Friday, February 20, 2015

Sit Still And Listen

 I often think about being a student.  Not a student of today's generation in today's primary school classrooms but about being an adult student in a University.  Learning and growing.  Upskilling and banking more knowledge.  My vision of being a student is somewhat clouded by time, by the distance since I actually sat day after day in a learning environment.  It seems like a pleasant way to spend my days, a somewhat comical dream of an educational utopia.  And then today happened.  Days like this one come along ever so often to remind me that my vision may most likely not be my reality should I endeavour to pursue this dream.

Today I sat as a student in a course for just over 6.5 hours.  Don't get me wrong, it was a very worthwhile and interesting course.  I learnt a lot.  Came away with fresh ideas and a plan of attack for moving forward with the new knowledge and skills I gained.  But I sat.  Pretty still, for nearly 6.5 hours.  The course had some interactive times, and lots of opportunity for discussion and sharing.  But mostly I sat and listened.  At first the novelty of not being the one with the plan of how the day was to proceed was kind of nice.  I was the passenger in the car on a journey that I knew the sort-of-whereabouts of the destination but not the stops and sights along the way.  It was nice... for a while.

I felt myself becoming more distracted as the day went on.  The content was still interesting.  The presenter was great, very enthusiastic and exuberant.  The air conditioning was on... sometimes.  When it wasn't I fidgeted, looked around for some fresh source of air.  People started yawning.  I yawned too and the presenter saw me.  I felt bad.  I know how it feels when you think that someone might be getting tired and bored of what you are saying.  Students are less obvious in their disguise of this emotional state.  I drank water, took a toilet break.  Tried not to check how much time was left until a break.  Two 20 minute breaks all day.  It wasn't enough.

Like I said, it wasn't that the course wasn't a good course.  It was.  It wasn't that the presenter was boring or dull.  She wasn't.  It was the sitting.  The time spent passively listening.  It made me tired and my brain slowly became more and more sluggish.

The lady next to me confided that she was feeling tired, bored, fidgety.  I leaned close and said oh our poor students.  How often do we expect them to sit still and listen?  To participate when we ask them to?  To not fidget or become distracted?  To deal with the heat or coolness of the classroom without having control of the temperature?  I made a mistake and didn't hear an instruction to use a certain pair of colours for a task about grouping.  I had to re-do the offending slips in the correct colour.  It didn't seem like a big deal.  But I sucked it up.  How often do our students feel like this?  That what they have been asked to re-do isn't a big deal?  That the task was done... what's the problem?

Lessons like this a very much needed for teachers.  I need them.  They make me a better teacher.  More tuned in to how my students are feeling.  To the struggles they go through to sit through lessons, where I know the importance of the process or task... but they might not.

Timely indeed.

As we try to cram more and more into our school days, covering our curriculum requirements we sometimes run into morning tea... lunchtime...  Not a big deal right?  Wrong I found myself feeling today.  My lunchtime was later than I'd been led to believe.  I was hungry and in need of a break.  Those few minutes of time that 'didn't matter' because we were still learning... mattered.  To me.  How much do they matter to our students?  I wonder if they look at the clock, sigh inwardly (or outwardly!).

Today's lessons were so important.  I got the course information and the drive to bring a new programme to fruition in our school.  But it was so much more than this that I walked away with.  I will be approaching the week differently on Monday.  Planning for more interaction.  More student input.  Having break time, even short impromptu ones, more regularly.  Access to water.  Fresh air.  Lots of discussion time.  Choice over activities and topics as much as possible.  Less covered, but what is covered, covered better.  Food.  Stretching.

I know the students are going to appreciate it.  I think I will too.


  1. I always find myself thinking like this after I have been on a course as well. I think there is a lot we make it students do as adults we would find difficult. Great reflection and eye opening blog post.

  2. Thank you very much Ruth!

  3. I really appreciate how you went through exactly how you were feeling throughout this "day of learning." Each time you felt bored or compliant, I could see you clearly in that space. I think I could see it so well because I too have experienced this in Professional Development. And I too have tried to make the best of it, as I think that much of the time, this is all we can do.

    But, I wonder how much of this type of learning we should simply accept and allow to take place before we advocate for the things we need (more breaks, more think time, more connection to the rest of our learning online and off). I wonder how much we should make our voices heard in the moment and not only though reflection on blog posts.

    I also wonder how much we should expect our kids to advocate for what they need as well. I am so glad that you are taking what you learned here and you will be applying a healthy dose of "creating a better learning environment" to your classroom because of it. I think the students can easily tell us what they need and we can create the environment and the learning experience out of that too, but only if we allow them to do so. Thank you for your reflection. It seems like you learned a lot that was intended by the 6.5 hours and even more that wasn't.

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here:

    1. Thank you for your comments Ben, and you are right - we shouldn't wait for such moments to make changes to our programmes and classrooms. We owe it to our kids to give them what we ourselves would want to learn in.