Tuesday, 26 November 2013

It's not always about talking - we need to listen too!

In a recent post I expressed my frustration with the increasing trend towards communicating with each other via an array of technology tools - and used the mobile phone as an example of how many parents miss perfect opportunities to communicate with their kids because they are too busy texting or tweeting someone else!

I claimed that if our reliance on these tools continues, we risk losing (or at least debasing) the most basic method of communicating - talking to each other. Messages on a screen are one thing - but facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures, body language are all additional ways of communicating how we feel and what we want to say. Pretty hard to accurately interpret a clear message from words on a screen.

But talking is only one part of true communication - listening is a skill as well, and one many parents (and teachers) need to practice a little better. When it seems we can't get our message through, particularly when dealing with teens, my experience in working with parents tells me that discussion quickly turns into nagging....and no-one wins.

Dr Thomas Gordon (http://www.gordontraining.com), a pioneer in teaching effective communication models for teachers, parents, young people and business leaders, claims that  active listening is a skill critical to effective communication - and effective parenting, teaching and leading.

Sometimes it's hard for parents to stop talking, but if we want to consolidate what has hopefully been strong communication ties within the family, we need to utilise this skill throughout the difficult teen years. 

In simple terms, active listening is allowing the other person to express themselves without interruption. As parents, we need to simply let our kids talk and hold the floor - even if it means we need to take mental notes of points we want to clarify or questions we want to ask. We don't interrupt!

By allowing your teen to unload, or even challenge a decision you might have made, you are giving yourself the golden opportunity to listen to it all, assess the whole picture and then possibly explore the problem (or find a solution) together. Often parents join the dots before they really hear the whole message. Half-listening is a dangerous practice, and can often lead to that conversation I'm sure we have all had which concludes with "I told you that...but you never listen!"

So, next time you are in the middle of a conversation with your son or daughter (or partner for that matter!) put your emotions or your conclusions to one side and hear them out...completely. When they have finished, clarify with a comment like, "From what you've said, am I right in thinking....?"or "It seems like you are angry/upset/disappointed about.... Am I right?"

You might like to conclude the discussion with a comment like "Well, where do we go from here?" or "Have you thought about how you are going to handle....?" 

How's your active listening skill? Practice makes perfect...and everybody wins!

 photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

Monday, 18 November 2013

Education: Conservative vs Creative

An article in The Age recently opened up, yet again, the discussion around education and the pros and cons of a conservative approach to teaching and learning or a more innovative, creative approach. It made for thought-provoking reading. Check it out  http://t.co/VN69SXBsoC

I make no apology for being a huge fan of Sir Ken Robinson and his ideals of a creativity-centred philosophy of education. I am also aware, however, that after 25 years in a classroom we need some of the basics of what might appear to be an outdated system of teaching and learning if we are to adequately prepare our children for their future - a future we know little about.

Our current education system is based on preparing students for a current raft of careers and jobs. But for how long is current current? How can we prepare students for careers that do not yet even exist? How can we prepare students for a work-lifespan which will probably see them change jobs more than 25 times and career paths more than 5 times - based on current statistics?

My argument is simple - why can't we have a little of both? Our new Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, claims that we need a return to the basics, and that we need to provide parents with 'what they expect' for their children. I've worked with thousands of parents and, regardless of educational experience, status or achievements, there remains one constant. Parents want their children to achieve whatever their potential might be and to be happy, secure, responsible and employed adults! Yes, there are those high-achiever parents who want (for a variety of reasons) to see their child succeed above all others and above all else. In the main, however, this is not the case - so Christoper Pyne should not assume that our education system needs to be based on a principle of giving parents 'what they expect'. That is such a narrow view of education.

We need to teach the basics - absolutely true. Regardless of what career paths may or may not exist right now, and the educational requirements of these career paths, I think it's safe to say that we need to be both literate and numerate. How we achieve these goals is still up for discussion. I wince at some of our methods of inspiring children to read and write creatively - there's nothing creative about it! In my opinion, we kill off the capacity for creative literacy in primary school ...and it continues its deterioration throughout high school. Unfortunately, our obsession with testing for testing-sake tends to create a 'one size fits all' approach to teaching - there are so many boxes teachers need to tick, so we drive ourselves through the curriculum the best way we can - leaving little room or time for a more relaxed, dare I say, creative approach to teaching.

In a more creative learning environment, there is room for student-centred learning - students steering the learning, but aided by an enthusiastic professional skilled in their subject; and there should also be times when the professional is steering the ship. I can't see why we can't have both.

Educational change will not happen overnight. What it takes is an innovative and collaborative approach - there should be no such thing as a 'one size fits all' education. Every child is different, and I believe every child has an intrinsic capacity to learn and achieve - if the spark is lit!

What we don't need is a constant battle of wills - we need people with knowledge, people with passion and people prepared to listen to each other and take the best ideas on board to create a system that targets all children to be the best they can be.Who's up for that challenge!

photo credit: Tulane Public Relations via photopin cc

Friday, 15 November 2013

Put the iPhone down and talk to your Kids!

I know I'm not Gen X, Y or Z - happy to admit I am a Baby Boomer - but if the trend of poor communication between parents and their kids continues, it won't matter what generation you are...you will be losing the art of communication in its most basic form - talking! The impact of this can reflect long term on the relationship you have, or are building, with your kids.

This blog is not about research, it's not about theory, it's not about the positives and negatives of the new age of technology. This is about the simple art of effective communicating...and effective parenting. Now, put down your iPhones for a minute and consider this scenario - maybe it looks familiar. 

A few months ago I was sitting in a local Hungry Jacks in Victoria, sipping on coffee before heading off to one of my afternoon workshops. There, across the way, was a young mum (probably about 30) with her pre-school aged daughter. Typical of girls, the youngster was talking non-stop; asking questions; pointing at passing traffic; asking if they could go to the park before heading home.

The restaurant (for want of a better word) was decorated in '50's style, with pictures of James Dean, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley adorning the walls. Mum and daughter were sitting directly underneath a photo of Elvis Presley. Now, mum had not made eye contact with her daughter the entire time, responding to her daughter's chatter with nothing but a "mmmm" and preferring to continually text whoever was on the other end of her iPhone.  Daughter looked up at the photo and asked "Who's that, mummy?" Mum might genuinely not have known who it was - although I find it impossible to believe that a 30 year old would not recognise Elvis Presley. A fleeting glance was followed by a "Dunno" and mum continued to text. I could have walked over and throttled her! I said to my husband on our way out, "When that little girl is a teenager and doesn't tell her mum anything, she is simply paying forward the favour her mum has paid her!"

I could trot out all kinds of research to support my claim that relationships with our children are forged from a very early age - infancy - not when we think they are verbal enough for us to have a conversation, or when we think they can understand what we are saying! There are so many ways to communicate our interest in our kids - not everything needs to be put into words. It can be an expression, a touch, a smile, eye contact - but texting is NOT one of these ways. Texting while our kids are talking to us is even worse. What kind of a message are we sending?

There are many more examples I could detail, but I won't. Sadly, the habit of texting as our prime method of communicating is not confined to the young. We 'oldies' do it too. Many of us do know the alternative methods of actually speaking person to person, but in our hectic world we often choose the easy way to keep in touch.

My fear is that if we don't put our phones away and make more genuine attempts to keep lines of communication with our kids open while they are young, it may be too late once they hit puberty and adolescence - a time when it is typical for teens to display 'attitude' and non-verbals! Don't wait until it is too late - make the effort to talk to your kids; make eye contact; show genuine interest in what they are doing. If we wait until we're ready, it may be too late.

 photo credit: camknows via photopin cc