Teaching involves a waiting stance like that of the psychoanalyst. You have to take the wanting out of the waiting... What is the waiting for?
The phrase 'taking the wanting out of the waiting', from this article by Dick Tahta, has stuck with me. How often do we wait without wanting?
When putting my daughter to bed, I used to be anxious for her to settle down to sleep. I have recently become more patient, I wait without wanting. I have found that this stance has dissipated tensions.
If, as JG Bennett suggests, the human organism is a 'special cosmic apparatus for the transformation of energy', then she will need time to let the mind quieten, so that she can allow conscious energies to transform the sensitive energies as she sleeps.
So I sit, and wait, letting my mind quieten too.
When listening to someone speak, how often are you just waiting for your turn to speak?
What might we gain by taking the wanting out of the waiting during a conversation?
The next time you have a conversation, ask yourself whether you are listening with or without wanting to speak.
Are you tempted to interrupt before they have finished? What might be different if you waited until they have finished? I have talked to a number of people recently who have admitted they regularly interrupt others, especially their loved ones. I wonder what the consequences of this might be over the long term.
I am interested what we could learn from silent waiting as practiced by Quakers:
The right to speak is a call to the duty of listening. Speech has no meaning unless there are attentive minds and silent hearts. Silence is the welcoming acceptance of the other.
I recently attended an ATM working group on educating awareness, and was struck by the unspoken agreement that all would silently wait and listen while others finished speaking. This way of being has had a profound effect on me.
I have since been exploring silent waiting in interactions with people and groups recently. It is something that people are not comfortable with, are not used to, and yet it provides valuable time to think, to reflect.
The importance of listening in the (maths) classroom was explored in detail in Brent Davis' wonderful book Teaching mathematics: Towards a sound alternative. He has also written about these ideas here:
Listening [is] an activity of openness, humility, caution and trust... Listening cannot be silent; it is itself a kind of speaking, a means of probing and checking emerging understandings... Indeed, we can only know if the other is listening if she responds in some way... Listening is not a solitary act, it is a reciprocal engagement.
In her book The challenge to care in schools, Nel Noddings describes the waiting-listening relation between two people using the term engrossment:
By engrossment I mean an open, non-selective receptivity to the cared-for. The engrossment or attention may last only a few moments, but it is full and essential in any caring encounter.
The word attention is often used to describe this characteristic, as in this from excerpt from Simone Weil's Waiting for God:
The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth. Only he who is capable of attention can do this.
There are religious overtones here, but there need not be. Perhaps, though, there is something of the spiritual.
We have adopted the values of receptivity and attentiveness into our departmental values. We feel both words are required as receptivity is an open-ness into oneself, whereas attentiveness suggests a motivation towards another, two directions of the reciprocity of listening.
Perhaps we might add something about a propensity to wait.
It takes energy to listen, to direct one's attention, as described by JG Bennett in this lecture on listening:
If we want to keep our attention consciously, purposely focused on what is being said, we need [sensitive] energy... it's very difficult to listen constantly to what is being said. It cannot be done. It is also not necessary to do it.
When I'm speaking about the study of listening I'm not meaning that there's some kind of obligation or merit in listening all the time. But that one should be able to listen and gradually by training to improve one's attention. That is certainly possible.
Given that it requires energy to listen, what are the implications of this for our teaching, and for our expectations of our students? What do we gain by demanding students 'pay attention' for long periods of time?
Bennett suggests it might be beneficial to take the wanting out of listening:
There are surprisingly many things that will come of themselves if we just let them. This you learn by listening. If you try to listen by force, you have very little chance of listening to more than fifteen or twenty seconds. If you listen by relaxation, by not trying to listen, by not making an effort to listen, it can go on for a long time.
This brings to mind this from Gert Biesta on the (existential) implications of passive and constructivist models of knowing:
To think of knowing as an ‘event’ of reception rather than as an ‘act’ of construction positions us very differently in relation to the world... When we think of knowing as reception the world does not ‘appear’ as an object that is at our disposal but rather as ‘something’ that comes to us. Knowing then is not an act of mastery or control, but can perhaps better be described as a process of listening to the world...
It is particularly important here to ponder the difference between listening and being addressed. Whereas listening starts from the self who opens his or her ear in order to listen, the experience of being addressed comes from the ‘outside’ to us, so to speak, and in a sense ‘asks’ us to respond.
We are all aware of Mary Row's research into wait time. This is a step towards a more listening stance, but might I suggest something deeper, more fundamental, is required?
Taking the wanting out of waiting (for an answer) could alter how classroom interactions take place. is it really necessary to count the clock when waiting for a response?
What other implications might taking the wanting out of waiting have for teaching?
I am reminded of a very brief CPD presentation one of my colleagues, Katy, gave earlier this year. Aware that I am presenting her words in my voice, she described how her relationships with three difficult students has been improved through patiently working/talking with them in order to make them aware, to bring them to a realisation, of the consequences of their actions.
We have talked since about the dilemma between allowing the space for students to come to this realisation over time, and the independence / positive relationships that result, as opposed to the possible need to 'force' this realisation more quickly.
This has formed the basis of our departmental work on the distribution of authority, of the dimensions of dialogue, time and space, in our decision making.
Can taking the wanting out of the waiting improve our practice, and, perhaps more fundamentally, our relationships with others?