Published on February 18, 2022

If you are anything like me, you struggle to “say the right thing” with your children when they have a problem or come to you for advice. Rarely are the conditions optimal for that tricky conversation: rarely is everyone well-rested with no work or homework pressures and limitless time to dedicate to the conversation. Quite the opposite, often our children need us to most when we are tired, busy, and faced with competing priorities.

It is similar in the classroom and workplace: the trickiest and most necessary conversations become urgent when we have the least amount of time and headspace to dedicate to them. However, the capacity to disengage from what feels urgent and re-engage with what is important is a necessary skill.

Most of us know about Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Coveys’ Time Matrix.


Our goal is to move from the reactive space of urgency – we often spend too much time in quadrant one – and get into that important space where we focus on prevention, relationship building, forward planning, future-focused thinking and renewal.

Taking the time to cultivate the art of listening, and investing time in having important conversations, places us firmly in quadrant 2. Cultivating the art of listening involves building our capacity to:

  • Put aside our preferred outcome and ways of thinking.
  • Be open to other ideas.
  • Listen deeply – pausing to allow the other person to speak, paraphrasing to check for understanding, asking questions that invite the other person to open up and share, and speaking from a place of mutual respect and integrity.
  • Set an intention to listen and learn.
  • Acknowledge what we don’t know or are unable to do.
  • Empower the other person to find a solution themselves.

We can’t always be in this space of deep listening and engagement with our co-workers, family members, friends, and children. But we want to spend most of our time there because when we do, there are fewer urgent issues vying for our attention. Time spent just being present with our children, and our students, and listening to them enables them to feel heard and valued and supports powerful learning. We need to spend most of our time in quadrant 2, so our students (and children) learn from us and experience agency in their learning journeys. Ultimately, we want to spend most of our time in quadrant 2 and cultivate the art of listening because it keeps us out of quadrant 1.

As the new Principal, my goal is to steer us towards quadrant 2 as much as possible while managing quadrant 1 issues as they arise. My goal also is to cultivate the art of listening and look for opportunities to engage in dialogue across the community. I look forward to doing this with you!

Rebecca Butterworth

Rebecca Butterworth

Rebecca is the Principal of Hunter Valley Grammar School. She has a Masters of Education, International Education from Monash University, a Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the Queensland University of Technology and a Bachelor of Arts, History and English from the University of Tasmania.