Do you Practice "Mindful Listening" with your Students?

empathy listening May 25, 2016

Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you were really being listened to and truly felt heard?  I believe it is rare but when it happens, it is can be a powerful experience. 

Last weekend, I attended a two day training session on coaching based in positive psychology.  My biggest take-away from the week-end was learning about “mindful listening” (and actually practicing it).  I had heard of "mindfulness" and “being mindful”, but hearing mindful together with the skill of listening intrigued me.

There were 50 people in the training session.  When the facilitator asked us if we practiced mindful listening, no one put their hand up.  Sadly, we all agreed that we do not listen well, and certainly do not practice mindful listening.  


Would you agree that you could be a better listener?  How often have you had a conversation with student and thought that you were paying attention only to realize shortly afterwards that you couldn’t remember what he/she said?  Or perhaps you got distracted while your student was speaking and missed what was really being said.  

Communication expert Rebecca Shafir suggests that the average person can remember only 25 percent of what someone has said, just a few minutes after a conversation!


I know I am guilty of “half listening”.  The fact that I actually have a name for it means that I have “half-listened” or felt that someone was only half-listening to me!  I know that on more than one occasion, I wasn't listening.  At the end of a class, I may be tired or hungry, and really not giving the student the full attention that he or she deserves).

I can come up with several OTHER excuses as to why I was only half-listening to a student such as:

1. I had to rush off to another class

2. a teacher was waiting to use the classroom after me

3. students for the next class were coming into the room

4. there was a line-up of students wanting to talk to me

In these situations, it is easy to feel rushed but “mindful listening” cannot be rushed.  Our students deserve being listened to.

So what exactly is mindful listening?

Mindful listening means paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and being non-judgmental.  The goal of mindful listening is to silence the internal noise of your own thoughts, so that you can hear the whole message, and so that the speaker feels understood.  How would you rate yourself? 

There are three key elements of mindful listening that you can use to improve your listening skills to develop a better rapport with students and help them with what they need to succeed as learners.

1. Be Present

When you listen mindfully, your focus should be on the person you are listening to, without distractions.  This means that we should not be packing up our books or notes, or shutting down our computer.  Instead we need to listen to what the student in saying, and this requires 100% focus.

2. Give yourself Time

Ask the student if they would like to set up a time to meet you in your office.  This would give you uninterrupted time and privacy where you can focus on listening.

3. Cultivate Empathy

We often see the world through the lens of our own experiences, personality and beliefs. When we are empathetic, we can understand a situation from someone else's point of view.   Mindful listening helps us to be more empathetic. 


In my experience teaching international students and new immigrants, I have discovered that I may be the only person that the student knows!  I have never experienced loneliness like I did when I moved to Hong Kong so my own experience reminds me of the importance of being empathetic, listening to others – truly listening AND connecting!

Not only does mindful listening help us to retain information (remember the stat at the beginning of this blog) but helps us to pay attention for a longer period of time.  Also repeat back what you believe the student said to you so you can verify what you heard (this also models good communication skills). Remember if we are talking, we aren’t listening!

As part of the workshop last week-end, we had several opportunities to practice mindful listening.  When I completely focused on what the other person was saying, then repeated it back, and received positive confirmation that I heard what was said accurately, it was an incredible experience.  I would like to hear your own stories of using mindful listening with your students.

Thanks for reading. Patrice


Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A. TESL has 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada and Hong Kong. She has taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, Corporate Training and language programs for new immigrants. Patrice now works as a teacherpreneur doing the things that she loves such as writing courses, instructional coaching and travelling at any time of the year.

If you are an ESL/EFL teacher, please visit my website for free resources




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