The commitment I must constantly make with myself is to make good eye contact with those around me, acknowledging their opinions and statements, focusing on empathetic listening. I encourage my AVID students (and all students) to be assertive when they engage in a conversation, but to also practice good listening skills. These skills include waiting for people to finish their sentences without interruption (which is part of our Socratic Seminar and Philosophical Chairs activity norms in AVID), restating said statements/opinions, and not attempting to refute the opinions or statements of others by attacking the person, but rather, focusing on the content of the language. It is a great life skill and one that I was able to practice after Back-to-School night this last week.
At the end of the last bell at Back-to-School last Tuesday, I had a parent stay to conference with me about her child. I made a phone call to her earlier in the week to discuss progress her son has been making, but to also address some growing concerns. She came in and started to apologize, then came to tears. I let her finish and acknowledged that her son has many positive characteristics that will enable him to reach his potential. She began to tell me more about his life story, and had I not listened actively and with empathy, I would not have understood the depths of her son's issues. It really did make me choke up, and I assured her I would stay in communication with her via text-message and/or Schoolloop on a daily or weekly basis. The most rewarding part of this, though, is that her son has been actively participating in collaborative activities in class this week.
My challenge for my AVID students this week is to have them engage in at least one conversation with someone in their lives to really seek first to understand. This could be with a teammate, coach, family member, classmate or teacher. I even challenged my cross country runners to do the same with other athletes at our upcoming race. To firmly shake the hands of their competitors and ask one genuine question without interrupting. Then, after the race, go back to acknowledge that person (or people). I'm confident this is something we can do, as we have done some fun team-bonding activities in the past where athletes are challenged to compliment someone around them with a genuine praise. I'm eager to see what happens!