Deep Listening – Your Next Christmas Gift?

I enjoy spending time in our campus high school classes.  I swing through as often as I can.  At first, students look at me like, “Ok, who is in trouble?”  But,

I am rarely there for discipline.  I am there for encouragement and support.

I enjoy knowing what is happening in classrooms from the perspective of our students and from the perspective of our staff.

I love seeing how Mr. Goodman brings out a student’s inner-artist; how Miss. Maxwell prepares her grade 8s for the Medieval Feast; how Mr. Dorie runs a class discussion; how Mr. Hayden pushes his students to consider the example of Daniel – a scholar dedicated to God, profound in knowledge among his culture.  I could go on for all our staff – highlighting the meaningful skills and attributes they bring to our Heritage team.

But I would like to take time now to highlight an activity that Mrs. Dyck, our new high school Humanities teacher, is doing in her classes.

The activity is called Socratic Circles.  In a nutshell, the Socratic Circle is a tool used to facilitate group discussion and to develop deep listening skills.  The group prepares for dialogue on a specific topic.  The participants arrange themselves into one of two groups: the inner circle for discussion, or the outer circle for listening and feedback.

Socratic Circles in action

Socratic Circles in action

For more information, I’ve written a blog post on Socratic Circles here.  It was written mostly by Mrs. Dyck and it explains this process in greater detail.  Or, ask a grade 9 or 10 student for their feedback.  Also, here is a nice .pdf I found on google that outlines a Socratic Circle.

So, why am I highlighting Socratic Circles?  I wonder if in our Social Media culture – full of connectedness, instant information, text-communication, and digital popularity, might we be losing our ability to listen?  Students in Mrs. Dyck’s classes are learning to truly listen, reflect, and respond.

I know they are learning because (no offence to our grade 9 & 10 students) they are not doing the Socratic Circles very well.  I have observed 4 class discussions using this tool and I have yet to see a true discussion.  It appears to be a discussion…because students are speaking one-at-a-time…and because they are all politely waiting their turn to speak.  But, when they do speak, instead of reflecting and building on the previous statement, they offer a new idea to consider.  Although this contains the mechanics of dialogue, this is not true dialogue.

Socratic Circles are very difficult.  Our students are finding them difficult because they must listen, reflect, and respond to move the original topic further.  They cannot simply jump in with a new direction.  They must listen deeply to be able to build clarity and understanding.  It is called a Socratic Circle because the underlying tool moving the dialogue forward is simply this:

Asking Questions

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  I know this verse speaks to Paul fulfilling Christ’s call in his life.  But I can relate the first words, “Not that I have already obtained all this,” relating to my own listening.  I have so much to learn.  I am so selfish in my time with others – wanting to get my points across.

To test your listening awareness, consider these questions:

  • Do you notice when someone jumps into a conversation and takes it over?

  • Do you notice when someone cuts someone else off mid-sentence, or finishes their sentence for them?

  • Do you notice others waiting for someone to finish what they are saying so they can say what they’ve been waiting to say?

  • …now try with the questions above with ‘you’ as the subject…

I’ve got a few people in my life that, when I finish a conversation with them, I realize I have not found out anything more about them.  Without knowing it, I’ve done all the talking…because they have asked all the questions.  Hmm, it’s no surprise why I enjoy talking with them…

This Christmas season, will we take time to truly listen to those around us?  Could we ask God to open up one conversation for us – to give us one chance to listen deeply?  Could we commit to listening deeply to one person?  I believe this deep listening could be a wonderful gift to someone this Christmas.

In closing, I am reminded of a timeless quote from Stephen Covey.  It so effortlessly captures why relationships and listening are so hard to develop.

“(With people) if you want to save time, don’t be efficient.  With people, slow is fast and fast is slow.”

May we give the gift of deep listening to someone this Christmas season.


  1. Hi Paul
    I sooo love what your students are being encouraged to do in this exercise. Listening is an art! It requires all of us to take time out of the day to hear each other and most importantly His voice. When we choose to make our voices or opinions felt over others we will never stay in tune with what God wants us to hear. Knowing that I am just as guilty as the rest in terms of seeking my own righteousness before others, I do believe this is a good practice in humility. Thank you for encouraging your staff and students to share this practice, and for the great article! PS all part of book club awareness too!! Blessings Pippa


    • Thanks for your comment, Pippa. Yes, I too am thankful that our students are learning to listen deeply. I am currently working on part 2 of Socratic Circles on my personal blog and am trying to identify ‘why’ our students are struggling with this activity. I’ve seen them live in Socials 9, English 10, and Thursday I will watch a Socratic Circle in the History 12 class. I am intrigued by this tool, and I desire that students take meaningful elements from it and apply them to other areas of their lives. Hmm, we all have so much to learn.
      Like we say around the Learning Commons, “Too much learning going on, too much learning!”
      Thanks again, Pippa. Paul


  2. Great post, Paul. I especially liked your point that “[you] know [the kids] are learning because…they are not doing the Socratic Circles very well.” That is a good reminder for me as I can often feel frustrated by the lack of real listening and thus, the lack of learning. One of the most valuable questions I can ask myself is why I am doing something. I have found that with Socratic Circles, it is easy to answer that question. Listening and reflecting are skills worth developing, they are worth practicing, even when students (we?) don’t do them very well.


    • Yes, these are skills worth teaching, and worth learning. Bri, imagine how your SCs went in October compared to how they will go in May. That will be a great test, or testimony, to what these students have grown in.
      As you typed ‘worth developing’, it made me sit back and consider if there are things we ‘teach’ at school that simply aren’t that important. I mean, are there elements of schooling that is simply teaching kids to jump through the hoops, put in your time, memorize the answers, etc? You’ve challenged me to make a list about central things at our school that are ‘worth developing’. Thanks for pushing me to think about that, and thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Paul


  3. I really think that something worth developing into written content as a response, should be based on deeper thought, brainstorming and then reflection with peers. Too often teachers assign written assignments without prior discussion or reflection as a means of assessment, but really many students could be assessed orally as in this case. I am wondering whether such socratic circles will be used as a means of assessment? Many classrooms are still teacher centric in means of assessment and not student centric, and this looks to me more like a student centric classroom.


    • Yes, Pippa. Socratic circles are a part of my assessment in all classes. I don’t buy into the rigor myth. Increased difficulty is not synonymous with increased value. When I reflect on my own learning, Some of the “easiest” classes I have taken were also the most valuable. My goal in all of my classes is that students would see that “English” or “Social Studies” isn’t just about the obvious content. These classes are about how to live well, how to listen, how to communicate, how to think critically and compassionately about the world.


  4. And Paul. That’s awesome! Reminds me of our brief chat about history today. What questions can we ask about education, about learning, about skill development? And as always, the even bigger question we must ask ourselves is, “do we even ask ourselves these questions?”


  5. HI Bri,
    Thanks for the excellent thoughts regarding your assessment. Great to know that quality and oral assessment is all part of the “enjoyment” of a particular class. 🙂 Merry Christmas!


  6. Reblogged this on eduglean and commented:

    I originally typed this for our Heritage December newsletter, and posted it on our Learning Commons blog. The more I consider dialogue, the more I’m forced to admit my inability to master the art of conversation. Questions are such a key – good questions that open meaning. May this post find you with someone to ‘ask’ this Christmas.



  1. […] Deep Listening – Your Next Christmas Gift? ( […]


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