Sometimes I wonder if my students truly feel listened to, if their voices truly feel heard. In the bustling hallways, noisy lunchrooms, and busy classrooms, it can be challenging to listen to each student who wants my undivided attention. Because let’s face it, as school counselors, our attention is usually divided 100 different ways!
As necessary as multitasking is to our job, listening to our students (our customers, basically) is even more necessary. It’s the thing that sets us apart from teachers who have 20+ kids grappling for their attention, or parents who are juggling multiple children and their own work demands. It’s the thing that makes our position in our school so special.
Each and every child deserves to be listened to. I firmly believe it is a basic human need to feel like your voice is heard, like you matter to someone who’s giving you the gift of their time and attention. The quote on the right sums it up perfectly.
There are days when I don’t feel like the best listener, but then come the days when I’ll get my validation. I can recall a meeting with a handful of 4th graders, in which one 4th grade girl was struggling to tell me something very personal that the rest of the kids around my table already knew. Well, one of the boys looks at her and says, “Come on, you can tell Ms. Marston anything! She listens.” As if that wasn’t awesome enough, he adds, “You can talk about anything with her and she won’t tell anybody.” My insides grew warm, my lips smiled, and I thought, Wow, I must be doing something right!
I try to make a point to thank my students for telling me things, even if it’s not what I hoped to hear (and I tell parents to do this too). Even if a student is reporting something to me that I know is going to create a lot of work – talking with other students involved, talking to my principal, calling parents, documenting, etc. – or my mind is already reeling with how to help or what to do, I remind myself to stop and thank the student.
Why? Because my students could have talked to any other adult in the building, but they chose me. And that’s HUGE. They are trusting me with their story, their problem, their feelings. In return, they deserve to be validated with my time and attention to show they matter and that I value them and what they have to say. And even if I don’t have the perfect solution to their problems or perfect words to lighten their load, I can let them know that I’m very glad they told me.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I want to run away or hide under my desk because I just don’t feel like I have it in me to listen to another problem or another Lego story. When I get like this, I know I need to take a break because I don’t want to be a semi-listener. My students deserve more than that. And if I only half listen to a student, even once, they may not come to me again. I know that if I don’t make time to hear about the little stuff, my students may not come to me with the big stuff, and that’s a big problem!
Here are some things I say and do to validate my students and let them feel heard:
1 “I’m really glad you told me.”
2 “Thank you for telling me.”
3 “How do you feel after sharing that with me?”
4 “I really want to hear about that. I am busy right now, can I check in with you later?”
5 “How can I help you with this?”
6 When a student is reporting an incident that will require some investigating, I sometimes jot down notes while they tell me, not only to remember the details, but to let my students know I am taking their concerns seriously.
7 Paraphrase what they’ve said. This lets them know I am listening and it helps me make sure I got the correct information.
8 Do not interrupt. This can be tricky, especially when it takes some students foreverrrr to finish a story. But they are doing their best and they are saying all of it (every little detail) for a reason, so listen up. No one likes to be interrupted.
9 Model the kind of listener I’d like them to be. That means eye contact, open body language, undivided attention.
10 If a meeting with a student is interrupted (phone call, knock on the door), apologize: “I’m sorry about that. You were saying…”
To aid in my students feeling important and heard by me, I plan to create something like this for my office wall next year:
I found this on Pinterest and I love the simplicity of it!
As much as possible, I want my students to feel safe and important when they’re in my room. While many students are fortunate enough to feel this way at home, some are not. These students need a safe place and someone to listen more than ever.
As I finish out my summer, my ears are resting up for when school is full of sunburned little faces with summer stories to tell!
I can’t wait! 🙂