The importance of deep listening as a remote teacher

The importance of deep listening as a remote teacher

As remote outback teachers we are coming to our classrooms from a different cultural background, childhood and teaching experience- and may view the world, teaching and learning through a different lens.

Deep listening is particularly important for remote outback teachers as it allows better understanding and respect of unique culture and perspectives. By actively listening to our First Nations colleagues, Elders and students, remote outback teachers can gain a deeper understanding of the history, traditions, and values of the community, which can inform their teaching practices and make them more culturally responsive.

Deep listening can help to build trust and respect between the teacher and their First Nations colleagues and students, which is essential for creating a positive and inclusive learning environment.

Deep listening is important for remote outback teachers to engage with and learn from Elders in the community because Elders often hold valuable knowledge, wisdom, and perspectives that can inform and enrich the teaching and learning experience. Elders may have important insights into the unique needs and challenges faced by the students, and their input can inform the teacher’s instruction and support.

We are teachers, we are human, we are life long learners.

How do I ‘deeply’ listen?

  1. Create a safe and comfortable space for conversation. This can be achieved by setting aside dedicated time for conversation, ensuring that the environment is free from distractions and interruptions, and by showing respect and openness to what the other person has to say. For Elders, parents or even students and colleagues this could be in a neutral space like under a tree, on a park bench, at the park etc. It does not need to be in the classroom or staffroom which may not be a comfortable space for everyone.
  2. Acknowledge that communication including facial expressions, body language, silence, tone, use of questions/or not and speak may be different than in your culture. Actively seeking professional development from First Nations colleagues, other more experienced teaching staff, your admin team on communication and cultural awareness is important to reduce miscommunication.
  3. Be present and engaged. This means actively listening to what the other person is saying, rather than simply waiting for your turn to speak or thinking about what you want to say. Pay attention to their body language, tone of voice, and the words they use, and be mindful of any nonverbal cues they may be giving.
  4. Ask open-ended questions or make broad position statements for them to agree or disagree with. This will encourage the other person to speak more openly and share their thoughts and feelings. Avoid asking yes or no questions, and instead ask questions that begin with “how,” “what,” or “why.”. Remember that questioning may not be a communication style your First Nations colleagues, Elders or students are very used to- so making some broad statements for them to add their ideas to might also be a way to elicit ideas.
  5. Reflect and summarise. After the conversation, take some time to reflect on what was said, and try to summarise the main points. This will help to ensure that you have a clear understanding of what was discussed, and will also demonstrate to the other person that you were actively listening.
  6. Show appreciation. Show your appreciation for the time and knowledge shared with you, it will help to build trust and fosters positive relationship.
  7. Incorporate the knowledge in your teaching. Put the knowledge that you gain into practice in your teaching, it will help to make your instruction more culturally responsive, respectful, and effective.
  8. Continuously engage: Continue to engage and listen to the Elders and First Nations colleagues regularly, as their perspectives and knowledge can change over time and it will help you to stay in touch with the community’s needs and priorities.
  9. Allow time for responses. First Nations people may like to ask other Elders, colleagues or community members before giving you a response. Allow time.
  10. Practise. It might be a little bit challenging to turn off your internal voice and to deeply tune into another person. In Western culture we interject with ideas and bounce off each other in conversation. This is not always the way in remote outback communities. Practise with your remote outback colleagues and close friends to develop confidence in the different way of listening.



Blockers and barriers that stop people from ‘deep listening’ properly

  1. Preconceptions and biases. People may come into a conversation with preconceptions or biases that prevent them from truly listening to what the other person has to say. This can make it difficult for them to understand and relate to the other person’s perspective. They are listening through their own ‘lens’. Reflecting on our unconscious bias is one way to think about the way we are seeing the world.
  2. Distractions. The presence of distractions, such as noise or interruptions, can make it difficult for people to focus on the conversation and engage in deep listening. In our remote context this could be students, colleagues, dogs or other people for example. Think of a time and space that will have minimal distractions if possible.
  3. Lack of time. As remote teachers we have so much to do- differentiation, behaviour follow ups, home visits, internal relief and other time drains. This can make you feel like you don’t have enough time to engage in deep listening. This can make it difficult for you to set aside dedicated time for conversation and reflection. Relationships are key to remote teaching success- so time for listening must be a priority.
  4. Fear of the unknown. People may be afraid of what they might hear in a conversation, and this fear can prevent them from truly listening and engaging with the other person. You might be nervous about how to communicate, that you might say something wrong, that you might not understand Aboriginal English or Kriole speakers. Take your Aboriginal Education Officer or a more experienced colleague with you to support you in the conversation.
  5. Self-centeredness. People may be more focused on their own thoughts and feelings, rather than on what the other person is saying, which can make it difficult for them to engage in deep listening. Check yourself and be aware of when this is happening and tune back in. It takes some practise and that’s okay.
  6. Lack of trust. If people don’t trust the person they are speaking with, they may be less likely to share their thoughts and feelings, which can make it difficult for them to engage in deep listening.
  7. Lack of interest. People may not be interested in the topic of the conversation, which can make it difficult for them to engage in deep listening.
  8. Lack of cultural understanding. People may lack the cultural understanding of the person they are speaking with, which can make it difficult for them to engage in deep listening.

Recognising these barriers and blockers and actively working to overcome them is crucial for engaging in deep listening. It’s important to be aware of one’s own biases and distractions, and to actively work to set aside dedicated time for conversation and reflection, and to be open and respectful of the other person’s perspective.

Interested in establishing and improving your relationships with First Nations people in remote outback schools? Our course for new remote teachers covers it in a whole module! Click here.

This topic was covered in one of our podcast episodes: John Bray episode

Loved this post? You might also like to read: 9 Quick Tips To Forming Relationships When You Arrive In Your Remote Teaching Role, Relationships in Outback Schools

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Hi, we are Hakea Hustler and Carl Merrison

We help new remote teachers feel confident and successful  so that they can make the most of their time remote and live a life of adventure.

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