My Voice My Community
Learning How to Listen

Building Trust in the Classroom and Beyond

A very good friend of Need in Deed’s recently visited Joanna Bottaro’s 5th graders at McCall Elementary School. Barbara Dundon, former executive director of NID, stopped by to share what she has learned about how to listen in order to help other people talk about things that are difficult.

Joanna’s students chose a tough topic for their service-learning project this year: child abuse. After a pediatrician spoke with them about the impact neglect and emotional abuse can have on children, the students became interested in what they could do to support other kids who might be going through these experiences. But where could they start?

Barbara began her visit with the class by sharing images and audio recordings she made during a recent trip to Kenya, where she interviewed young women who had been victims of human trafficking or child marriage. Although talking about their experiences could be traumatic for the young women, it could also be cathartic for them because it reinforced the safety they felt now.

The way that Barbara listened and spoke to the young women made all the difference – just like the way these students could listen and speak to friends going through a hard time might make all the difference to them.

“How do you have a hard conversation?” Barbara asked the students. “What do you need to have?”

“Trust?” one student volunteered, a little uncertainly.

“Yes!” Barbara responded. “Is there trust in this classroom?”

Without hesitation, the students answered in the affirmative. One volunteered, “We all know each other and get along. We have respect.”

In the safe space of their classroom, Barbara led the class through several roleplaying scenarios to help the students identify the habits of a good listener. They even created their own skits to practice skills like asking open-ended questions, paying attention to facial or body cues, not interrupting, and knowing when to ask a trusted adult to get involved.

At the end of the visit, it was clear that the 5th graders were eager to take these skills beyond the classroom and out into the world. As for Barbara, even though she is “always getting ready for the next interview,” she let Joanna and her students know that she is also happy to come back and listen anytime the students want to talk. Thank you, Barbara!