Leadership: Listening to Others in Volatile Times

Listening is a crucial ability for each school leader, specifically when faced by the need to mediate complex and often volatile problems. This fall there were numerous stories about school principals being faced by parents dissatisfied about pandemic treatments and mask requireds.

Weve discovered 3 principles define a reliable communicator: openness, desire, and focus.

With those concepts as a structure, weve identified five barriers to efficient listening and 10 tips to help every leader become an effective listener.

Society today is frequently sharply divided over many problems. School leaders should often navigate these challenges, and their capability to interact successfully is vital.

Perhaps the most critical interaction ability is active listening– the capability to authentically hear what is stated, keep an open mind, and despite differences collaborate on behalf of students.

Ronald Williamson

By Ronald Williamson and Barbara R. Blackburn

Barbara Blackburn

5 Barriers to Effective Listening

Assumptions can also weaken your ability to listen, and for that reason communicate. You might presume you already understand what an individual thinks or how they feel, or assume they have the very same background understanding that you do, or presume they will analyze that knowledge the exact same method you do.


In another case, Barbara spoke with a college professor, Richard, who was frustrated by his interactions with his supervisor. The manager continuously disrupted him to complete his sentences (in some cases precisely, usually not), think what his service to a problem was, and merely not let him finish any idea. The result? Richard just closed down and no longer shared his opinion.

In one circumstance a primary ended up being very frustrated with one of his instructors, Mr. Hunter. The primary chosen to resolve equity problems throughout remote knowing by asking instructors to offer an additional layer of instruction for struggling students, which would imply extra preparation by instructors, along with an investment of additional time to get in touch with those trainees each week.


Ms. Sanders asked to satisfy to talk about how schools would deal with possible future COVID outbreaks., Dr. Banks cut her off and said, “Of course we do.

Board members normally overlooked her and appeared indifferent and dismissive of her remarks. This was because of the reality that, although she had formerly lived within that school location, she had actually vacated the area. Nevertheless, Ms. Bashore continued to return to conferences to share her views.

In both of these cases, the solution is actually simple. Stop doing anything else and patiently listen to the other individual. Concentrate on the speaker, not your own requirements. When they have actually completed sharing theirs, share your remarks.

Parents and others in the meetings were uninformed of the history of the situation, and the habits of the board members seemed unsuitable and dismissive of their issues. When board members understood their habits was affected other moms and dads, they moved their body language, and when Ms. Bashore commented, they were more attentive however also explained that she was not a local of the district.

A bit shocked, Ms. Sanders thanked him and then asked, “How will we deal with teachers issues about planning for transitions?” Dr. Banks launched into a ten minute soliloquy on the ways instructors ought to currently be prepared.

A third challenge to effective listening is diversions. Diversions include disturbances, multitasking, or anticipating your next comments instead of focusing on what the speaker is stating.

The first barrier is when we are indifferent to the other person, their problems, or their viewpoint. In western North Carolina, there was an individual, Ms. Bashore, who regularly resolved school board members during meetings. She utilized a very aggressive, adversarial way of expressing her strong feelings versus masks, vaccinations, social distancing, and any other COVID safety measures.

In one case Dr. Durrell, a middle school principal, was under a mandate from her supervisor to carry out a brand-new program designed to improve test scores. She quickly surveyed instructors, purchased the program, and recognized an instant start date. Educators withstood due to the fact that they felt as if they were not associated with the choice, knew little about the program and had inadequate professional advancement.

Info Overload

The principal had worked with teachers to prepare them for such an action, Mr. Hunter had actually recently transferred in from another school. The principal presumed other teachers shared the info with Mr. Hunter, which he would be as devoted as they were to helping struggling students.

What does this appear like? Lets take a scenario with a district leader, Dr. Banks, and a principal, Ms. Sanders.


Since Dr. Durrell was under a deadline from the main office, she quickly held a brief faculty meeting, asked teachers to share their opinions, restricting the time to 2 minutes per person, and then she announced her choice would stand. In this circumstance, not only did Dr. Durrell rush, she likewise made it clear she was not thinking about instructors issues. Educators frowned at the process, did not feel heard, and were not bought the programs success.

The final barrier to efficient listening is information overload. In some cases we simply wish to get our point across, and we overload the other person with too much, or extraneous, info.

She valued that there were strategies, so schools were not left on their own, however she likewise felt overloaded, didnt have time to review the information, and didnt know what to ask next. Later on that week, she suggested that Dr. Banks prepare a one page reality sheet for each problem, which would allow principals to understand the overview.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hunter had not asked any other teachers for info, and he seemed like instructors already were overwhelmed and should not be asked to do extra work. When the principal presumed that Mr. Hunter would support the initiative and didnt listen for and expect his issues, a problem emerged.

Ms. Sanders then asked a follow-up concern, “What is the district plan for preparing parents, and what is our schools role in that procedure?” As soon as once again, Dr. Banks handed her a thick package of material, including an action plan, details, social media posts, and handouts.


There are 5 crucial barriers to listening, and these are exacerbated when attempting to interact with individuals who are aggressive or combative or when facing an unstable circumstance.

Barbara experienced this throughout a recent Zoom conference. Although the other individual had initiated the call, she continuously asked participants to wait while she addressed her phone, sent out a text, or reacted to an e-mail. This behavior telegraphed a message that whatever else was more crucial than our call, and ultimately, our time.

This actually leads to the 4th challenge, rushing the process. This is particularly real if we arent interested in the other person or his or her issues. Oftentimes, we wish to rush the procedure since weve currently comprised our minds about the seriousness of the problem or the resolution.

10 Things You Can Do

Over the past 30 years weve talked with countless school leaders and determined ten particular abilities that will improve your listening. Many of us in leadership functions use some or all of these abilities. What is important is to make them a regular part of our repertoire so that we ensure their use in our everyday communication, particularly when handling a challenging or unstable situation.

You probably recognize most or all of these barriers to reliable listening and may have experienced them yourself. While you cant handle the behaviors of others, there are particular steps you can require to improve your listening abilities and contribute to reliable interaction.

A Final Note

To be an effective school leader and accomplish your goals, its crucial to be a reliable listener. Prevent key obstacles and take actions to actively listen and be engaged in the discussion.

See the Williamson/Blackburn short article:10 Actions Help Navigate Challenge and Dissent

Dr. Barbara R. Blackburn, a “Top 30 Global Guru in Education,” is a successful author of over 25 books and a popular specialist. She was an acclaimed teacher at Winthrop University and has actually taught students of all ages. In addition to speaking at conferences worldwide, she regularly provides on-site and virtual workshops for teachers and administrators. Barbara is the author of Rigor in the Remote Learning Classroom: Instructional Tips and Strategies from Routledge/Eye On Education.

Dr. Ronald Williamson is Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership at Eastern Michigan University. He is a former principal, headquarters administrator and executive director of the National Middle School Association (now AMLE). The author of numerous books on management, he is the co-author with Barbara R. Blackburn of Leadership for Remote Learning ( 2021) and 7 Strategies for Improving Your School ( 2020 ), both from Routledge/Eye On Education.

In one case Dr. Durrell, a middle school principal, was under a required from her supervisor to implement a brand-new program designed to improve test ratings. Ms. Sanders asked to meet to discuss how schools would deal with possible future COVID outbreaks. She valued that there were plans, so schools were not left on their own, however she also felt overloaded, didnt have time to review the details, and didnt understand what to ask next. To be a reliable school leader and accomplish your goals, its crucial to be a reliable listener. He is a previous principal, central workplace administrator and executive director of the National Middle School Association (now AMLE).

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