Sue McAdamis

Sue McAdamis is a consultant who works to promote highly effective professional learning communities and collaboration skills for teachers and administrators throughout North America. She spent 30 years in public education.

Listening: The Forgotten Skill Necessary for Effective Collaboration

Margaret Wheatley (2002) states, “I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem solving, debate, or public meetings. Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well. . . . Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change—personal change, community, and organizational change. . . . If we can sit together and talk about what’s important to us, we begin to come alive. We share what we see, what we feel, and we listen to what others see and feel” (p. 3).

Active listening is often an overlooked skill and frequently abused in our hurried, modern world. Active listening can be frightening if we truly put aside our own judgments and become intent on what the speaker has to say. We might have to change our own ideas and be more open to the ideas of others. It is a skill that requires practice and discipline.

Active listening “allows the speaker to determine the agenda for what is said, seeks to understand the speaker’s views, is nonjudgmental, and honors the speaker’s perspective. Because it is so rare and powerful, I believe it is one of the greatest gifts one human being can give another” (Sparks, 2007, p. 71).

These strategies can help members improve their listening skills and increase their sense of community:

When have you experienced good listening? Wheatley (2002) says, “One of the easiest human acts is also the most healing. Listening to someone. Simply listening. Not advising or coaching, but silently and fully listening. . . . You can’t hate someone whose story you know. You don’t have to like the story, or even the person telling you their story. But listening creates relationship. By doing so, we move closer to one another” (p. 3).


  • Commit to full listening.
  • Put your own agenda aside.
  • Wait before responding.
  • Check for accuracy.
  • Listen through a filter.
  • Concentrate on the content, not the speaker’s appearance or delivery.
  • Avoid “piggybacking” and counterpointing.
  • Refrain from giving advice.
  • Be careful of questions.
  • Listen without obligation to act.
  • Listen with your body.
  • Sparks, D. (2007). Leading for results: Transforming teaching, learning, and relationships in schools (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
  • Wheatley, M. (2002). Turning to one another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.


Mary Jacqueline Oranye

I am glad that you wrote on active listening as an effective skill for effective collaboration. As educators we are often dealing with so many things at once that we sometimes fail to practice active listening skills. I agree with the quote from Margaret Wheatley (2002), that we can change the world when we go back to actively listening to each other again. Active listening skills are so fundamental to successful relationships because they are the only means by which the parties who are involved in a conversation can make their ideas known to each other. It does require patience and practice as we learn to put aside our own ideas and perspectives in order to enter into what is being said. The strategies that you have included will be especially useful in a Professional Learning Community (PLC).

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Tarsha Deadwyler

Often times, educators tend to forget about active listening; it is a main component to interpersonal communication. As educators, we should be able to engage in active listening as well as interpersonal communication during collaboration to have a stronger impact on classroom instruction and student learning. Collaboration is critical to student success because teachers can share and absorb ideas from their colleagues. During these meetings, it is important to listen without judgment and negative criticism. Sonia Nieto (2003) states, "creating communities of learning among teachers is necessary if they are to remain connected to their profession, their students, and one another."


Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going?
New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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