The Power of Listening with Students
July 21, 2021

Introduction image for Angela Davies project

Angela Davies was on the 2020-2021 Community Listener Programme. Check out this link if you would like to become a Community Listener.

Angela is a teacher at Budmouth Academny in Weymouth. When she started her project she had ideas about setting up a Wellbeing Hub. She had to adapt her ideas due to Covid 19 and lockdown and set up an online wellbeing support chat page for staff – this was called ‘The Classroom’.

Her project evolved again when she realised her students needed addition support. She began to listen to them and was stunned at the positive response of students who had been listened to.

Here is Angela’s project in her own words.


My name is Angela Davies and for the past 13 years I have worked as a teacher of Business Studies and Economics at Budmouth Academy in Weymouth, Dorset.

Budmouth is a coastal comprehensive school and consists of approximately 2000 students ranging in ages from 11 to 18 and 180 staff members.

This is the community I chose to focus my project around.

What challenges did the community face?

Like most communities at the time they were dealing with issues surrounding:

  • COVID 19
  • Fear and isolation
  • Conflict
  • Pressure regarding exams or workload
  • Colleagues, friends and family
  • Stress caused by too many conflicting priorities, separation, and social media.

(In the beginning – November 2020 – December 2020) How did Wellbeing Listening support the community?

Initially, if I’m being honest, it didn’t!

I was positively awash with ideas. I had ideas about creating surveys, speaking to the head, meeting staff on a one-to-one basis, setting up a message board, collaboration with other staff, holding informal gatherings….. The list was endless!

What the staff actually wanted was to finish the term, have some well earned rest and enjoy Christmas with their families.

At this point I was feeling stuck, fed up and frustrated!

Please note: This last point was entirely due to over-thinking on my part (The Inner Compass would refer to this as red thinking) and I realised (eventually!) that I needed to stop over planning and analysing everything.

The moments of clarity… (The middle bit – January 2021 – February 2021)

As we entered the Christmas holiday period, and completely unrelated to the project, I had a conversation with a colleague (AKB) over the phone.

She was in a low state of mind and was demonstrating anxious thinking about lots of issues regarding both her work and personal life. During the call I truly, deeply listened to her. I heard her frustration, her anger and her worry.

As I listened, I noticed how during the course of the conversation she came down through her anxious (or red) thinking and settled back into her true state and by the end of the conversation she reported feeling calmer and better resourced.

This conversation wasn’t planned it just happened. Could the same principles be applied to my project.

The Staff Project (The middle bit – January 2021 – February 2021 continued)

The second national lockdown was announced and we, once again, found ourselves working from home.

Whilst still pondering, (but not over-thinking), how best to support staff I had an idea to adapt an online classroom entitled ‘What’s occurring in lockdown…’

My aim was to ensure that staff had a channel to reach out through or feel connected to one another. They could post pictures of meals they had cooked, walks they been on, wildlife in their garden, etc.

The feedback from staff

The feedback was lovely and included some of the following comments:

‘Whenever I start to feel stressed I stop what I am doing and look at all the lovely things my colleagues and friends have been up too. It always makes me smile!’ (JB)

“I love the fact that I can feel connected to the wider world and remember that I’m not doing this on my own!” (AC)

Via this classroom staff were able to take a moment out of their day and reconnect with themselves (Inner Compass call this our ‘inner diamond’) and help others do the same by posting positive comments about what they saw. Simple!

The student project

Along side the community project for the staff, I had started to receive emails from a number of my students who were finding the second lockdown challenging.

I started listening to them individually on a one-to-one basis as they discussed the worries and concerns that were occupying their minds.

I mentioned the work I had been doing with these students to our Student Support Centre and explained the Community Listening programme I was undertaking.

They believed the work I was doing had made a real difference and I now work with students, referred by the Support Centre, on a one –to – one basis once a week and I provide them with a safe and open space where they are truly listened to.

