I passed around a simple and great Talk from TED Global in Edinburgh this July. The talk was by Julian Treasure on listening.  
The talk resonated with something I’ve been out to master since I did the Landmark Forum in 2002 especially as a professor–actually being present and learning how to share with my students being present to each and every no matter what class or class size.
We hear so much more than just what is sonically happening around us when we are present. Sometimes I can anticipate, from the pattern sensing we have as sentient human beings, what is about to happen in keen ways that seem magical.
One of my students said after the first week of classes two years ago, “You’re the Oracle!” with great fanfare and mystification behind his expression like he’d been trying to figure out who I reminded him of. The Oracle from The Matrix. Actually, it’s not magic or some prophetic skill. It is just really listening. And as a professor I expect, no actually I demand, that each and every person listening in my class of 20, 32 or 95 be responsible for hearing not just the professor but to each and every person who shares in the classroom. I also expect them to listen to what is “unsaid but communicated” in our communication.
I’m not talking about listening to lectures and guests like TEDsters RuthAnn and Bill Harnisch who both captivated the listening of my anthropology students at Baruch. Bill is an alum who shared an amazing rags to riches story so quietly and eloquently. I will never forgot it and neither have they as I have been told by many. They listened that day like no other. That was a few weeks after  attended TED2009 in Long Beach so my normal listening of what’s possible and what being in the world actually could be had altered dramatically. So I truly appreciated Treasure’s gift today.

This TED Talk really had me reach back and listen to what I’ve gotten from enrolling my students in the practice of listening with integrity. Mostly students are taught not to listen since most professors don’t listen to them. We model “not listening” rather than the opposite. “I don’t wanna hear your excuse, do your work!” vs. “I got what your clinging to about being late, but I promise you your excuse is getting in the way of your greatness, great one!” The latter creates a much different …. listening for work and for being great and for…listening for what’s truly possible.

When students in an anthropology, racism, or hip-hop class (I teach all three), first start interacting in my classroom, I often remind them of what listening with integrity means. Treasure’s TED Talk inspired me to list ideas I have never articulated clearly before.
  1. Listening to what someone says without adding or taking anything away.
  2. Listening without interruption in a dialogue or debate
  3. Listening without judgment or without judging a book by its cover (an essay by it’s limited words, a book by one chapter, a student by one comment, a teacher by one conflict)
  4. Listening for what’s below rather than what’s wrong
  5. Listening for questions not answers to find your own answers.
Pick any one to practice in any class session and you’ll see a difference. What you get will not be the same as your neighbor. It’s your listening, not theirs and not the teacher’s that matters. This is the difference between hearing and listening and I can say more about that.
[…Pick up here from my TedFellows post]
I’ve always told my students you say you heard me but were you really listening? There is a big difference between hearing and listening. Before I began this practice, students would often retort “I was listening!” or “I heard you!”  If we took a moment as a class, which I have done often, to notice, we all began to recognize  that students, as well as the teacher, are not really listening to one another. We like to say we are to avoid looking bad about not distinguishing the difference. Avoiding looking bad is more important in the classroom when being evaluated than actually stopping to get what was really being said or to even tease out what the distraction might have been. Sometimes it was me misstating a thought or not fully prepared with the presentation of some idea or concept.
It takes something to hear all that as a student and as a professor. Who taught the professors? I didn’t learned it in undergrad or grad school. It takes something to not get hooked on the resistance we all have to being wrong. Listening is a deep event in our lives and what Treasure said is true in the UK is equally if not more so true among arrogant Americans, we are not trained in listening, especially in colleges and universities. Most of the time we…let me speak for myself here, I am not listening, I am paying attention to my thoughts about what’s happening. I am not paying attention at all, and I am not present.
We professors could start to admit that we are training over 18 million students in the United States in colleges and universities to “not listen”. And we are doing that very well!

We are not even listening to our higher selves–that think you dream of doing or being that could lead to ideas and events that could change the world. Not a lot of that coming out of the over 6500 institutions of higher learning in the United States.
I am working on a 10 minute talk for the upcoming #140EDU Twitter conference led by Jeff Pulver and being attended by some amazing Twitterati in my world of education. What if academics became better listeners to what is wanted and needed not out there in the world in our eyes, but inside the classroom twinkling in the hearts and minds of adults sitting right before us?
What would we have to listen FOR instead of protect against for that to be revealed? One thing I am exploring for my talk is how we listen to “integrity” as cheating and how we listen to “privacy” as invasion and impose that listening on to young adults who most need to learn to be curious (risk-takers) and courageous (bold in new thinking). But that kind of listening requires the same from us as professors. Letting go of all the usual noise about students and their behavior and creating something new from the silence that emerges.
As the Oracle says in one scene in Matrix Reloaded. “We are all hear to do what we are all here to do. I am interested in one thing, Neo. The future.” I cannot tell students, adults, what their future is. But it’s my job, my mission in life, to listen. That’s what I’m professin’.
COME LISTEN!: Kyra Gaunt-Palmer will be voicing off on students-as-adults and higher resignation at 2pm on Aug 3rd at the 92nd St Y in NYC /  #140EDU


Kyra D. Gaunt-Palmer, Ph.D.
2009 TED Fellow
Associate Professor at Baruch College-CUNY
Voicing “the unspoken” through song, scholarship and social mediahttp://kyraocityworks.com



  1. THIS is the way CHANGE, SUBSTANTIAL and FORMATIVE erupts in our classrooms; into the world. If I imagine this happening in classrooms EVERYWHERE I can’t stay in my seat. Oh girl, I gotta get up and walk around some…

  2. Thanks so much Lindsay!! I’m walkin, yes indead, and I’m talking transformation of higher ed where students are consumers of their own productivity and their greatness is honored from day one. It need not be earned. There is nothing they have to do, no grade they need to get, to get that I know who they are…anything is possible for them and for me.

  3. “Listening for what’s below rather than what’s wrong”

    This transforms classrooms relationships, this transforms lives.

    I’ve read it over and over, and was not fully grasping, but knowing I was missing something. I had not realized that these words apply to our thoughts, as well, the words swirling in the chaos of our minds.

    A lot of people get this–took me a long tome to get there.

    Thank you for changing this life.

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