Talk Less

Black women sitting in a chair while a child kneels at an easel demonstrating the power of talk less and listen more.

” We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” 

Teachers, I’ve heard this expression come out of your mouths during instruction. And then, guess what you do after giving your students this sage advice: You talk… and talk… and talk. In most schools, where I work, teacher talk dominates classrooms. Research tells us that learning happens when students have the opportunity to process new information for themselves, either in the company of a peer or in their own minds. Yet, we persist in telling students the same thing over and over again for most of the lesson and give little space for them to process the information. Then at the end of the lesson, I hear the next words come out of your mouths: “Why don’t ya’ll get this? I told you at least a hundred times!”

 Uh, that might be the problem! 

Teaching ain’t talking, ya’ll! 

It’s knowing exactly what we want the students to grapple with, and then creating space for them to do just that. Grapple with new learning, turning it over, questioning it, theorizing, and trying it on. Now, here’s where the “two ears” (and eyes) come in. As students process new learning, 

be quiet. 



And THEN… ask questions (and try not to ask questions you already know the answer to). Maybe even give pointers (especially when we catch their misconceptions) as they’re processing information.

According to research, direct instruction should last no more than 15 minutes for most students. That’s the average attention span. So, this means the teacher talk that takes up most of the period falls on deaf ears. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that at the end of your lesson, chapter, or unit of study, you end up saying, “Why don’t ya’ll get this? I told you at least a hundred times!”

My work as a coach has helped me uncover why so many teachers talk so much in the classroom. Some teachers’ responses to the why do you talk so much? question have been

  • I talk because I’m not sure I’m presenting the information in “the right” way.
  • I talk because I don’t know how to “see” my kids’ thinking.
  • I talk because I don’t know what to do with the kids if they have long periods of independence.
  • I talk because I FEEL like I have more control of the classroom.
  • I talk because that’s what I think administrators expect.
  • I talk because my students engage with ME. They LIKE my personality and my 

    sense of humor.

  • I don’t always know how to SHOW them, so…
  • I’m not comfortable with silence.
  • When someone observes me, I use “talk” to wait them out. I keep talking, hoping they’ll leave and then I can move on with my “real” teaching.

If these reasons reverberate within you, then here are some things you might want to try:

  1. Start talking WITH your colleagues. Most of you have coaches, mentors, and peers, who are growing out of talking so much. Brainstorm and observe them. Come up with solutions and strategies and try them.
  2. Stop talking AT the kids and talk with your students. Ask:” How do I better support your thinking so that your voices are heard and so that you have enough time to process new information?”
  3. Spend time practicing your kid-watching skills. Uncover their specific strengths and struggles.
  4. Talk with your school leadership: Is there someone (like say, Clavis?) who can coach me so that I am more responsive to my students’ needs? 

I’m sure you’ve heard the song Aaron Burr, Sir from the Broadway Musical, Hamilton. As teachers, we could take some “free advice” and 

Talk less (What?)

Smile more (Ha)

Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for (You can’t be serious)

You wanna get ahead? (Yes)

Fools who run their mouths oft wind up dead.

Well, maybe not dead dead, but instructionally dead, physically, and emotionally drained. Depleted. Defeated. So that you don’t feel like you’re winding up dead in the water, take your own advice. 


Use two ears and one mouth. 

Listen twice as much as you talk.

Wanna get started with talking less and feeling “heard” by your students?

 Reach out! 

Conversation is Key

Experience the power of conversation to create transformation in your living, thinking…being. 



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