When I started doing “Special Person” student interviews I had an interviewing model in mind. It was Oprah. Having that model in my head helped me to keep me on track in rambling interviews with kids that didn’t even know what they wanted to share.

And Oprah was a good example. She could show that she cared and that she wanted to listen. I would imagine Oprah and use her body language and earnest questioning style with students in my classroom.

Having a current model is even more necessary now as I try to explain the technique to teachers from all over the country who are seeing the value of interviews and are asking questions on how to do them. I keep explaining but what people really need is a good model. In hindsight I realize that the Oprah model is not the right fit for what works best in Special Person interviews. That style seems a bit pedantic for today’s students; too willing to preach and share her opinions.

So I looked for a model to help explain the ideal Special Person interviewing style. I searched on the AM radio dial and on cable TV. Many popular hosts have some sort of appeal. I am not talking about content here, but style. I tried to lay aside the left or right politics (if that is possible inn an election year) and focus on the way they interact with their guests.

All of these interviewers are at the top of their game and have big audiences, so they must be doing something right. But Rush Limbaugh is too bombastic, Dave Ramsey is too eager to call people idiots and Bill Maher is too snarky. There had to be somebody out there that would fit the tone I was looking for.

George NooryAnd I finally found one that works: George Noory. You may not recognize the name, but you know who I am talking about. He is the guy on late night AM talk radio—the one who interviews UFO abductees, vampires, Bigfoot witnesses, economists, politicians and other kooks.

It seems like anyone can call in to George Noory’s show. And he gets some doozies. He has some call-in guests on that are completely off the wall. Nothing they’re saying could possibly be real. Some of them are clearly delusional. But he pays full attention to his guests. He lets wacky comments slide by. He asks questions with wonder in his voice. And he listens. He patiently listens to all of his callers. He listens without judgement so that they can talk.

By the end of an interview, which lasts until the caller is done (however long that takes), you feel like the caller has told his story; that he feels listened to, that somebody has finally heard him out. There is something satisfying about that.

This ability to make people feel like they have had an opportunity to tell their story, to paint us a picture of who they are (or who they want to be), to listen without judgement is rare, but it is one that I believe we can cultivate with our students.

This is the model I a focusing on now as I do student interviews. If you are having trouble finding your mojo with student interviews, I suggest you tune into George Noory for a couple of nights and see if it might work for you. Works for me.