The Art of Listening Didactics

Back in 2015 I came across Otto Scharmer’s course about Theory-U at the presenting Institute at MIT. Exploring the mindset through presenting techniques provided some interesting reflections that inspired great dialogues with my colleagues. However, my journey has taken me elsewhere since and it had been a while since I had reflected on the ideas of Theory-U. That is, until I met Ute Franzen-Waschke who mentioned Otto’s work at the Symposium for Sustainability in Business Education, Research and Practice. Then yet again this week, as we were in dialogue with John Holmberg at Chalmers University about the transitions lab project that he has been working on, someone shared a link to Otto Scharmer’s five levels of listening. Mindset transformation may take a journey through several turns and bends and, at some point, circle back to where we started to reflect once again.

John Holmberg Explained the approach that was taken to begin the transition lab project, using 3 horizons thinking method to first establish what it was that they wanted to transform. To be able to provide a transformation of the education and its environment they first realised they needed to create a safe space within the system to work with a process that could be flexible with emerging needs. This first step rings true for so many that feel that there are risks for the lecturer when attempting new activities that don’t always end in positive outcomes. Examples such as introducing activities in a course or taking part in community events with different stakeholders were given as possible first steps. The didactics of teaching for sustainability could be a simple change in activity.

The next step is described as working with the tensions between where the education is now and where they want it to be. In this stage John Holmberg suggests it is best to experiment with activities that can intervene in the present system to work towards the transformation that is sought. As my didactics group dialogue about this stage, we have been reflecting on how to allow the transdisciplinary approach to emerge from within the system, through engaging students in their learning experiences.

At a mature stage, in the third horizon, teachers facilitate students through uncertainty, stepping back to allow for students to step up to listen and learn and understand that it is not about being an expert. Listening is key to facilitating transformations. This is where Otto Scharmer’s five levels of listening framework was referred to, and my reflections began a new loop.

In the didactics group, we considered how teachers need a safe space to try new activities, to experiment and intervene in the present system. It is important to allow for a space to address emerging needs and to not be afraid to try new approaches. To support colleagues in their journey towards education for sustainability, we can listen to the transdisciplinary approach that can create a space for transformation.

This week we would like to reflect on listening: Who have you been listening to recently? How can your active listening help support a colleague to connect their education to sustainability?

We would like to thank Mónika Rull Lundin and Emma Sjöberg from Helsingborg’s school and leisure administration for meeting with us to discuss how we can collaborate with schools in Helsingborg. It has been wonderful to listen to your passions for transformation towards a holistic education for sustainability. We are looking forward to our future collaborations and listening to your experiences in the South.

One response to “The Art of Listening Didactics”

  1. […] also met again with Emma Sjöberg and Mónika Rüll Lundin, from Helsingborg, as well as Karin Borman and Mats Hansson from […]


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