Since then, I have met with several other groups who were thinking and talking about the same thing. However, this time, as we worked together, we not only focused on questions that are mediative in nature, but we thought deeply about the conditions that need to exist in order to ask these types of questions.
As you think about the questions that are listed in the previous blog entry, consider these three corollary questions:
- What conditions might need to exist in order for us to ask and to respond to these questions?
- What conditions might inhibit or restrict us in asking and responding to these questions?
- Given our context, what other questions might we need to ask ourselves?
As leaders, we need to not only frame questions that invite inquiry. It is also important that we pay attention to the circumstances in which they are asked.
I posed these three questions to a group last week. In order to honour the experience and expertise of the 400+ educators who had gathered, I decided to use the ‘Carousel’ strategy – a strategy that is known to and used by many of us. Each time I use it, though, I am reminded of its power to acknowledge what is understood and felt in the room.
Each group of eight to ten people had a piece of chart paper on their table. It was labeled with a number and a letter – e.g., 1A, 2A, 3A, 1B, 2B, 3B, etc. So, if your table had 1A, you would collectively respond to the first question (What conditions might need to exist in order for us to ask and to respond to these questions?); if your table had 2G, you would collectively respond to the second question (What conditions might inhibit or restrict us in asking and responding to these questions?); and if your table had 3M, you would collectively respond to the third question (Given our context, what other questions might we need to ask ourselves?). Please refer to the list of questions from the posting of March 4, 2013.
Over the next five minutes, responses to the question were written down on the chart paper. After that time, the table groups would connect with the two other tables that had the same letter on their paper; that is, the three ‘H’ groups would find each other and trade papers, so that each group would now have a different question to answer. (Another way to work with the ‘Carousel’ is to have the people move, rather than the paper. However, with the number of participants in the room and the tight quarters, I opted to have the papers move between the three tables.)
With the new chart paper, the first action is to read and talk about what has already been posted by the previous group. The second action is to add any other ideas that come to mind, as a result of reviewing the other group’s thoughts.
This cycle is repeated one more time, so that each group has had an opportunity to respond to each of the three questions. The following pictures illustrate and provide evidence of the rich conversations that took place:
In response to What conditions might inhibit or restrict us in asking and responding to these questions?
In response to Given our context, what other questions might we need to ask ourselves?
As a leader of learning, it is important that we pause to reflect on the conditions that support and prevent us from asking questions about data sets. When we forget to pay attention to these conditions, we might be faced with some negative unintended outcomes; that is, teachers might think that they are being blamed or that reviewing data sets is a waste of time. And at the same time, as leaders of learning, we are called to model processes that encourage thinking and that allow all ‘voices to be heard.’
I was reminded of all of this when a participant commented to me that the asking and answering of tough questions is not an event. Rather, it can exist in a climate that is created over time, through each individual and group interaction.
Or, it might be just as Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, said: “Ask a question, rather than give a pithy answer, and that stimulates conversation. Out of the conversation comes innovation. Innovation is not something that I just wake up one day and say 'I want to innovate.' I think you get a better innovative culture if you ask a question.”