Two Ears and One Mouth

  • Two Ears and One Mouth

    September 2023 

    The ability to truly listen to someone else can be a very difficult skill for many. I remember as a student being reminded that we have two ears but only one mouth so we should be listening more and talking less. I’m sure this reminder was for my classmates, but certainly not for me! 

    I know I strive to have a discourse-rich mathematics classroom and I recognize that on some days I’m able to implement that better than other days. The importance of communication in learning mathematics is especially apparent when you consider that three of the eight Effective Teaching Practices from Principles to Actions focus on facilitating discourse, posing questions, and eliciting using student thinking. Additionally, several of the other eight practices depend on communication and discourse. 

    However, listening to our students and having our students listen to each other are not easy tasks. I wonder how often we anticipate what our students are going to say and then interrupt them and finish their thoughts to try to keep the class moving along. And too often, we likely finish their thoughts incorrectly. I know that when I do allow the student to complete their thought, I often immediately repeat what my student says; unfortunately, the result is that the other students in my class quickly realize that they don’t need to listen carefully to their peers because they know that I will repeat or summarize what was said. My focus has been too much on helping my students learn how to communicate their thinking and not enough on helping them learn how to listen carefully to others. Helping students learn to listen is a skill I need to continually improve!

    The importance of listening is not just between students or between students and teachers. As an organization, NCTM also needs to continually listen to its members. I thank all of you who completed the recent membership survey and shared your thoughts. The time you spent doing this is greatly appreciated. The Board and staff received an initial report at our summer Board meeting and used some of the findings to guide our conversations and decisions. In the upcoming months, we’ll be digging further into the results after we review the final report.

    We don’t yet have responses to the most common issues raised in the survey, but we are committed to addressing each of them. We clearly heard the need to better meet the immediate demands of classroom teachers, including providing resources and strategies to engage students, as well as offering strategies and resources to meet the differentiated needs of our students in a more equitable manner. The Board and staff had initial discussions regarding how these shared needs would refocus the work of the Council. We will plan our work around how to reorganize existing resources as well as how to determine what additional resources will be needed. These conversations will continue in the upcoming months and will result in actions to better meet the needs of members.

    We are committed to hearing from and listening to members and, again, we are so grateful to all who took the time to complete that survey. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions. Just as listening to our students is important, listening to our members is equally important as we all work toward providing equitable solutions to meet the needs of all our students.

    Kevin Dykema
    NCTM President