Sunday, February 18, 2007

I discovered this morning that the word “listen”, if we trace it back far enough, derives from the ancient Greek word kleiein, which meant “to praise”. I find this interesting, because it suggests that when I listen to someone, meaning really make an effort to hear what the person is saying, I’m actually praising the person. I’m saying, in effect, “You are a good and intelligent person, and therefore I want to be completely attentive when you speak.” I don’t need to literally praise the person in spoken words; my praise will be clearly felt if I simply and genuinely listen. This, of course, can apply to my teaching. Much has been written lately about the effect on young people of too much verbal praise, but surely I can never overdo non-verbal praise – the kind of praise I give when I lean forward, look squarely at the student who is speaking, and listen with all my heart. This kind of silent praise can’t help but make a student feel respected and cherished. The wonderful thing is that every student deserves to be listened to with attentiveness; they don’t have to earn it. Therefore, I can give this kind of praise all day long without ever running the risk of appearing to be giving tribute that is undeserved or fake. By listening with care and concentration, I can clearly communicate to my students that I consider each of them to be worthy of praise.

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