Elder Terry P’ulsemet Prest at University of the Fraser Valley teaches students that we have to “learn to listen so we can listen to learn.” Often the elder will go on and explain that over time we learn to make the connection between the heat and the mind, the mind and the heart. He also tells students that sometimes this is the longest journey, from the heart to the mind. He tells his students – who are very often faculty instructors on campus – this because he recognizes that education has not necessarily prepared us to be “good listeners.”
As an educator I am often reminded that listening with our whole self is not necessarily practised in the academy. I learned this the hard way. One of my instructors in my graduate program pointed out to me that I rarely “spoke up” in class. I reflected upon this feedback and thought of all the times that I was eager to participate in the classroom dialogue, only to be “beaten to the punch” by classmates who either spoke up as soon as one had finished speaking or who seemingly dominated the classroom dialogue (almost always!). This self-reflection led me to understand the different ways I, as an Indigenous person, listen in comparison to many of my non-Indigenous counterparts. I began to recognize that oftentimes people would be preparing what they were going to say while the other person was still talking. While I on the other hand listened, completely listened, and only when one finishes speaking do I think about how I might respond. This is true, I came to learn, for many of the Indigenous students in my classes and at our university.
– Shirley Hardman (personal communication, 2017)
The longest journey you can take in Indigenizing your teaching practice is listening from your heart rather than your mind. Affective listening takes patience, practice, and kindness. In this lecture, Otto Scharmer on the four levels of listening describes listening from the head to heart as: downloading (“I and me”), factual (“I and it”), empathetic (“I and you”), and generative or emergent (“I and now”). However, these ways of listening happen while information is being shared, so the meaning behind and within that instance of sharing can be lost if it is not wholly acknowledged or filtered by stereotypes and biased judgment. We need to practise silence after receiving knowledge so the meaning can be constructed.
The concept of “listening to hear” is explored in allyship scholarship (McGloin, 2015). When teachers and students hear stories and different perspectives on racism and colonization, they have to consider how their own perpetuation of colonization affects what is heard, and learning stops if they become paralyzed by guilt and shame:
A productive pedagogical approach therefore is to build into courses a methodology that reminds students – and teachers – that dis-ease can be a valuable starting point for a more healthy alliance with Indigenous people…[L]istening – or hearing – what the “other” has to say, in fact, must be a risk-taking venture in order for a change in thought, perception and action to occur. If we are only to hear what is safe or familiar, there will be no conflict, no “poles of contradiction”, no impetus or motivation for transformation. (p. 276-277)
Listening to hear requires that you hold the information that has been shared in order for multiple meanings to come forward, rather than immediately responding or reacting. What you are hearing are your values, beliefs, and perceptions sifting through the shared information.