As an educator in Canada, I want to help my students and colleagues be aware of the importance of the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A friend recently told me he believes that listening to survivors of residential schools is an act of reconciliation and that survivors who are sharing their stories may find some comfort in being heard and acknowledged. This conversation got me curious about the idea of listening as an act of healing.

Deep listening is a little different from active listening. When we listen actively we are constantly giving cues to the speaker, such as eye contact and nodding. When we listen deeply, we use our hearts as well as our minds and notice the speakers’ implied emotions and body language as well as their spoken words.

You can create opportunities to listen to survivors of residential schools by inviting survivors to speak at your school. There may be residential school survivors in your area who are coming forward with their stories. For example, Dr. Shirley Williams was recently at a public event at the Oshawa Public Library sharing her story. The Indigenous education consultant in your school board is an excellent resource to help you seek and prepare for guests. There are protocols to keep in mind and that you and your students need to follow. I learned this lesson the hard way. About 10 years ago, I invited a First Nations presenter to speak to classes but had not prepared the students. They rushed in the library, grabbing at the items she had set in middle of the circle. I was very embarrassed but she was gracious and patient. Lesson learned!

Another consideration when inviting guests to speak is to be aware of trauma informed practice. The nature of the talk could be triggering for some students. Be prepared by speaking to your school board’s mental health staff as to what you can do to create a safe space.

Where active listening will have students learning facts and key ideas, deep listening should create a more fulsome understanding and motivate students to take action. Perhaps your students will want to make connections with an Indigenous community, read or view media by Indigenous creators or take action to be more connected to the land/water.

The skills involved in deep listening translate well to the classroom. If teachers can model deep listening, students who put it in place will help you create a positive learning environment.


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