Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Look Them in the Eyes

My kids, all grown up!
**Note: As you read this post, please don't get the impression that I don't understand the importance of cultural differences with regard to eye contact and showing respect. I fully embrace the myriad of different ways that mindful attention can be given between people; as one of my commenters so eloquently reminded me, the point is to remember to be fully and genuinely present to show that you care for others.  

Don't get me wrong. I am attached to my tech devices: taking photos, checking email, texting friends and family, but I am growing painfully aware of the costs associated with non-stop information and consumption on our most valuable relationships: missing out on important face to face moments with our students, colleagues, and loved ones.

This year, in my first year teaching 4th grade, I was shocked at how often I would ask students to look at me to show they were listening to me.  This was not an outright sign of disrespect from them as much as it was a product of our culture. When I asked if they looked at each other while talking at home, many students exclaimed: "My parents are always looking at their phones!" I encouraged them to say, ever so politely, to their parents: "Please look at me, so I know you are really listening." I fervently checked my email over the following few days, certain that someone would be angry at my lesson to their children, but not one ever arrived. Maybe no one went home and asked..though I hope they did.  I continued to request that students look at each other as they shared ideas in the classroom. Eventually, it became a norm...well..at least some of the time!

Of course, I then became aware of my own behavior: when I was not looking at someone talking to me! I often caught myself multi-tasking when others talked to me, cleaning up or writing an email when another teacher came to my room to visit, or picking up papers while a student was asking me a question; I consciously made a point to stop and fully listen.  After all, if a huge percentage of communication is non-verbal, what am I missing by not using the incredible sense of vision that allows me to see the person's revealing facial expression and expressive body language?

So,  please, especially when interacting with children, look them in the eyes. ( or show them full presence in a way that makes sense in their culture)  For that matter, make it a habit with everyone.  Let them know you are fully listening. The rewards are certainly worth it!


Tom Altepeter said...

Great post, Joan. I'm with you completely around the importance of helping one another feel our whole engagement so we understand we're fully with one another. The only thing I would caution us is to make sure we don't expect it from all people (including, potentially, ourselves). We all have different communication styles, and there are cultures where not making eye contact is actually a sign of respect (just as making it could be viewed as a sign of disrespect). What's most important is that we show in whatever way we're comfortable that we are truly and fully and deeply present for those we're with. Thanks for this reminder :).

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thanks, Tom for the reminder that not all cultures show mindfulness, engagement and attention through eye contact. In retrospect, I should have entitled this post: "Put the gadget down, and give them your full attention" since I was aiming for the group of us who do show respect and attention by looking at each other as we listen.
My class, unfortunately, was not culturally diverse in terms of the styles you mentioned; I have worked in settings where this was definitely a consideration.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

Karen Szymusiak said...

A great reminder. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have had the same struggles in my classroom! When I want my students' attention, I say, "Give me five." There are five things they are expected to do to give me five, including "watching eyes." However, you reminded me that I don't always give the students the same consideration. Thanks for reminding me to do so!