Learner-Tutor Relationships and the Importance of Listening

Listenby Emily Davidson Nemoy, Literacy Tutor

When you listen to someone completely, you hear the whole of what he or she is saying. Not just the words—but also the feelings and thoughts behind them. You are trying to understand the other person, even if you don’t agree with him or her.

I began tutoring with the Nashville Adult Literacy Council more than two and a half years ago in hopes of finding a way to give back to the community. As a writer, I’ve always been a big reader and a huge fan of the written word, so volunteering with the NALC seemed like a natural fit for me. Having no tutoring experience, I was more than a little nervous at my first meeting with a learner. I was relieved that a staff member from the NALC was there to introduce us and help establish a learning plan.

Initially, the learner who I was paired up with was standoffish. We have a nearly 30 year age difference between us, and I’m sure he was wondering how this was going to work. What could the two of us possibly have in common? Learning a new skill can feel very daunting—especially with someone you don’t know.

Over time, we have established trust and developed a good rapport and we have discovered that we have a shared love of music. In between our hard work, we trade Johnny Cash lyrics back and forth line-for-line. We now have memberships to the Country Music Hall of Fame and are finding ways to work its newsletters, exhibits and family guides into our lesson plans. My learner has graduated from one book to the next, met all of his initial goals and set new ones. I too have learned a lot—not just about teaching or the fact that one in eight adults in Nashville cannot read—but also about the importance of connection, commonality and listening.

In the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Full, present listening shows that you’re interested. It offers a wonderful opportunity to provide encouragement and express empathy. Listening builds respect and affirms dignity. It is a powerful tool in establishing a connection within the learner-tutor relationship.

What has helped you establish a connection with your learner?

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