Zalika Gardner, co-founder of KairosPDX and Director of Learning for the Early Learning Center, spoke on April 12th at TEDx Portland 2014 conference. In December 2013, KairosPDX became the first unanimously-approved charter school in Portland, Oregon; a feat made possible in part thanks to a letter of intent supplied by Charter School Capital guaranteeing funding support. Charter School Capital co-founder and CEO Stuart Ellis sits on the KairosPDX board.
Listening. It’s a basic concept in education. Students listen to their teachers, and learn valuable lessons that will serve them as they grow to be adults.
But what can teachers learn when they listen to students?
Zalika Gardner’s speech at TEDx Portland served not as a platform to present a radical new idea, but rather to inspire new thought about a very old one: listening, and how our own internal barriers often prevent us from doing it effectively.
Gardner notes that, of all the populations in the world, the one group that always stands at the ready to make a difference, to envision a better future, is our children. Children are not yet shaped and defined by a lifetime of experiences; they don’t accept things for being ‘the way they are.’ Instead, they have the unique ability to see what could be over what is, and every adult – teachers, parents, everyone – has the responsibility to encourage and empower children to believe in themselves and their own thoughts and ideas.
However, we often do not do that. Without even knowing it, each of us often judges what another has to say before we even hear it. The certainties that exist in our own minds prevent us from truly listening, especially to children who we view not as potential teachers but as those needing to be taught.
The three barriers to listening that Gardner identified are:
Assumption – I know your type. I have a label, and I’m not afraid to use it.
Arrogance – I have already decided that what you have to say is irrelevant.
Fear – I’m afraid that listening to you may require something of me. I may feel guilty or judged, or your experience may challenge mine. I see a risk in listening, and so I won’t.
The risk we face when we don’t listen isn’t just to ourselves either. Not only do we isolate ourselves from new thoughts and ideas, we also dismiss and diminish the person we refuse to hear. Children are particularly susceptible to feelings of rejection and often lose faith in their own ideas as a result of not being heard.
Gardner closed her speech with a story, recounting how she asked her first grade class the question, “What’s in charge out there?” and one student replied “Imagination. Because if you can’t imagine it, it’s very hard to believe in it.” Ms. Gardner uses this insight to challenge us then to imagine a world where we all listened differently, a world where every child knew that they mattered, that they were important, and that their voice was heard.
What would that world be like? The full video of Ms. Gardner’s speech can be found here: http://new.livestream.com/tedx/TEDxPortland2014/videos/47879614 Additional speeches from TEDx Portland can be found here: http://new.livestream.com/tedx/TEDxPortland2014
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