From the VP: The art of the question… and the response
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 5, 5 July 2019, page no. 9
I don’t know about you, but contemporary public discourse (for example during the federal election campaign) raises some alarm bells with me about how communication appears to be happening through shouting at each other or providing a passive response to avoid getting involved.
Schools, as part of the community, echo this at times. We are part of a profession that demands respect within itself and the nature of collaboration underpins the work we do.
Talking with teachers over the past number of years has elicited comments such as “I asked a question about my working conditions (or behaviour of a student, insert topic here …) and received a blast email in response”. Or, “I asked a question in a staff meeting only to have it ignored”.
For principals, their perfectly reasonable questions about the latest and allegedly greatest system initiative will be ignored or given a weasel-word response.
If we are to assist the next generation in the art of communication, then shouldn’t we all, in our workplaces, be valuing the art of the question - and the response?
Asking a question is about drilling down and looking for depth and trying to reason an anomaly out. Asking a question is about professional autonomy as teachers and school leaders. Asking a question is seeking clarification or clearing up a misunderstanding. Asking a question is seeking a response to a conundrum about a student, a process, or an issue of workload.
Some of the best solutions come from a simple or skilled question. The response could create robust and rigorous debate. Sometimes, with meetings so tightly controlled by agendas and rules, finding the time and space for these questions should be placed as a priority. Some of the best teaching and learning moments I have had in the classroom have arisen from a simple, yet respectfully asked question from a student. And I’m sure the students felt the same about that teaching and learning moment.
- open questions
- closed questions
- 5Ws 1H
- skinny questions
- fat questions
- Socratic questions
- reflective questions, and the list goes on and on and on.
We should be embracing the art of the question and the response, and seeking solutions and the subsequent ideas that are raised as a result.
Our local consultative committees are an avenue for questions to be raised. They are the perfect vehicle to ask questions, and get responses about:
- data plans
- workload intensification
- bell times and student pick-up time
- non-discretionary personal preparation time before school
- collegial engagement and walk-throughs
- staff meetings
- playground and bus duty
- NAPLAN and NAPLAN Online
- elements of our award that relate to our working conditions and application of the award.
Schools are not a benevolent dictatorship, neither are they a free for all. Neither are regions fiefdoms, where principals are expected to unquestioningly submit to systemic demands. At all levels of the state school system, there are rules of engagement.
Now, I’m not suggesting we descend into the hell of the “But why?” question that every parent of every aged child could identify with. I’m suggesting questions and responses that invite considered and reflective dialogues backwards and forwards between participants and observers.
Maybe, there could be sessions in staff meetings that specifically have a question and answer style? Do we need to practice what we preach?
Questions and their answers allow an opportunity for us to learn from our colleagues, embrace diversity of thoughts and opinions, political beliefs and alternating views. The world we live in is not black and white. There are many shades of grey.
Go forth and ask the question. Wait for the response. It might be prickly at first, but what have we, as a profession, got to lose? I reckon we have much more to gain from a well-placed question, and response.
“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask 'What else could this mean?'” Shannon L. Alder