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Listening to the Music — and Our Environment

By Mary Jo Katras, Program Leader — Family Resiliency

Daughters Sophia (9) and Josie (6).
Two of my daughters have taken Suzuki violin lessons for the past five years. One main tenet of the Suzuki method has resonated with me over the years and is applicable to the ways we work in Extension.

At the center of the Suzuki method is the tenet, "All people can learn from their environment.” Recently, my daughters’ violin teacher Susan shared the importance of environment. She said that every time she is in an orchestra practice or performance, she learns from those around her. It is not only about listening to the music around her, but rather the nuances of the piece and the roles of different instruments throughout the song. She emphasized that it takes practice to become a good listener to those around you and that the more you put yourself in that environment, the better your listening skills become.

In our work in Extension, we learn from our environment — from those around us in our offices and in the community. The more we listen, the more we will hear resulting in stronger partnerships and programming.

We have the opportunity to learn and immerse ourselves in our communities every day. It is so important for us to look to our environment to learn about the strengths and barriers of a community. During the Health and Nutrition event last week, we immersed ourselves in different neighborhoods in the Twin Cities metro area that allowed us to learn from our environment, to observe the nuances of a community that influence residents’ ability to make healthy choices around food and physical activity. Were there sidewalks and parks? Community gardens? Corner stores? Advertising? I encourage you to “walk” in the environments that you work and live in, and listen for those nuances.

Listening is a critical skill in our work in Extension. In my new role as program leader, I have done a lot of listening. It is critical to listen in all our surroundings, whether we are meeting with our project teams, colleagues from other program areas or centers, or community members. Just as my daughters must work to build their listening skills in their musical environments, so must we in the work we do every day.
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