Asking Questions to Find Better Answers

In my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset,” I wrote about the importance of asking questions to challenge thinking:

As we consider what’s best for each learner, we must also think about how what we’re teaching will impact his or her future. For example, one question I have asked many educators is, “In our world today, what is a student more likely going to need to be able to write: an essay or a blog post?” This question pushes some people to a place of discomfort (which is the point), but it also makes them think about what’s relevant to today’s educational needs. It isn’t an either/or question. It is a question designed to make us think about why we do what we do. We need to ask more questions to provoke this type of thinking in education.

I have asked people this question, and sometimes, reluctantly, they say, “blog.” I encourage them NOT to say what they think I want to hear but to share what they believe and why they believe. Once that is made clear, they will often say, “both” and give reasons why each has a place to further learning for our students.  If I hear that, I will then ask, “Do you teach both?” and often the answer is “no” but you see the lightbulb go on and a shift in thinking occurs.  That is the hope in asking the question.

Or I could do this, “You need to teach blogging because of reason A, B, and C, but you only teach essays and kids are losing out on opportunities because of this.”  What is the long-term impact of making this statement as opposed to provoking thought with a question?

  1. They are mad about the seeming attack on what they are currently doing but change nothing.
  2. They see the challenge and may change their practice but with reluctance and guilt of not being good enough.

In either scenario, there is no real ownership and actually may do more to create short-term gain but with long-term damage to a relationship.

But when I ask a question, understand that the person answering is not the only one who has the opportunity to learn from the response.  I have listened to educators share reasons why the essay is way more important for their students because of specific goals that were unique to their communities, and within their answers, I was provided a perspective that I did not have access to by simply making a statement.  Both parties benefit when we ask questions to challenge thinking and then genuinely listen to the answer.

I have noticed this comment lately of “Pinterest-Perfect” classrooms, suggesting that some teachers are creating classroom environments that are more for Instagram than they are for the learners in their classroom, to gain fake Internet points.  I get the concern, but I have also seen complaints about classrooms that were too dreary, while other classrooms were too bright, creating this Goldilocks scenario that many educators feel they will never get “just right.”

With all this being said, I am not an expert on learning spaces, which is all the more reason to ask the question in the first place.  Instead of making a “Pinterest-Perfect” comment, what benefit would it be to ask something along the lines of,

“I notice there are lots of different things happening in the environment of your classroom. Can you share some ways this is benefitting your learners? I would love to learn more.”

It might not be the best way to ask a question, but what this recognizes is that not one thing works for all students and that there is a keen interest to learn instead of an enthusiastic opportunity to show all that you know. Understand that what works for one student or a group of students doesn’t mean it can be carbon copied for others. Knowing your students is crucial, and I have shared this sentiment before on Twitter:

In asking the question though, the respondent benefits by digging deeper into their practice while reflecting on what benefits the students, while the person asking benefits from listening and reflecting.  Growth is more likely to happen for both people in this scenario if the interaction is genuine.

This is not about the “Pinterest-Perfect” classroom at all. The focus of this post is to focus on asking questions to generate growth for all parties. I have been guilty of making statements to provoke thinking, and I am not against it and think there are scenarios where it has an impact to “jolt” thinking. But I am trying to ask more questions and assume less in my answers.  Things like, “You need to share more!” quickly turning into “You share too much!” leaves educators feeling undervalued by other educators in both scenarios.

If we are open to challenging through questions that are authentic and not meant to create “gotcha” moments, the potential for growth is exponential for all parties involved.

Source: George Couros