The Sound of People Listening


Reading psychological articles, the consensus seems to be that communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and 7% the actual words spoken.  Words and alternatively the absence of them are so powerful.  Some people choose their words very carefully, while others aren’t listening to what the other person is saying because they are already thinking of a reply.  

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten was written by Robert Fulghum in 1986. I believe his words of wisdom still apply today. In my own Kindergarten classroom, I often tell my children that I can tell that they are listening because they are looking at me. I don’t call it active listening, but I am trying to instill those habits in a child friendly way.  Mr. Potato Head helps. Teaching good listening skills and empathy are often intertwined.

Mr. Potato Head

Dancing to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” at fraternity parties, I never would have guessed that the song would lead to a teachable moment about empathy in my Kindergarten classroom.

Boy: Oh my God, look at her butt!

Girl: Mrs. McAfee! He said look at my butt!

Me: Can you both please come see me?

Boy: No, I didn’t! I was singing the song from the movie Sing.

Me: Yes, I know, you’re not in trouble. Look at her face though. Does she look happy?

Boy: No

Me: Can you please tell her you are sorry you made her sad?

Boy: I’m sorry. I was singing the song from the movie.

Girl: I haven’t seen that movie.


This five minute interaction reminds me of one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits: Seek First To Understand Then to Be Understood. There were two sides to the story. I remember being grateful I had seen the movie and knew the song was featured. Poor boy may have been sent to the principal otherwise.

When I was vice president of the PTA of my daughter’s Catholic school, the then president told the story of jamming out to that song in the parent pick up line.  She was startled by the vice principal knocking on her car window.  My friend was causing a traffic jam by not paying attention.  You don’t mess with a faculty member of a Catholic school in the carpool line.  If “Baby Got Back” is not your cup of tea, I respect your opinion.  No judgement from me either way.  I admit I have it on my phone, it’s on my workout playlist.  

Sir Mix A Lot

My last day in my classroom was March 13, 2020.  Our planned Spring Break changed to Online Distance Learning within a week.  I am now teaching Kindergarten from my family room.  I don’t always rely on Sir Mix-A-Lot for instructional inspiration. I assigned these two books to the children to read at home last week. I’m proud of my students. They correctly identified the main topic of these books, friendship and being and kind to others. 


Stick and stone

I teach 19 little ones via a Schoology conference.  “Zoom Fatigue” is real. At the end of the day, I feel exhausted. I am getting more headaches. I often wonder how I can feel so tired after just sitting and talking on the phone or participating in a Schoology conference. Scrolling through Facebook, I saw an article about Zoom Fatigue. As primates, we look for facial cues in our interactions with other people. Although we can see and hear the person on the other side of the screen, it’s not the same as being with the person.  We are concentrating on hearing what the other person is saying, “I’m sorry. Can you repeat the last part?” Our brains are trying to keep up and process.

The BBC article “The reason Zoom calls drain your energy” can be found at this link,  BBC Worklife spoke to Gianpiero Petriglieri, “Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says Petriglieri. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,” he says. 


The article made me think about online communication in general. When someone sends a message or leaves a comment on any social media platform,  you can’t see the person’s facial expressions.  You can’t hear the tone of their voice.  When I first joined Twitter in 2014, I remember a friend said to me, “I can hear your voice on Twitter.” I’ve thought about that observation ever since, many times I think people feel emboldened on social media because they are anonymous behind the keyboard.  While the writer of the post or comment can’t be seen, they can be heard.  Sometimes you can’t hear tone in a text message, however if a person repeatedly posts the same type of message, I believe that you can hear their voice.  None of us are perfect.  I know I’ve posted things on social media that were misunderstood, and I’m glad the person that read it asked me what I meant.  

Self isolation has given me time to reflect and percolate. I think about the time my children and the children I teach spend on devices and in front of screens.  I watch my children panic at the thought of talking to someone on the phone.  I wonder if I have shown my Kindergarten kids and my own kids how to socialize with others appropriately.  I hope I have shown them empathy, kindness, politeness, and respect. Respect can be also be shown by listening to other people.  I have two versions of the song, “When You Say Nothing At All”  on my phone, the Ronan Keating version and the Keith Whitley version.  I keep reminding myself to give myself grace during this extraordinarily surreal time.  I am giving grace to others as well.  Stay safe and healthy dear readers.  

Thank you so much for reading!  

Jenny Mc

@jennymcinspired – Twitter