Actively Listening and Building Trust with Students

Tips To Encourage the Development of Trust 

  • Make communication positive, clear, and specific.
  • Recognize that each individual sees things from a different point of view.
  • Be open and honest about your feelings and accept others feelings.
  • Ask questions for clarification on an issue.
  • Learn to listen. Allow time for the student to talk without interruptions.

Active Listening Skills

Active listening is an essential skill. One of the most common mistakes mentors can make is confusing hearing and listening. Hearing is merely noting that someone is speaking. Listening, however, is making sense of what is heard and requires the individual to constantly pay attention, interpret, and remember what is heard. Hearing is passive; listening is active. The passive listener is much like a tape recorder. If the speaker is providing a clear message, the listener will probably get most of what is said. For teaching artists, this is not enough. They must be active listeners. Active listening requires the listener to hear the words and identify the feelings associated with the words. Teaching artists should be able to understand the speaker from his or her point of view. There are four essential requirements for active listening:

  1. Intensity
  2. Empathy
  3. Acceptance
  4. Willingness to take responsibility for completeness

An active listener concentrates on what the speaker is saying. The human brain is capable of handling a speaking rate six times that of the average speaker. Thus, the listener must focus on the speaker. Tuning out distractions will increase listening ability (Robbins, 1991).

Suggestions for Improving Active Listening Skills

Make Eye Contact: Lack of eye contact may be interpreted as disinterest or disapproval. Making eye contact with the speaker focuses attention, reduces the chance of distraction, and is encouraging to the speaker.

Exhibit Affirmative Nods and Appropriate Facial Expressions: The effective listener shows signs of being interested in what is said through nonverbal signs. Together with good eye contact, non-verbal expressions convey active listening.

Avoid Distracting Actions or Gestures: Do not look at other people, play with pens or pencils, shuffle papers, or the like. These activities make the speaker feel like the listener is not interested in what is being said.

Ask Questions: Questioning helps ensure clarification of what the speaker is saying, facilitates understanding, and lets the speaker know that the listener is engaged.

Paraphrase: Paraphrasing means restating what the individual has said in different words. This technique allows the listener to verify that the message was received correctly.

Avoid Interrupting the Speaker: Allow the speaker to complete their thought before responding, and do not anticipate what he/she will say.

Do Not Talk Too Much: Talking is easier than listening intently to someone else. An active listener recognizes that it is impossible to talk and listen acutely at the same time.

Suggestions for Providing Positive Feedback

Focus on providing positive feedback. Negative feedback can inhibit the student from talking freely and usually meets more resistance. Positive feedback, however, is typically met with acceptance.

Focus on Specific Behaviors: Avoid vague, general statements like, “You did a good job” or “That was a really bad decision”. Instead, provide information that tells why you feel what you expressed. For instance, “You had a great class today. I liked the way you helped your friends clean up the paint station.”

Keep Feedback Goal Oriented: Make sure statements are relevant to what the speaker is saying.

Keep Feedback Well Timed: Providing immediate feedback is much more effective than comments given at a later time.

Ensure Understanding: Just as it is important for listeners to understand the speaker, it is also important for listeners to be understood by the speaker. Asking the student to rephrase what has been said helps to ensure confirmation (Robbins, 1991).

Effective communication requires practice.

Modified from: Baylor University’s Community Mentoring for Adolescent Development

Kate Adams About Kate Adams
Kate Adams is an artist, teaching artist, and mom. As a Marwen staff member she oversees Marwen’s teaching artist professional development, student assessment, and program evaluation. Through her artwork she explores concepts of home, generations and change. You can reach her at

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