Digital Tools for Purposeful Listening

The great irony of Evocative Coaching is that rather than controlling the development narrative with his or her own story, the coach evokes the teacher’s story and by listening openly, enables teachers to reveal key details that will be crucial to their own development.

In the previous post I outlined the three types of listening described by the Tschannen-Morans: mindful, reflective, and imaginative. In this post I’ll explore these three types of listening in more detail and inquire into ways technology might enable purposeful listening.

Mindful (Quiet) Listening

Mindful listening requires a peaceful environment and a receptive and attentive coach.

Two mindful listening behaviors are …

  • open-mindedness – suppress the natural urge to judge and opinionate and filter information into dualistic categories such as: good/bad or right/wrong.
  • attentiveness – attempt to get an intuitive sense of what lies behind the teacher’s experience. Put yourself in the teacher’s shoes and ask yourself, “What am I feeling? What do I want?”

Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is successful when a coach is able to preserve the content of the teacher’s story along with the emotions (energy, commitments, and desires) that lie underneath the story.

Three reflective listening strategies are …

  • checking in – summarizing and paraphrasing what we heard
  • reflecting back – restating the most helpful topics or themes from a conversation
  • inviting – encouraging teachers to search through their stories for greater understanding

Imaginative Listening

The Tschannen-Morans talk about stories as “may-be so” constructions rather than unchangeable reality. Stories are “propositions, to be explored with anticipation, imagination, and curiosity”. Once a teacher tells their story, their growth journey has just begun.

Three reflective listening strategies are …

  • Vantage points – Ask teachers to imagine what the experience might have been like for one or more of the characters in the story. The more teachers learn to see things from the vantage point of other characters, the more open teachers become to considering alternatives.
  • Pivot points – Ask teachers to imagine how an experience might have turned out if the situation was handled differently (action, perspective). What if? How might?
  • Lesson points – Ask teachers to generate new conclusions. What new outcomes might be possible as a result of their new perspective? What else?

Purposeful Listening and Technology

The short amount of time available and the numerous interruptions that occur before, during and after the school day can impede mindful listening. In a well-intentioned effort to make the time valuable, the coach may end up doing most of the talking. And if the teacher isn’t given the space to tell their story the coach cannot be receptive or focused on that experience which is the essential factor for growth.

The Flipped Classroom and various derivatives of “flipped” learning and instruction have led teachers to experiment with a number of unique ways of teaching. One affordance of flipping is reordering and reorganizing time. In classrooms that might mean watching a video outside of the class time that explains a concept, and using class time to dig deeper into the concept.  In a similar vein, the coaching process can be flipped so that teachers have the time to find a peaceful environment to tell their story and coaches have the space to listen receptively and attentively.

Video Conferencing

Video conference tools such as Google Hangouts or Skype allow coaches and teachers to find time independent of space to have a conversation. The video component, although not necessary, allows both the coach and teacher the opportunity to read the nonverbal cues that are such an important part of communication.


Blogs might be the best tool for storytelling and purposeful listening since writing allows more time for thought and reflection. Coaches could create public/private blogs or documents using Google Sites or Documents shared between the coach and the teacher.  The commenting feature in Google Documents provides a mechanism for reflective and imaginative listening. I’ve attached two examples of coaching conversations from 21st Century Classroom Assessment, an online class offered by the Osseo Area School’s C4 Model of Learning professional development program.  This document contains an excerpt from an Edmodo discussion between the course facilitator (me) and a teacher. This document illustrates reflective and imaginative listening using the Google Documents commenting feature.

A Cautionary Note

By their very design, these digital tools create shared, public documents. Clear digital protocols regarding ownership, sharing, and eventual deletion need to be established to maintain a healthy relationship between coach and teacher.

I’d love to hear how others are using digital tools to foster and maintain professional growth. How do you employ technology to empower listening? Tweet your answer to …

Digital Tools for Purposeful Listening.
(your input) #beyondtools


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