In this four-part blog series, Tonya Perry, Steven Zemelman, and Katy Smith, the authors of Teaching for Racial Equity, introduce us to their Action Guides, short one-page companions to their book that help educators move from the words they read on the page to taking action.
Katy has a dear friend whose email signature line includes the saying, “The greatest gift we can give is to listen.” Indeed, to be accorded another’s careful, thoughtful, and open attention to what we are saying is absolutely to receive a gift. The validation that we are heard and understood has powerful, positive effects on confidence, work performance, learning, and both physical and emotional well-being. These effects have been documented over and over, in many different fields and contexts (e.g., Kagan, 2008; Lipetz, Kluger, & Bodie, 2018; Anderson, 2019; Itzchakov and Kluger, 2019; Finton, 2020; Minehart, Symon, & Rock, 2022—among many others). And let’s face it: even without the research, we know that it simply feels good to be listened to!
Even better, the gift of listening extends both ways, for listening carefully, thoughtfully, and openly to what someone else is saying provides us a chance to learn more about the speaker, more about the topic, more about the world, and more about our own thinking about the topic at hand. That, too, is a gift.
Then why is listening so difficult? Especially in today’s increasingly polarized climate, it seems that listening is often in short supply, particularly when it comes to conversations around challenging or sensitive topics.
In Teaching for Racial Equity, and in our Action Guide #1, we proposed that starting on efforts toward equity involves reviewing our own experiences growing up and considering how they may play a role in the ways we relate to our students. In Action Guide #2, we suggested that the next step is to share these accounts and reflections with colleagues and to listen to their stories, so that we may each examine our experiences through an equity lens. Sharing our stories and hearing those of others is a powerful, and we believe necessary, step in developing our own racial literacy, so that we may best serve all our students—those whose backgrounds are like our own, and those whose are not. At the core of this sharing is truly, deeply, and openly listening to one another.
In this Action Guide #3, we focus on the essential skills—and gifts—of listening.
—Tonya Perry, Steve Zemelman, and Katy Smith