Don’t Fear Differences – Practice “Active Listening” to Understand, Connect, and Build Community
This week, in Rain of Hope's Friendship Matters class, 5th graders discussed the importance of active listening. Active listening is a communication skill in which one person fully listens to another, and fully concentrates on what the other person is saying. This skill teaches youth how actively listening enables us to better understand each other. Though it might appear simplistic, it is extremely important.
The class began with introducing Rain of Hope's new Program Manager, Reeshema Norfleet. One student suggested that everyone share something about themselves. Eagerly, students raised their hands ready to fully introduce themselves – not just their names, but who they are. Most began with simple sharing, such as their favorite food and number of siblings. But as “Miss Ree” actively listened, she asked questions – “Your favorite food is pizza – mine too! What is your favorite topping?” or “Wow, your name is beautiful. What does your name mean?”
Learning others' similarities, as well as differences, helps us to better understand one another and leads us to appreciating and celebrating diversity. Students learned who has family near, and who has family as far away as Africa. Some shared what they can or can’t eat because they are practicing Muslims. While each student shared, the others showed interest, asked questions and learned to care for and accept each other. After all, they are peers – this is our community.
The more students shared, the more excited they became. They actively commented and asked each other more detailed questions. As the excitement built, we paused the conversation to acknowledge how it felt to have everyone actively listen to you. One student immediately replied that she felt important. When asked how it felt when listeners began side conversations or simply started commenting without letting the person finish his/her statement the students said that they felt ignored and disrespected. This question leads to the fact that when we stop actively listening to each other, it sends the message that we do not care about the person who is talking.
In teaching active listening, children become aware that we all have similarities and differences; and what a boring world this would be if we did not! They learn that active listening makes the person speaking feel respected and important. They learn to better understand, appreciate and respect each other, even though they may not always be in agreement. As in all of Rain of Hope programs, Friends Matters teaches individuals that they have the ability to spread kindness simply by actively listening.