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Listen, listen hard

by Rebecca Thomas

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”

-Peter Drucker

Every word we utter in our individual spaces is believable and possible, we are the hope for thousands. The average teacher affects about 3000 kids in their lifetime. Teachers are powerfully creative, we reflect, adapt, are resourceful, we preserve, we have passion…but, the most powerful thing of all we can do is to listen.

Listening is more than just hearing spoken words, it’s about hearing what isn’t being said. I feel that maybe sometimes this unspoken communication is one that can help us be there for parents and students who may be struggling.

Ahead of the Rethinking Education Conference the organisers released a ten minute video from a parent’s perspective of the school system. Eliza Fricker explains what it is like to have a child who doesn’t want to go to school. The narrative she shares is one that no doubt many parents can relate to. She explains her eight year journey into the school system she shared with her autistic child (you can watch the full clip here, I highly recommend it).

Growing up with an autistic older brother there were many things I could relate to in her story. Despite my own window into Autism being a very real one, what I didn’t count on in her message were how the sentiments and the words from the support system and school made her feel as a mother.

A visual timetable and laminated feelings cards have definitely been on my list of recommendations to parents in a similar situation in the past. In fact most of her narrative around help from teachers and schools sounded all too familiar to me. I know these very sound support systems do work for some students and families, but in my haste to ‘help’ did I listen (really listen) to what the parents needed from me at the time? Did I hear what wasn’t being said? Did I rush in with assumptions in my desire to help?

Eliza tells us that in her desperation to search for answers and support she was prepared to sit and listen to anything. In the end it was empowerment that eventually set her free from stress and anxiety of trying to fit in.

Her message has made me want to slow down a little and not jump to so many conclusions about students and their families' experience in the education system.

Maybe ‘opting out’ of a system can be a way of ‘opting in’ to a different type of education that works?

Maybe if we use the te reo Māori kupu for Autism - Takiwātanga - we might learn a little more patience?

Maybe it can help us hear what isn't being said?

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