• Suzanne Axelsson

Tethered Listening

This is a post from my Arboreal Methodologies blog but with different photos.


Listening is something that I have personally been working with for a long time. It has always been there as an underlying must, but when I started working philosophically with children I realised it was not enough for me to learn about listening, I needed to teach it too... or, at least, provide situations, experiences and activities that allowed the children to practice listening and discover how it feels to be listened to as well as how it feels to listen.


What I have also discovered is that most people engage in "tethered listening".

The listening is tied to the curriculum, so they are only listening out for the stuff that will check the boxes.

The listening is tied to bias and prejudice, often without awareness, that means voices and truths remain unheard.

The listening is tied to an agenda...

It means we miss so much.


I am a continuous work in progress in my untethering, so that I can truly listen. The more knots and threads I untie, the more I discover and need to pick at.


Throughout this year I have been developing a relationship with the forest. To not only decolonise my thinking, but also to Indigenise it. I have been striving to listen with my whole being... using my hands to create as part of that listening.


What I have learned is that to listen to the forest I need to empty my head. I need to get rid of my thoughts, my concerns, my working things out, my excitements and my reflections so that I am open to the forest. I know when I am more stressed and busy when in the forest, because it becomes my internal voice that is loud and blocks out everything else. And when I catch myself I silence it and listen to what is actually going on around me. And it surprises me every time that layer upon layer of sound reveal themselves to me. What had been silent... except for my voice within my head... is suddenly filled with myriad sound-waves gently bombarding my eardrums from without.


And if I stand still, my own sounds of walking are hushed and yet more is revealed, not only sounds, but movement too.


I am applying this to how I listen to, and observe, children. I need to quiet my mind to truly listen. I need to untether myself from any agenda and trust that my planning, and the children will lead us to where we need to be. I am fully present and responsive.

As a play-responsive educator, my planning is based on listening and observing.

So the better I am at listening, the better I am at planning. The better I am at planning the more I can put my trust in it and lean into the listening. It is a circle. My planning is designing experiences that will enhance, challenge, comfort etc the children. I plan questions in order to create the space for multiple outcomes. I am planning for complexity, a kind of junction with many possible routes, with an understanding of the children to guide me to what the likely routes will be, but with the openness to go a completely different direction, even where we just came from... and also ones that that are hidden from me at first - the children take me down a secret pathway. The #slowdown, #lookclosely and #listendeeply photographs I have been taking in recent (many) years have been a part of my listening process too. Practising my own skills of listening. Because if I am to guide others in listening, I need to have an authentic understanding of how I experience listening.


So take a breath and calm you mind.

Think about how you listen.

Reflect on how much time and energy you give to whole listening, untethered by agendas such as curriculum, policies etc (not saying these are not important, but that if we know these, but are not tethered to them, then we will be able to meet their requirements and more). Think about strategies that can help you listen deeper and broader.

And how you can support the children to listen to each other.







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