“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” William Shakespeare – Communication
How do you know when to speak up?
We’re always telling kids to listen and to speak their mind. What we rarely do is help them discern when it is appropriate to listen and when it makes more sense to speak. Some suggest that listening to everyone is always a better way to go, because you learn more that way. Others say speaking your mind is the more courageous action, because then people know where you stand and others can learn from you.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – along with guest Laura Wright, PYP/IPC/MYP Educator & Pedagogical Learning Lead and Apple Distinguished Educator from The Hauge, Netherlands, for a compelling conversation about communication, enriched by the Teach Different Method.
Image source: Pixabay
Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions. Then join our Community of Educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Dan Fouts 00:35
Welcome everybody to the Teach Different podcast. We’re excited this week to have a guest from the Netherlands. We’re going worldwide. We’re trying to build a worldwide community of teachers and educators who want to master and enjoy the art of conversation, with themselves, as adults in professional development, which is what we’re doing here, and with their students. We have a great quote tonight from William Shakespeare. He’s making another appearance. This one is from Hamlet on the theme of communication. We’ll get to that in a moment. To refresh everyone’s memory, and to reinforce what we’re doing here, we’re going to be using the Teach Different conversation method. We’re going to start with this provocative quote, to get us thinking deeply about some concept in life. Then, we’re going to interpret the quote in our own words, state a claim about the quote. What does this quote mean to us? We want to bring in personal experiences to validate the truth of the claim for us as individuals. When we start agreeing with the claim, we’re going to flip to the counterclaim, which is where the critical thinking and the tension comes in. We’re going to disagree with the quote and validate our disagreements by using our personal experiences. We’ll end with some organic questions that come out of the conversation to leave you with something to think about.
Dan Fouts 02:19
Thank you, everybody for being here. Here we go with William Shakespeare. We’ll have our guest, Laura Wright, introduce herself when she weighs in on the claim. Here is the quote, “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” Laura, welcome to the show. Please introduce yourself and feel free to weigh in.
Laura Wright 02:52
Hi, thanks so much for having me. My name is Laura Wright. I’m an international educator currently working at the International School of Amsterdam. I have experience in the Netherlands, Austria, South Korea, and also Australia, where I’m from. I am very interested in progressive pedagogies, visible thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero, concept based inquiry that I’ve learned a lot from Rachel French and Carla Marshall. When I came across this approach to conversations, I was so excited by it, because it fits in so well with so many other things that I’ve been researching and learning about. Thank you so much for developing this and for sharing it with us today. I’m really excited about our conversation.
Laura Wright 03:57 – Claim
Do you want me to sort of dive in and have a bit of a go? When I think about this quote, in the beginning I was a little bit, dare I say cynical. It reminds me of, I don’t know whether it was my dad or just conversations that I had growing up, the idea that if people want to hear your opinion, they’ll give it to you. That came to me when I looked at this. Before we get into that, I thought I’d take a little bit more positive approach. If everybody is speaking and nobody’s listening, then those ideas are going to remain small. Ideas become bigger and conversations become richer when it’s more than just one person. It’s something that we build upon and the idea of cross pollination of ideas. That was one of the things that I thought about when I came to this. So, let’s try to start positively.
Steve Fouts 05:11
Nice cross pollination. I guess you need listeners. I could add that you need to listen. I don’t know what Shakespeare would say is the motivation of this person. Why would you just give your ear and not your voice? Is this a way to maneuver and get what you want? Is it shrewd advice that he’s giving? You never know with Shakespeare. The answer is always yes. He’s also doing other things. I just picked up on the idea of conversations from you, Laura, and the idea of listening. Conversations are activities where, if there are listeners, they’re rich. You don’t have to hear voices from everybody, necessarily, especially not at the same time. That’s where I’m coming from. The quote is a little chauvinistic. If you’re going to share this with a student, wouldn’t we have to circle the word “man” and say, what does this mean? Why would they say only a man? I think that might be a mini conversation. Dan, what do you think?
Dan Fouts 06:42
“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” It’s calling on us to think of listening as a higher level of communication with others. It’s validating, or honoring, the act of listening, and what you get when you listen. If I were to use this in the classroom, I would ask students… Laura, we like to encourage students to tell their stories during these conversations. We use direct questions to elicit these stories. I would ask something like, when do you think you should listen more than give your opinion? Think of some times when you feel listening is the right way to communicate. Then, listen to what they come up with. I would think younger kids would say, when my mom or dad says something, that’s when I need to be a good listener. I’m not going to give my voice at that point. Substitute a coach, or a teacher, for parent. I think it would be interesting to see which authority figures kids respect enough to be listeners. That’s how I would work with this quote right off the bat.
