Schools can change, but when leaders learn how to listen

Nicole Furlong is probably the best at helping us forget what we think about listening and leadership. Furlong’s work center focuses on how to be a good listener, and by extension, a good leader, as professor and director of the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University.

Listening-leading is not a simple default and should not be confused with silence. It is a genuine, multi-layered repository that leaders who seek to serve others, build societies and meet uncertainty can apply.

Nicole Farlonge

Listening leaders move forward with humility, honesty, and clarity-which is what we need when schools are back in session, but not clearly in terms of everything we’ve faced in the years 2020-2021. A solid year of skillful listening should be on every leader’s agenda. Furlonge is an essential guide and resource.

Earlier this year, we talked about the deep background of Furlong’s work in what she calls “listening leadership”. In this follow-up conversation, we explore practical applications, limitations, and the future of listening in schools and nearby institutions.

Listening is an active practice for school leaders

Furlonge: Listening is a preferred skill and ability. It explains what it means for leaders to put inquiry at the center of their practice, to adapt to all the factors for which they are responsible. And then filter, make sense and make decisions with that information. As listening leaders, we are reminded that we need to adapt to the growth potential of others, to the best of their ability.

Whenever we start this work with a colleague at the Klingenstein Center, the students say, “Oh yeah, we know … you don’t just go in and change everything, you wait.” This is a misconception about listening. That’s right, you don’t go inside and bulldoze everything for your own agenda. But actually listening is a really active practice. How you enter that space gives you a way to actively live in that space while listening to other people’s signals and interpreting things as soon as you connect with others.

A treasure trove of listener-leaders

Furlonge: Listening is a dynamic collection of methods versus a kind of skill that we always practice the same. For example, active listening is amazing when it helps people ask, “How do I lean towards a moment?” Or “How careful am I?” But it can also be a kind of performance.

If we stay with the usual narrators, active listening is part of listening practice, but also responsive listening. The response is to be in a moment and aware enough to think about questions like:

  • What are the different dynamics here?
  • How do I give myself space to interpret them?
  • How do I check with people so that I don’t take what they say but make sure I understand what it means?
  • How am I coming my own way while listening?

There are several levels of this study that involve more than one method of listening. There are methods of listening that make us more aware of the dynamics that are coming and the filters that we bring in any situation due to the fact that we are human and we connect the world through filters.

The key is: how can we become more aware of those filters so that we reduce prejudice or we are open to conversations that may be challenging for us or we are willing to give people feedback that way. Listen to it Those are practical places where listening can be seen.

Listening as a way to comprehend the whole more

Furlonge: We usually filter based on comfort or ease, but filters can be our questions, which allow us to analyze. The point is to engage in thinking differently, to dig deeper to find a different way of thinking, and ultimately the truth.

This is part of my appreciation for the authors I have curated in my book “Race Sounds”. In Tony Morrison’s “Jazz,” for example, her narrator tells the story of the book for the entire novel and finally says, “I did a terrible job. I created these characters because I had assumptions about them and I thought they were all wrong. ”

It’s important for me to listen to the state of not knowing because it always has something to pay attention to. More often than not we can say to ourselves, “I’ve noticed this, I’ve tuned into this area. But if I’m tuning in here, I’m less likely to fall. ”Or“ I don’t always get the whole thing and I need other listeners with me to create more sense of the whole word. ”

I think culturally we underestimate the listener. We have the perception that this is a passive place, or if you are listening you are not really participating or taking action. What I want emerging leaders to understand is that, in order to truly lead, they need to be tuned into the space in which they are called to lead. Otherwise, you don’t know what you’re doing or who you’re leading or who you’re leading for.

During the epidemic, I started doing some work in museums. These institutions still existed, but no one could go to them. The really interesting thing about museums at that moment was that they started asking questions like, “What does it mean to be an institution when the people you serve can’t come to you?” And “How do you still serve and what is your public face in such a moment?”

He then began to listen in his constituency and in that world as well, to find out what it means to be a patron of art and how it is available, either in perception or in reality.

And so some museums – like some schools – began to rethink how they look in the world and re-imagine who they are in or against the world they are in.

George Floyd on the importance of separating silence from listening in later school and society

Furlonge: After the assassination of George Floyd, this is an incredible demand to speak. If you do not speak, your silence speaks differently. I want to make it clear that listening is different from the figure of silence that appears in this discourse.

One has to be quiet to listen. But listening is not silence. Listening is not an absence. As an organization facing the challenges of the moment, as a leader, it is important to listen to the end of the voice. Instead of saying what pops up first, I suggest reviewing what actually works so that your voice is stronger than the others.

After George Floyd, we saw that people and organizations make their first statements and that was important. But then, what does it feel like to work after that? When we just make a statement, and then go back to business as usual, and then something else happens, and then we make another statement, and then we go back to business as usual, it’s an unbalanced approach because we don’t make our decision later statements, for systematic change. Our aspirations and putting them into action.

We can think of it as an engagement system that leads to the idea of ​​a logo, a balance of speaking and listening. We need a voice. We also need to listen to make sure that we are not only paying attention to the problems we have, but also listening to what could be a more just, all-encompassing future.

On the limit of hearing

Furlonge: I am a very optimistic person, even in difficult times. But I also know that listening reveals the impossible, impossible, seemingly insurmountable challenges we face.

Listening is not Pollyanna-ish. It reveals the possibilities but also helps us to recognize that in the world we want to change, there are some places that will not waver or be hugely challenging to move forward.

Listening as a practice makes it clear that I want to be dynamic. We must also recognize that inclusion in the practice of listening involves recognizing the moments when we need to turn to something or to listen to another against our own.

On the importance of timeline and tuning in the system

Furlonge: As a leader – as a listening leader – part of tuning in people – remember that different timelines are happening. We talk about “professors” as if there is only one homogeneous group. Instead, we have faculties. In every room, in their seats, everyone comes to the meeting with a different attitude, with a different tendency, with a different desire to be present there. Tired, not tired, kids at home or in another room, on the zoom.

I appreciate that schools want to improve recruitment, for example. There are a few quick fixes that the school can make in the short term. But what about looking away from the immediate need for rent? How will this lower the room temperature a bit, allow us to take some data about your last three to five years of job practices? Because what we’re trying to change may not be the area we need to change.

If you think of schools as an ecosystem, they have different ways of developing, growing, growing; Their different asons are you, too. And so how can we become more aware of that ebb and flow, the flow, the movement in the environment and what needs to be done against it now?

Academic leadership from the English class and the path to its future

Furlonge: When I first came to my role at the Klingenstein Center, part of my thinking was to leave the English class. That is my world. I make sense of the world through books and writing. I felt a deep connection with the students who really surprised me, “You’re not just scanning the page, you’re listening to it; You are bringing your full experience to this text. I wondered if I would ever be able to talk about literature and hear it again. No, “How am I going to make it?” But “how can this be a real place of inquiry for leaders?”

Being in an education-leadership space allowed me to think about how that could happen. I have also started teaching a listening course at Columbia Medical School. His students take narrative medicine literature courses to learn how to be a good doctor.

In these places, I have been able to think about what it means to be honestly involved in this work – through literature, through culture, through music – so that people may ask, “What is the value of listening methods for my leadership? Practice? Existence in my world?”

Being able to listen in such a way in the work I do in a space is a wonderful experience that allowed me to see how they can work in minimal and school leadership. Let’s see where it goes from here. Let’s hear how this work starts in schools.

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