The Pedagogy of Listening
by Junko Cancemi, ELC teacher and former director
Having been in the classroom for many years, I recognize that there are many professional instruments to help gauge the weight and the value of our professional identity and work as educators. These are very important structures the profession necessitates. Yet I have come to realize more deeply and to believe more strongly that listening to children's voices, both silent and heard, are as important, or, perhaps, are the most crucial tools to see where we are as educators in direct relationship to the children through our modes of teaching and learning.
What does it mean to listen? What are we listening to? How do we listen? How do we listen to our adult voices in conversation with the children to further understand the ways in which we construct meaning and theories together? Does this mean we need to listen to ourselves? Do we listen to the child's presence as a whole? Are we sensitive to listen to the silent exchanges that perhaps carry deeper and more impacting meanings on many levels of our interactions across many spaces we build together with the children? What does it mean to listen to silence?
Children say and do breathtakingly poetic and interesting things each day. I aim to listen to their many ways of expression, including that of their bodies and dispositions along with their verbal expressions. By looking closely at what they make with bits here and there, be it recycled paper or a chunk of clay or a button or a leaf or even a flower they found outside, we learn to listen to their silence, which is as compelling and thought-provoking as developing a discursive repertoire around the little puzzlements they bring to school each day.
We have asked the children their thoughts on the meaning of listening, By posing a question, such as "What do you know about listening?", we are able to confirm the ways in which children have collective as well as idiosyncratic understandings about the concept of listening, some surprisingly profound:
"Listening is learning." "Listening is seeing, maybe with your eyes closed." "Listening is sharing..." "Listening can be done with your eyes." "Yeah, it means to look without blinking..." "Listening is looking." "Listening is seeing." "When the children listen, you are happy, like a flamingo, flying pink." "Listening is closing your eyes sometimes." "Listening is like your room." "Listening is quiet." "Listening is colorful."
I am always so grateful for each day I spend with the children at the ELC and how exciting and inspiring I find my interactions with them. Working with young learners is humbling and challenging on many levels, inviting me to reflect on my practice and methodology on a daily basis. One of the most fascinating aspects I have learned working with young children is how they enter into the space of learning without any preempted judgment or expectation, looking at life with fresh, burgeoning eyes. As adults, this does not, of course, mean to be ignorant or naïve of the happenings around us, but rather to rigorously listen with both an open heart and mind, to question the 'self' within. The children's words and expressions have provided many opportunities to question the meanings of what the ELC should be or what we wish it to be as a result of listening to them and responding to their ideas of who we are in our work with them. The children's voices are incredibly inspiring, beautifully ironic with or without intention and willful interests and always deeply moving, sparking my logic of learning and teaching anew. I wish to continue listening and to enter into dialogue with children with subtleness and sensitivity.