Saturday, April 30, 2011

“Smart” people ask good questions

Good%20question One of the educator’s most favorite pieces of advice for students is, “There are no bad questions.”  I’ve said it.  You have probably said it.  Someone has likely said it to you.  I agree that there are really no dumb questions, but I also think that the questions you ask says plenty about how involved one is in the issue at hand.

There is also a misguided assumption that the smarter one is, the fewer questions he or she asks.  That misguided assumption is based on the confusion between being smart and being a “know it all.”  In my experiences, those who project themselves as having all the answers are typically trying to distract others from the fact that they really have no idea what they are talking about.  On the other hand, I have found that most people that are inquisitive and look to expand their understanding ask good questions.  Regardless of IQ, I classify the latter to be the “smarter” of the two groups.

“Smart” people ask good questions

I am NOT implying that the opposite is true – that “dumb” people ask bad questions.  Remember, “THERE ARE NO BAD QUESTIONS” (see above).  There are questions and there are good questions.  Some questions may be invalid or unreliable, but they do serve a purpose under different circumstances.

I have quite a bit of formal education and a good number of years of experience.  While I am fairly knowledgeable of many aspects of education and educational leadership, I find myself much more inquisitive as I grow more experienced.  It is as if my growing understanding of education and my expanding body of research is leading me to more focused and defined questions rather than a laundry list of answers.  As I grow smarter, I not only have more questions, but my questions are better.

Teachers ask questions also.  I get many questions on a daily basis.  Some questions require deep thought and reflection, others are simply for clarification and information.  Over the course of time, I have found that the “smarter” teacher – those who are actively engaged in professional development and collegial discourse – ask good questions.  Teachers who are actively engaged rarely ask questions that were already answered in the numerous emails and daily announcements.

Fully invested students also ask good questions.  These questions are reflections of a student trying to synthesize various points to create a new idea.  Good questions by students demonstrate creative and critical thinking.  “Do we need this for the test?” or “Should we take notes?” are examples of more mundane questions that students ask.  They are sometimes important questions, but rarely are they good questions.

During interviews, I always ask the interviewee if he or she has any questions.  This is often the most enlightening part of the interview.  The type of questions asked provides a window into the engagement and interest of the applicant.  These questions also can shine some light on the type of questions this applicant may ask students.  Interviews that include good questions are usually followed up on for further conversation.

All questions have their place in schools.  From the ordinary and expected to the truly enlightening and exploratory, questions are essential to the educational process.  As educational leaders, we should pay attention to the questions we hear and ask.  The amount of time spent answering and asking “smarter” questions may provide an interesting insight into how engaged your teachers, parents, and students are in the learning process.  Paying attention to the frequency and quality of questions asked in schools can help educational leaders be more effective in supporting the needs of the school community.

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