We’ve talked about volume and pacing.
We’ve talked about timing, pausing, brevity, clarity, and eye contact.
But what we have yet to cover is perhaps the single most important key to improving listening.
It’s a strategy that isn’t as straightforward as those mentioned above.
In fact, why it works so well is a bit of a mystery. Because, you see, it’s not about what you do. It’s about what you believe.
So what is it?
It’s the feeling or belief behind your words. When you speak with conviction, it sends a signal along an alternative wavelength, reaching students just as strong as when it left your mouth.
It lets them know that what you say matters, that it’s important and worth listening to. It’s something they can feel and sense in their bones.
So where does this level of conviction come from?
Well, it doesn’t come from trying to convince yourself you really mean it. It doesn’t come from false confidence, deepening your voice, or pretending you’re serious this time.
It comes from doing what you say you’re going to do. It comes from your consistencyand follow through.
It comes from an almost obsessive desire to show your students, prove to them, that you can be counted on every hour of every day.
When you say something, your students have to know they can take it to the bank.
For every time you go back on your word or let misbehavior go without the consequence you promised, you weaken your influence and lose trust in the eyes of your students.
You also lose it in your own eyes.
To speak with the weightiness needed to get even students you’ve just met to listen to you, you must have a near fanatical commitment to following through.
There is an unmistakable aura that accompanies teachers with authentic conviction, a distinct vibration of speech that is borne of the perfect symmetry between words and actions.
Do what you say and when you say you’re going to do it, and you’ll speak with a mysterious power that can move mountains.
That causes students to lean in, lock their eyes on you . . .
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So, before you try it out, you have to promise to be careful and use at your own risk.
If you’re unsure, well, it isn’t a make or break strategy, so you may want to leave this one alone.
But if you’re confident you can do it safely, then there are times when it can really come in handy.
Here’s how it works:
Let’s say your class is involved in an especially active or loud activity.
They’re building a project or practicing for a performance or otherwise excitedly working together.
And let’s say that you need their attention right now. Perhaps you forgot to give them a critical piece of information or you have to make an announcement that just can’t wait.
You can certainly use the strategy we commonly recommend to get their attention, which is proven to be extremely effective and takes only a couple of seconds.
But if you add this one little (slightly) dangerous part to it, and don’t use it too often, you can bring an extra layer of urgency to your message.
It has a unique way of cutting through the commotion and hubbub in the room. The result is that your students will give you their attention faster and listen more intently.
So, to use the strategy, you’ll ask for their attention per normal. “Can I have your attention please.”
But you’ll do it while standing on a chair.
That’s right. You’re going to position yourself atop a solid—no rollers, hinges, cushions, or springs—four-legged chair.
A stool can also work.
There is something about the added height—the novelty or whimsicalness of it—that causes students to understand innately that you have something important to tell them.
It makes for a cleaner break from the tumult of the moment, allowing you to go from 100 to zero in the blink of an eye.
Now, it’s important to reiterate that you should never jump up on just any chair in the spur of the moment. Check beforehand to make sure that the one you choose is stable, sturdy, reliable, can hold your weight, etc.
I use the same, trustworthy chair every time. (I call him Sal.)
I feel comfortable using the strategy and always have. But please, if you decide to try it, be careful. I’d be horrified if videos of teachers losing their balance started popping up on YouTube.
If you have any trepidation whatsoever, take a pass on this one and stick with the same reliable method you normally use.
But if you’re willing to take the risk, however small (there is always a risk, life is a risk) then you have another helpful tool in your arsenal.
Now, no matter what’s going on in your classroom, or how much fun your students are having, you can instantly break through the clamor of voices.
You can break through their hyper focus or super engagement or even the most animated conversations.
And deliver a message you know they’ll take to heart.
PS – It probably goes without saying, but it’s a good idea to remind your students that the strategy is a teaching tool only, and they may not repeat the practice.