Isabel Sawyer's picture

Listening Fully

To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the “music,” but to the essence of the person speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows but for what he or she is…

Peter Senge

We so often think about listening fully in the context of our instruction with students, but we often don’t spend enough time listening fully during our professional learning sessions with teachers and other adults.

I have spent some time lately getting organized for the year ahead and thinking about the groups I will be working with this year—thinking about listening fully to the groups of adults I will be supporting. Building a community and creating a sense of trust are foundational to any subsequent rigorous work or hard conversations we might have.

educators conferring at a table

In order to prepare myself, I pulled together some resources. I will want to keep two protocols in my back pocket:

I also created a list of ten questions that will be useful to my planning for any coaching work I do with small learning teams. Lots of thanks to Elena Aguilar—she created a list of questions for individual coaching sessions. Most of my work is with teams, so I used her questions as inspiration to create my own.

You might find my planning questions useful as well:

  1. What are the goals for this coaching conversation? Are there goals related to the work plan that need to be addressed? Are my goals the same as the goals of the group? How can we all share our hopes and intentions for the session?
  2. What do I want this team to think and feel by the end of our time together?
  3. What might the team’s disposition be? What do I know about where they are going to be? Do I anticipate the teachers will need to release emotions? If so, how can we do this productively?
  4. What do I anticipate might be happening with this team or might be challenging for them? How can I prepare for this and support them with these challenges?
  5. How can I involve them in this conversation? How can I make it matter to them?
  6. Are there any materials (articles or tools) that I might gather and bring with me?
  7. What teambuilder will I use to start the conversation?
  8. What will the flow and the timing of the session look like?
  9. How will we get to next steps? At what time during the meeting do we need to move toward determining next steps?
  10. How do I want to feel at the end of this coaching session?

I want to keep in mind the importance of listening fully to the people I am responsible for (in one way or another). I want to listen not only for what they know, but also for who they are as human beings.

Isabel Sawyer, PhD, is a Regional Director at Center for the Collaborative Classroom. She presents keynotes, workshops, presentations, and professional development for teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators across the country. Previously Isabel worked as a lead instructional coach for Albemarle County Public Schools and as an instructional coordinator for an inner-city school in Charlottesville, Virginia. Isabel holds her PhD from the University of Virginia and serves as an adjunct instructor in UVA's Curry School of Education. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences and worked with schools across the country as an independent consultant. 


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Comments (4)

How did your list of

How did your list of questions pan out during the first 10 days of your work with teachers?

Have you added or deleted any?

Is group norm setting becoming a norm?  Or do you run into teams that find setting norms to be a new thing?

Great post!!

Thanks for reading my post,

Thanks for reading my post, Matt! I found my list of questions to be very helpful--I didn't use all of them with every group I have worked with; but keeping them in front of me as reminders of what we needed to be thinking about was suprisingly useful. I also used them as a tool to support other coaches in their planning. 

Interesting question about group norm setting--I find that many PLC teams are familiar with setting norms; however your question casued me to think about the wide variety of groups I work with and when it is imperative to set norms and when it might not be...what do you think? 

I guess it depends on purpose

I guess it depends on purpose of the group, duration of the time together and possibility of meeting again. Reading Meetings Matter 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations with our lead coaches. So, may have more thoughtful response in a few weeks!

We are using your post for a choice of a starting point of our novice coach meeting this morning.  

Be well!

I just ordered Meetings

I just ordered Meetings Matter and his latest book on parenting! Thanks for the suggestions--they look very uesful!!! Hope the post helped kick off your meeting this morning--would love any feedback!