Empathetic listening is paying attention to another person with emotional identification, compassion, feeling, and insight. It is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust.
In the classroom, it is important for educators to understand that our role is not just directive. That is, while most of our role is to control the sequence of learning, there will be many important opportunities for us to step back from that role and assume one of nurturing counselor with our students, while still facilitating the learning environment (Joyce, p. 288). This is important so we can positively help our students grow, which will help them effectively “identify their own problems and formulate solutions” (Joyce, p. 289).
In school, students may face a multitude of emotions that will inhibit their ability to concentrate and learn. These emotions may be stemming from personal, social, or academic problems. The nondirective teaching model, developed by Carl Rogers, attempts to show teachers the steps to take so we can attempt to see the world as the student sees it, in an empathetic environment (Joyce, 2015). With this, the teacher encourages the student to identify the feeling or emotion that is at the root of the problem of growth. It is essential that the teacher does not judge or moralize the students’ actions, provide pressure or coercion, interpret or offer advice; instead, she should reflect, clarify, and demonstrate understanding. The most effective approach in uncovering the emotions of a problem is to follow the students’ feelings as they are freely expressed. When a student is allowed to freely express her emotions, the problems and underlying feelings will emerge more easily. Some questions and thoughts that a teacher could use when maintaining a conversation with a student, that will still allow the student to have responsibility of the conversation, might be:
- “Can you say more about that?”
- “What do you think about that?”
- “You are saying to me that the problem is…”
- “The last idea was particularly strong. Could you elaborate on that some more?”
When used effectively, the student will have gained a knowledge of oneself while receiving acceptance, understanding, and empathy from the teacher.
Amongst my third-grade students, I play role of counselor quite often in helping deal with social situations (most of which occur during or after recess). I have one student, whom I will name Tyler, who has approached me a handful of times this year regarding social situations surrounding football play at recess. When Tyler approaches me, it is important for him that I listen to his feelings surrounding the problem. If we need to step in the hallway to allow for his free expression of emotions, then that is what we do. I give him nondirective responses to his feelings in which I attempt to create an atmosphere for Tyler to be willing to expand his ideas. For a couple days, Tyler and I may stay in “Phase Four” of our conversation, in which he is working on taking action of his plan, developing further insight and understanding of the problem, which will eventually lead him to act positively towards the situation (Joyce, p. 294). While it can be difficult, at times, to see Tyler’s world from his perspective, it is important for me to do so, so that I can convey understanding and acceptance of his feelings, which will lead to greater positive social growth for Tyler.