opportunity to learn something new that day? Might there have been the opportunity to NOT reinforce William’s self fulfilling prophecy of powerlessness? Could the teacher have helped William shift his negative belief to one in which  adults can be caring & thoughtful allies and still hold our young people accountable?

               At the end of the training several people approached the front.  One woman spoke clearly and simply. She shared from two perspectives, one as a playground assistant and the other as a foster parent, about how important it is to learn the skills that allow for accountability, learning, and the opportunity to strengthen her relationships with her students and her children. She was reminded of the power of real listening!

               …So who will be your ‘William’ this year? How can you avoid being locked into the power struggle?  How can you be “prepared” and anticipate where these traps are hidden?  How can you LISTEN for the underlying issues even in the midst of the conflict?

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