Laura Wright 08:25
A question that I have, is when you present these quotes to students, do you usually just dive in straight away to get their impressions from it, or do you give them context for what’s actually happening here? I just did a little bit of research and the character who is giving this information is not sure whether he is actually the father or just the father figure to this son that he’s giving this advice to before he goes on a trip to Paris. Is that context something you would automatically give, or does it depend on the quote?
Dan Fouts 09:08
Steve Fouts 09:09
Dan Fouts 09:10
I would say, Laura, it depends on your classroom. If you are an English teacher, naturally, you would provide context from Hamlet here. Since it’s the concept of listening and communication, teachers who want to use it generally don’t have to get into the context of Hamlet and Shakespeare. They can just borrow the theme. It’s dependent on the room.
Steve Fouts 09:49
Laura, one thing I would add to that is that if you don’t get into the context of where the quote comes from, it allows for more of a blank slate for a conversation that is accessible to everyone. If it’s a concept that is human, you don’t have to know a lot about literature, Shakespeare, or about the story itself to know what this means. We want to hear about what you think it means referring to the students, given your experiences. It’s something you can introduce, like Dan was saying, but it’s also something that isn’t needed.
Laura Wright 10:39
Well, I suppose if the students were to react to the questions that Dan was talking about a moment ago, about authority figures in their lives, where they have taken that moment to be quiet and to listen more than they speak, maybe then you could bring it in after that. It’s really interesting that you say that this particular quote comes from a conversation between a father and son.
Steve Fouts 11:05
Laura, what is the age group that you find yourself working with?
Laura Wright 11:10
I’m currently teaching grade five, but it’s really quite open. I have experience teaching students up until that age. At the moment, it’s ten and eleven year olds. I’ve taught younger, and I’ve also taught older.
Steve Fouts 11:29
Talk to me about the relationships kids have when they’re ten and eleven years old? With older kids, you can ask questions about their friends. Do you have a friend who needs you to listen to their struggles? It would be a little bit heavier than maybe your crowd, but I’d like to hear about how you think they might use a quote like this to understand peer relationships.
Laura Wright 12:07
Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I like to do when I have these bigger concepts using quotes, is to use picture books. We could use a story like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. That was a circumstance where he said too much. He put himself in a situation because he, I don’t want to say, spoke out of turn, but he didn’t think of the consequences of his words. With students that are in the age group that I’m teaching, it can depend on circumstances that I’m aware of in the playground. Has there been a moment where you have been there for a friend and listened to everything that they have said? Has there been a time where maybe you’ve said something that you shouldn’t have, something that wasn’t helpful to the situation? That happens so much with kids that are the age that I’m teaching. Those playground interpersonal sort of situations happen regularly. Going back to that idea of being careful with sharing your opinion without first listening to one person’s entire context, maybe even multiple people’s contexts, before diving in.
Steve Fouts 14:07
Maybe anger is a theme you could get at. You could ask the students, have you ever been so angry that you said something you later regretted? That would probably be something where kids could share some testimonies. I’m just guessing. Anger is something we all feel at all ages.
Laura Wright 14:37
That feeling you get when somebody takes the time to listen to you is also a positive turn. You can ask, how do you feel when somebody sits and listens to everything that you have to say about something before chiming in and giving their opinion? How could you then model that when having discussions with somebody else?
Dan Fouts 15:07
That’s really good, Laura. That is so good. I teach high school juniors and seniors, so they are older kids. What I like to reinforce is how you can become smarter by being a listener, instead of always trying to speak your mind. For the high school crowd, this is very counterintuitive to them. They think the smartest kid in the room is the one who’s always talking. This is a yearly struggle to wean them off of this notion that if you talk, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the best ideas. I use this method in class. I have a handful of students who almost never speak the first 20 minutes. Most of these conversations last about 30 minutes for me. That’s the sweet spot for me. They’ll say nothing for 20 minutes, they’ll just listen to everyone. Then, when they weigh in on the conversation, their thoughts are so rich, because they didn’t feel rushed. I think this is an important thing to reinforce – the importance of listening. When you do speak, everyone wants to listen to you, because you did the same thing for them.
