Listening: a teacher’s most important skill

Peter Hudson had just finished having breakfast at what used to be called a country house party in the UK.  Having listened to several guests for several minutes, asking them about their work and families, he was asked what he did.  ‘I teach teachers how to listen’, he replied.

One of the guests, herself a retired teacher, said ‘Oh that’s the top skill in teaching!’ When he asked her what she thought the reason for that was, she said ‘It builds respect with the students and when you have that you can achieve so much more with them’.

Active, or Motivational  Listening Skills

Listening to someone in a focussed and skilled way is one of the best ways of motivating them, whether they are young or old.  Nobody really likes being told what to do or what the answer is, but if they are helped to find their own answer, or at least their own way forward on a path that could well lead to an answer, the chances of them following their own advice is significantly greater than following someone else’s.  And yet most of us, whether teachers or in some other profession, can rarely resist the temptation to tell people, however politely, what they should do!

So what are Active Listening Skills?  How do they differ from any other kind of listening?

Active or Motivational Listening begins, as you might imagine, with concentrated listening to what the other says regardless of one’s own views about what is being said.  Gradually, by a number of different means the speaker is helped to clarify just what the central question is that arises from the conversation.  The speaker is then helped to find his/her way forward along the way to find an answer to the central question. An action plan is developed – the speaker’s action plan, not the listeners.  And that’s it.  Simple!  Yes, but not easy!

What advantages does an Active Listening School enjoy?

Schools that commit to Active Listening reap many benefits.  In summary:

  1. A much more motivated student population who achieve more than they would otherwise which, in effect, means better results across the school. This arises in two ways:
    • Improved motivation brought about through interaction with staff in a very consistent way
    • Motivational tutoring and coaching using listening skills. This gives focussed attention to the work of the students both as a termly arrangement with all students and as specific set of sessions for individual students
  2. A more involved and motivated staff, better able to support each other in ways unrealised before.
  3. A Senior Leadership Team which is more committed and able to make creative plans for the various areas of school life.
  4. Increased motivation amongst staff, which can be hugely important in terms of staff retention.
Back at the house party

The retired teacher’s second question was: ‘How on earth do you teach teachers how to listen?’ implying that teachers must be difficult students and hard to teach.

This has not been my experience. A short course of two and a half days helps most teachers radically change their approach to their work with students and colleagues, with very significant results.

So get listening!


Peter Hudson is a practising psychotherapist, specialising in the development of listening skills, working with schools and businesses. For more about his ideas, training and facilitation, see




Feature Image: mohamed_hassan – Pixabay