PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG Week: Listening Orientations by Erin D’Amelio

Hi everyone! I’m Erin D’Amelio, a consultant at McREL International. Even though I am in no way shape or form a listening expert, I hope that this little blog can serve as a starting point, or maybe a forum for us to share our individual knowledge, thoughts, and experiences related to listening and learn from each other. Because we all have been part of conversations that leave us feeling like we could have been listening or listened to better.

When people communicate, they intentionally and unintentionally bring in their family upbringing, educational background, community, culture, and attitudes, among other characteristics. As a result, everybody has a wonderfully unique pattern to their communication. At the same time, those patterns get amplified or diminished based on the context of the conversation. This is where listening orientations can come in.

Put simply, listening orientations is the idea that we listen for certain things during a conversation. This could look like listening for agreement, solutions (guilty!), ammo for a rebuttal, emotion… It really varies depending on the context, the conversation, and the people involved. This is important because our listening orientation influences how we pay and give attention, how we respond, and how we build relationships with others.

Let’s consider some examples:

  • A salesperson pitching a new edtech product is thinking about making a sale. So, s/he might be listening for confirmation from their prospective client. Anything that sounds remotely like agreement or interest (feigned or real) could be interpreted as a yes and potentially spell disaster for this relationship.
  • Leaders at a school district working with a consultant to develop a new plan to address literacy outcomes will most likely be listening for whether the consultant shows how s/he cares about their needs and context. If the consultant sounds like they have canned, generic strategies to support literacy practices, it seems likely that the district might put up some resistance throughout the process (or find a new consultant).
  • A teacher is worrying about providing the best math instruction for her/his students and reaches out to a colleague for support. Her/his colleague might be listening for understanding, curious about what s/he thinks the problem is and asking questions to get a better sense of what the teacher thinks the problem might be. By the end of the conversation, the teacher and colleague have worked out a possible solution while feeling like they have a built a strong relationship of trust and support.

Lessons Learned

Perhaps one of the most challenging– yet most important– aspects of working in education is relationships. Oftentimes it feels that the success of our work depends on it, as the above scenarios suggest. My colleagues and I at McREL International have and continue to spend time thinking about our listening orientations and how we can build trusting relationships with our clients and partners. Here are two main lessons learned from these conversations:

  • Shift our understanding of listening from a set of skills to a philosophy or process.
  • Begin conversations with curiosity.

Rad Resources

Like I said, I’m not a listening expert. Luckily, there are some folks out there who’ve done some awesome work on listening, including:

Also, we at McREL International resonated with this blog post about curiosity and listening.


The American Evaluation Association is hosting PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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