A number of years ago, I clipped a cartoon from the daily newspaper to add to my collection of poignant printed reminders that deal with the importance of valuing interpersonal relationships. In the cartoon, a little blond boy of six or seven was looking forlornly at his mother, who was busy ironing the family’s clothing. She appeared to be listening to what he had to say, but her eyes were downcast, concentrating on her chore. In the cartoon callout, the young boy begged, “Listen with your eyes, Mommy.”
Do you take time to stop, look – and listen with your eyes when one of your after-school students has something to tell you?
Routines you follow are important, as you go about implementing varied and enriched activities offered each day in after-school programs. Once in a while, however, a child may tug at your shirt or call your name, interrupting you while you are cutting out Santas or Valentine hearts, sorting crayons, or quickly reviewing a lesson plan. You may be inclined to look up and half-listen, continuing with your task. Your reply may be thoughtful, but, in many cases, it may be routine. If you listen with your eyes and your mind, however, your reply will become more meaningful. Students will leave the situation with a sense of personal worth and with new ideas. You may have helped solve a little problem, or perhaps a big one!
Have you considered what the child has to say may be the most important thing that has happened or is about to happen in his whole short lifetime? Stop what you are doing, look at the child, and then listen to what is being said. If you show interest in what the child is saying, you will then be able to provide thoughtful feedback. Frequently, too, you will learn something new that will help you understand your students’ strengths and interests. You will begin to enjoy planning programs that meet their needs, as well as satisfy program requirements. A program that aligns with strengths, interests, and needs is one that is bound to be lively and successful!
When students need to convey something important, they provide non-verbal clues, e.g., delight or lack of delight in their eyes, tugging at their clothing in fright, and of course, crying.
Stop, look, and listen with your eyes when they have something to say. If you use both your ears and your eyes, you may be surprised at what you will learn.
The child will also benefit from a sincere conversation, not routine “uh-huhs.” On most occasions, fully listening to your students will contribute to their feelings of emotional fulfillment. Eventually, with continued and caring listening support throughout their school careers, they will develop successfully as healthy, caring, and responsible citizens.
Search Institute research shows that students require Developmental Assets, building blocks of healthy development, to become successful adults. Stopping to listen to students with your ears and eyes provides them with the sense that they have relationships with adults other than their family. It also gives them a sense of personal power, two of the factors that contribute to future success. You will also likely help to provide them with other assets at the same time. For more information, go to Search Institute’s Developmental Assets.
On rare occasions, you may have to provide mandatory follow-up if you learn certain information through listening, e.g., child abuse. Ask your director or school principal if you need clarification on how to follow up. Web sites provide further information, e.g., http://www.preventchildabuse.org and http://www.aquarterblue.org. In A Quarter Blue, a former child television actress who appeared in “The Waltons,” provides information about her childhood experiences with sexual abuse that went unnoticed for many years.
So you’ve decided to stop, look, and listen with your eyes, but an interruption is not suitable at the moment.
What do you do if a non-related question or comment comes up in the middle of a lesson, and interruption would break the flow of thought? Determine the importance of what the child is saying, and make a mental note (and/or a written one) to have some quiet, thoughtful time with him or her the first moment you have available.
After-school providers have interactions with students on a daily basis. There are many opportunities to learn from youth! They have fresh, innovative ideas to share. Some of their thoughts provide seeds for new lessons, clubs, or activities. The next time a child approaches you with a thought, stop, look, and listen with your eyes!
P.S. The Breakfast Club asked what I had for breakfast this morning …strawberries and a touch of whipped cream!
Author: Roberta Pantle