Listening Wholeheartedly – A Response to Nel Noddings

“To get new ideas, to move ahead, we – as educators – should listen to our children and students. When we listen to them, we learn what they are going through, and this knowledge can be used to shape what we do in teaching. It can help us to select and arrange curriculum, plan lessons, choose instructional methods, and seek better modes for evaluation. What we learn from students should induce us to reflect on all we do and all we are asked to do.” (Noddings, p. 154)

I believe in the importance of listening to and learning from children – through building relationships and coming to honor their individuality, authentic learning can take place. However, where do we begin on this complex journey? Why should we go above and beyond to try to relate to each and every child in our classroom (although can we ever fully understand narratives that are not our own?)? Do the social constructs, barriers and limitations woven throughout the field of education allow for these types of student-teacher relationships to be built? Education and learning are complex entities, which require students to pursue knowledge in predicated ways. In order to help guide our students through the complexities, we must come to know where their passion lies (what interests them, what gets them excited). Coming to know our students in meaningful ways can be a challenging, but is a task worth exploring.

Before children even enter the classroom, they already have preconceived perceptions as to what will be expected of them throughout their time in school. Feelings of anxiety, fear, insecurity, as well as inadequacy ebb and flow inside many children. In a society where success is greatly influenced by academic achievement, pressure is placed on children to achieve high grades in order to ensure a successful future and to obtain happiness. Despite that many children, as well as educators, might believe this to be true, there is fallacy among the idea that good grades lead to future happiness (Noddings, p. 157). Living and learning in these aggressive ways leave little room to develop passion in terms of knowledge acquisition. The focus should lie on encouraging children to become excited about learning, while giving them choice and advocacy in regards to their learning (needs, wants, goals, dreams). Children need to be given opportunities to explore the realm of learning. While providing choice and personal advocacy is important, children still need to be challenged as well – pushed out of their comfort zone and encouraged to try new things (that may not necessarily fall under their category of “interests”).

I truly believe in feedback-focused education, opposed to assigning a grade to everything that takes place in my classroom. Think of all the possibilities opened up by merely having a conversation with a child in regards to their learning – conferencing with students to see where they are at and where they see themselves going. Focusing on goal setting and comparing ones’ self to their own strengths, working together to create high-quality learning experiences (Noddings, p. 158). However, as educators are we able to achieve this kind of learning and assessment? Immersed so deeply in a system that constantly drives the importance of grades – is this dream possible? How easy will it be to stray from the competition-driven education experience we know all too well?

Oppression lies deep within the curriculum and the education system, this is something we cannot deny. However, we can help our students to become advocates for their own learning – teaching them the importance of and skills required to make informed decisions about their futures. With all of the pressure to meet both the clearly outlined, as well as the hidden, standards, are students actually learning to their fullest potential? Listening to our students and encouraging them to become life-long learners and to find passion in the acquisition of the diversity of knowledge around them is something educators should strive for. Listening wholeheartedly – something that seems so simplistic, but can open the door to countless opportunities for students – should be at the heart of our teaching practices.

Noddings, N. (2004). Learning from Our Students. ProQuest Education Journals, 154-159.

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