Laura Wright 16:47
Yeah, just that idea of the difference between understand and understood. Focusing on this idea of understanding what others around you have to say first, and not feeling an urgency to get your ideas out there. We’re all still learning these things. It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you’re a teacher, a primary student, a secondary student, or a university student, we’re all on this journey of different expectations and different goalposts as to success for being a good listener, and being able to communicate effectively with people.
Steve Fouts 17:41 – Counterclaim
There are so many different contexts and to be able to navigate all of them successfully is such a challenge. Listening is the theme, right? If we had to sum up the theme here, listening is more important than speaking. Maybe this is over simplifying it. We like trying to rephrase it, Laura, in a very simple sentence to prepare to destroy the house we just built. If we’re going to come with a counterclaim to this, my quick answer is, maybe you should talk more than you listen. In some circumstances, maybe it’s more appropriate to use your voice. What do you think about that as a counterclaim? At least to start us off.
Laura Wright 18:45
I don’t know. I think that sometimes if you are quiet for too long, then the opportunity passes you by. I think that you really have to be proactive sometimes. Unfortunately, whether it’s right or wrong, people who do assert themselves, put themselves out there and say what they think are sometimes the people who are listened to the most.
Dan Fouts 19:22
Well said. They have credibility, because they use their voice and they are seen as someone who is confident and courageous, and may be seen as a leader by their peers. I just shared the idea that I encourage students to listen before they speak. Well, there’s another thing we do as teachers in class. We encourage kids with a lot of great ideas to speak up. But, as you said so well, Laura, they miss that opportunity where their input strategically placed in a conversation would have benefited the whole class. They might have had that private experience, but because they didn’t make it public something was missing. So speak up. I was also thinking about this in a very ethical way. What if you see someone being criticized, intimidated, ostracized, or bullied in some way? Is that the time to just listen, or do you have a moral obligation sometimes to speak up if someone is being hurt? That would be another interesting side tangent to ask the kids, have you ever witnessed something, but you did not speak up, and it ended up making a situation worse?
Laura Wright 21:06
Yeah, and maybe taking that to an immediate personal context. Then, taking that a little bit further and seeing things that are out in the world. Like in the IB education, we talk a lot about students having agency and students demonstrating what they’ve learned, then using what they’ve learned to take action in circumstances. Maybe that is speaking out and saying, no, this isn’t right whether it’s happening to me, or it’s happening in my country, or it’s happening in the world. Something else I was thinking about is speaking and listening. These are ATL skills, approaches to learning. One of the things that we look at is communication skills. Listening for me is not only using your ears, but it’s also looking at the person. We’ve all experienced that with Zoom over the last couple of years. Communication has been limited, because it’s only listening. Whereas, we know that when we’re in front of each other, we’re not only interpreting what the person is saying, but we’re also interpreting their nonverbal communication, their body language, their facial expressions. That can give a lot of information as well. So I’m not too sure how that fits in. Yeah, that idea of listening, looking, and waiting, but then sometimes we just have to act.
Steve Fouts 22:52
Open our mouth and say something. Advocate for something. I was thinking of this on an emotional level with the students. I wrote down a couple questions here that maybe could be conversation prompts. Have you ever wanted to share a story with a friend? Do you ever just want someone to listen to something that you feel is interesting or funny? Telling jokes is another thing to do. The other question I had was, have you ever needed to talk to someone about something that is bothering you? In those cases, it’s more of an internal realization that you almost need to use your voice. It’s a recognition of that. Have you ever felt like you’ve had to use your voice for some other purpose or reason? I was kind of getting on that level with how you might be able to get the kids talking about their own experiences.
Laura Wright 24:16
Have there been times where you have regretted speaking out, or have there been times where you have regretted not saying something?
Steve Fouts 24:30
There you go. Those nail the claim and counterclaim. That’s going to bring it out. Well said.
Laura Wright 24:41
I suppose another question that I have is when do you know that the circumstances are right with the person who is in front of you? When do you know that is the time to share your opinion?
Steve Fouts 25:01
Write it down.
Dan Fouts 25:02
You stole my question, Laura. You are a thief. I had, how do you know when to speak up? Yours was more eloquent than mine, but it’s the same idea. In philosophy, it’s the epistemological. How do you know? How do you know when to say something? It’s an ethical question. It’s a question that is a moving target based on the different contexts. People need to decide, on a case by case basis. It’s a lifelong question.
