It’s funny how some memories are very clear and some not so much. One of my most clear memories from elementary school is something one of my teachers said to our class one day. I don’t remember the teacher, or the class, or the circumstances, but I remember what she said.

She told us there was a difference between hearing and listening. She said we hear with our ears but listen with our brains. I found myself this week having a similar discussion with one of my classes. On this particular day, I was certain many of them just weren’t listening to me or to each other so I posed the question, “What is the difference between hearing and listening?” I was shocked with how fast they raised their hands wanting to respond. They had several good answers, but I especially liked the way one boy put it. He said, “Hearing is when it goes in one ear, passes right on through and out the other side. Listening is when it sticks around in your brain for a while.” I love that description!

I’ve really been working hard lately to do more listening. Sometimes I’m a great listener, but sometimes I am only hearing while I start thinking about my response to what’s being said. I am fortunate to have several good friends who model listening with me. I need to do the same for my students. I need to listen to them so, hopefully they will begin to listen to each other.

One thing that’s important for us as teachers though is to spend just as much time listening to what our students aren’t saying as we do listening to what they are saying. When a student said to me that he didn’t care about math it didn’t take me long to realize he was really saying, “I don’t understand and I need your help.” The words left unspoken are sometimes more powerful than the ones said out loud. We hear with our ears, but we have to listen with our heads and our hearts.