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How Holding Space Leads to Active Listening


A few years back I came across a phrase that has captivated me for some time. That phrase was “holding space.” A strange phrase, but nonetheless an important one. So, what is it? Holding space is the process of actively listening and bearing witness to someone else while conscientiously being present. It’s witnessing “what is,” without distraction or judgment. We listen openly and fully and allowing the teller (narrator) to orally tell their truths. And this is the Power of Active Listening.

A few years back, I was able to put this into practice with my paternal grandparents. I had the privilege of recording their oral histories before their passing. I heard so many wonderful stories from them growing up that I didn’t want to leave their personal histories untold. So, on a July afternoon, I sat down and held space with them and recorded their stories. It was one of the most powerful moments in my life. I was witnessing history unfold. I laughed with them, I cried with them, and I was angry with them. I was fully present and a synergy could be felt in the room.

So, when I became a History teacher I knew without question that I would have my students engage in oral history work and practice the power of active listening. I believe that conducting an oral history is a way for students to be conscientiously invested with the people in their lives and communities. As their teacher, it is important to me that they recognize the wealth of knowledge and experiences that are currently around them.

Picture of young people listening


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