Email sample from one of my students

“Sorry I know it’s ridiculous and late but thought I would let you know I’ve deleted all my school apps because I can’t face it anymore. I have over 70 emails with stupid teachers asking me to do my work but not one is asking if I’m ok and coping with the work they’re all so thoughtless and dumb. The work they set takes so long and most of them have put 0 effort into it so probs takes them 30 seconds to set. I have so many missing tasks and work to do but if I go on google classroom I just cry so haven’t been on there for like a week. It’s honestly so pointless what’s the point I’m gonna get bad gcse grades which means bad job which means bad life so what is the point after I’ve sent this I’m deleting gmail because otherwise I will email all my thoughtless teachers telling them to go away. You are the only teacher that’s actually asked if I’m ok and managing with the work so Thankyou for that. My mums done the form thing for me to come into school but it scares me so much the thought of sitting there with a year I don’t even know all alone. I am aware I’m being so selfish right now because there are people dying that have no parents no friends no family no house so why do I feel this upset ? It’s so dumb. My mental health is just going down I knew it would but I just don’t know how to cope now. I have got everything so I am so selfish.”

Feedback from student and parent

“I got so much work done today my maths was on 2.2 hours now it’s nearly on 4 hours, I did a live lesson for English and some work on what we did, I did chemistry, biology and sport. Thankyou for coming in and helping me settle in.” (KS) student

“Hi I just wanted to say Thankyou for supporting L through her struggles…….. “(OB) parent

Feedback from staff on students

“Wow! What have you done to her?” (HL)

“It’s really solid progress as he hasn’t had a subject removal for almost two weeks.” (SL)

“He appears more settled in lessons and is attempting the work I set now.” (JC)

In addition to this feedback a number of staff have shown a genuine interest in the work I have been doing and have asked to become involved in some way.

What type of support did the community find helpful?

This was one of most enlightening parts of the project.

Despite my ideas and keenness to implement something tangible; the staff simply wanted a method/medium to engage and connect with each other. Not as professionals or colleagues but as their true selves.

The students needed a safe place to talk, reflect and most of all be listened to.

They needed to balance the pressure of catch up and the stress of the external environment with the understanding that they are so much more than they are feeling in the moment and that they don’t need to fix or be fixed.

Project engagement

The initial engagement was limited to me and one other member of staff!

We now have a cohort of 54 staff that are regularly involved with the classroom and two staff that help monitor and create material to post on the classroom.

I have three staff that have asked to become involved in the listening programme.

I am currently working on a one-to-one basis with four students that have been referred for behavioural reasons.

Project successes

Once my over-thinking had calmed and my natural resilience was in place the project ideas successfully flowed.

54 staff are still actively using the online classroom to connect and we are introducing new colleagues to the wider community through this medium now as well.

The students I am working with on a one-to-one basis are now attending school more regularly, the amount of negative behaviour points received by each student has fallen, they are spending less time in the subject removal room and they haven’t been isolated or excluded.

Project challenges

The biggest (and entirely unintentional) problem the project faced was my over-thinking!

Once I stopped worrying, analysing and engaging with my thinking I found a space from which my creativity grew. The fears and insecurities no longer dominated my decision making process and the realisation that what ‘felt right’ was worth a ‘test run’ became my default setting.

Next steps

Initially I thought the project would run for the academic year.

Now, however, it will run, evolve and grow and I am now seeing the potential for this project to become an integral part of the overall wellbeing programme within the school.

Colleagues have asked to learn more and are keen to become more involved themselves and as I reflect on this project I am pondering how we can change/improve the curriculum to incorporate the knowledge and share the understanding.

I am going to put forward a series of proposals to the Senior Leadership Team to identify where we can bring this insight into the wider curriculum.

Word cloud of words like calm, energy, coping, energyWhat was the impact?

Reconnecting staff and students with themselves – not the labels that they put on themselves, but who they truly are.

Providing staff and students space to be in a place of joy and well being.

Observing how my presence (and nothing more) can settle students.

Modelling the difference between listening (where we a focused on our own thinking) and deeply listening (where we are present with them).

Did I achieve what I set out to do?

Yes and No!

Yes, because I was able to initiate and implement a successful project that is making a real difference.

No, because the outcome was natural and organic not forced, or planned or organised in the way I thought it would be.


Angela Davies works at Budmouth School in Weymouth. She completed the Community Listener Programme between 2020-21. If you would like to become involved in Wellbeing Listener, please take a look at our programmes here.

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About Inner Compass

Liz Scott & Stu Newberry are trainers, coaches and speakers. They work with individuals and groups across the UK. They also help develop coaching cultures (founded on wellbeing) within schools and organisations.

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Our articles, podcasts and resources will help people like you find the language to share the Inner Compass (also known as the Inside-Out understanding) with others.

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