“Teach” Very Little, Listen A Lot, Then Facilitate

This week I read two articles that made an impact on me. One was about “Deep Listening,” and the other was “Autism and the Expected-Unexpected Social Thinking Vocabulary” (http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/autism-and-expected-unexpected-social-thinking-vocabulary-2782942). Earlier this week, I also had a conversation with my son, a high school senior who is taking an AP Psychology coarse. He was telling me about a discussion they had in class concerning whether any knowledge at all was innate or all learned. He began to tell me about a behavioral experiment in which the facilitator taught a baby to fear rats, a fear which the baby had not had before the experiment started. Sarcastically, I told him that the final answer to all behavior problems; behaviorism.
Now don’t get me wrong, I use behavioral techniques all the time. Behaviorism is extremely useful and necessary when implemented correctly. Behavioral techniques can be a terrific partner to other types of therapy. However, it seems to me that the prevailing thought among most is that kids need to be taught to listen and follow through. If they are not, then consequences must be implemented.
What I think we often times forget, or miss completely, is that we are teaching loads unintentionally. Kids, including those that are autistic, behavioral, or have special needs are picking up much more quickly on the things on which we aren’t even thinking. I think all kids are always listening deeply. We are actually throwing the ball at the wrong target. Kids are naturally always learning and listening to the things we don’t even realize we are doing or teaching. They see the irritated look in our eyes and the hands on the hips, they hear the frustrated sigh and tone of voice when they are not getting it, or when something else in our day gets in the way.
I know if I’m working musically with a group of kids and a group of adults, although I may have to ask the kids to look at me a couple times, or hear incessant chatter at times during a practice, the kids always naturally follow me. This is constantly demonstrated when unplanned, unrehearsed, unexpected things happen in a performance. The kids will look at me like “What’s going on”, but they will automatically follow the music. Adults, on the other hand, tend to stop or stumble until they find firm ground.
In the article “Autism and the Expected – Unexpected Social Thinking Vocabulary” (http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/autism-and-expected-unexpected-social-thinking-vocabulary-2782942) found at the “Autism Support Network”, describes expected and unexpected behavior. This behavior is based on how one is left feeling – not exactly what is said. Most all kids pick up on our irritation, need for control, what pleases us, and what makes us uncomfortable, all without us adults ever having to utter a single sound.
I believe that children with even the most severe processing difficulties pick up on these things also; they sense our general intentions, our feelings towards them, and our expectations towards them.
Why are we always trying to teach kids to listen better? They are. They are often times listening better than ourselves. Maybe our work would be more effective if we tried to teach and listen to the student we see in the mirror. Sometimes, this is where the deepest listening needs to happen. Maybe the best way to lead students and teach is to “teach” very little, listen a lot, and then facilitate. All children know innately, “All behavior is communication.”

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