Steve Fouts 25:45
It’s not just ethical, it’s tactful. These are social emotional learning skills, being able to read a situation as an adult or as a student. There are certain cues in environments that really should be tapping you on the back and saying it’s time to be quiet, or it’s time to speak up. But, that’s hard to navigate. We’re always learning that. It has the tactical side and the moral side.
Laura Wright 26:20
Yeah. It’s got me thinking now about what sort of case studies. I’m a primary school teacher, but I also did University English and history, as well. I’m just trying to think what sort of case studies you could bring in as a teacher. Here’s a circumstance where somebody said something. Let’s take our quote, and maybe apply it to this. Do you think that this was a circumstance where this person should have said something, or is this a circumstance where they were right to listen? All roads lead back to Pride and Prejudice, of course. Was Elizabeth right in saying what she said in front of Lady Catherine? Was this a moment where she should have listened, or did she do the right thing by saying it?
Dan Fouts 27:13
I love how you’re taking the concept, as you said at the beginning, and you’re transferring it to a new setting where they have to apply this conversation to it. That’s when the learning cements, because then they’re using their deep thinking, and trying to figure out how to apply it. Another thing I was thinking about with students is dealing with the students who talk too much in class. One way I deal with this is by saying just speak three times, and then I want you to sit back in this conversation. For some kids, they literally need that at the beginning, before they’re able to discern for themselves, when it’s tactful. Steve, to use your language, a lot of kids don’t know when it’s tactful, so I think it’s okay, at least in the short term, to say three, and you’re done. So that over time they learn the listening skills. Every kid has a different button to push to help them get to where they need to be.
Laura Wright 28:21
Primary school students are busting to be a part of the conversation. Seriously, sometimes putting your hand up turns into waving, which turns into, Oh, can you just let me talk. I think that’s where those small groups of discussions are so important to have them turn and talk with somebody in your group of three. I think three is good. Then, just sort of say, okay, now we’re going to listen to ones. Next time, we’re going to listen to twos. Sort of like the talking stick. It’s my turn to talk. I have the talking stick.
Steve Fouts 29:00
Right. Great. I want to be in your class, Laura. That’s perfect.
Dan Fouts 29:04
Well, this is really good. I feel like we’ve done the claim and counterclaim really well. There are different ways to look at this from William Shakespeare, “give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” To wrap up the conversation, Laura, we usually give an essential question. We actually already asked our question. We let that cat out of the bag, so to speak. Steve, do you have any questions you’re left with in this conversation? What do you think?
Steve Fouts 29:47
No. Laura, I liked your question. I wouldn’t want to come up with something different than that because I think it’s at the heart of the quote. In my opinion, when this conversation is over, the kids can answer a reflective question, support a perspective, acknowledge other’s perspectives, and come up with some criteria for how to know when to speak, or be silent. I’d love to see a student come up with criteria. I haven’t figured it out myself, so I have to work on it, too. I’m going to have to answer it as well. We all do. Can we say it again? Could someone say it one more time?
Dan Fouts 30:34
Do you have yours written down, Laura? I have mine, but yours sounds so much better.
Laura Wright 30:41 – Essential Question
How do we know when it is right to speak or to listen? How do we know? What things can we look out for? I’m already imagining the thinking sheet with a little person’s head in the middle. What are some of the things that we look for? What are some of the things that the person could say? What does their verbal and nonverbal communication highlight to us that would cause us to do that?
Dan Fouts 31:12
That’s great. On that note, that leaves us with something we can chew on and our students can think about, too. Well, Laura, it’s been a pleasure. I loved your perspective. I think we picked the right quote. We worked with it really well. I appreciate you coming on. Laura was a participant in a workshop we did through Chapters International. We met her there and she graciously accepted this invitation to come on our podcast. You’ve added wonderful value to this community, and it’s been a pleasure.
Laura Wright 31:57
Thank you so much for having me. I’ve really enjoyed it. I think that there are so many wonderful opportunities to have these types of conversations with kids and really engage them exactly where they’re at. I think that your method is so simple, but can be applied to so many different circumstances. So, thank you so much for sharing it with us.
Dan Fouts 32:26
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join our Community of Educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators, free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time on the Teach Different Podcast, take care!