Is continuous improvement a checklist or do we ask questions which lead to growth?
Start the school year with a question and watch how reflection from students, parents, community leaders, teachers, counselors, principals, and other key stakeholders allows you to transform your vision into reality. Questions hold us accountable and they force us to focus on a few things, rather than multiple priorities. When school improvement becomes a checklist, it is easy to focus on the list and not the students or the instructional strategies. When used appropriately, questions allow for individuals to engage in reflective practice. As Argyris and Schön describe, “Reflection is essential to educators’ capacity to think not only about their practice but about how they think, their implicit theories, and the sense they make of their experiences.”
Questions allow individuals to examine not only their own practice but see ideas and practices through the lens of others. Questions allow educators the opportunity to gain perspective and understanding of others as we work to enhance our craft and ensure learning is occurring. The questions we ask determine our priorities. Mark Sanborn wrote, “In the past, leaders were those who knew the right answers. Today, leaders are those who know the right questions.” What questions are guiding the work of your school? How can questions support teaching and learning?
Questions For Superintendents
- What are the district’s priorities?
- How will we measure student understanding, in addition to high-stakes testing?
- What is our school district doing to grow future leaders?
- How are we designing personalized professional learning for adults?
- How do we communicate our message of learning for all to our community and key stakeholders?
Questions For Administrators
- How does our district work to ensure we have a ‘guaranteed curriculum’ for each student?
- How is our curriculum aligned (Vertically and Horizontally)?
- How do teachers communicate the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘guaranteed curriculum’?
- When teachers develop common formative assessments, how do they use the district’s curriculum as a guide for developing assessments?
- How are teachers reflecting on the written, taught, and assessed curricula?
Questions For Teachers
- What are the key skills and concepts we will address in this course/grade level?
- What is the role of formative assessment in measuring the written, taught, and understood curricula?
- What is our plan for when students don’t learn?
- How does our learning space support student understanding of the key skills, concepts, and soft skills that our staff has identified as important?
- How does our school support the whole child?
Questions For Students
- What are my goals this week?
- What can I do to contribute in my class and outside of class?
- Who is a family member, teacher, friend, or community member who I admire and can learn from?
- Why is it important to become a lifelong learner and to continue to learn new things?
- How can I make a positive impact in the world using my strengths and abilities?
Questions For Parents
- What are the key skills and concepts that my child will learn this year?
- How can I support my child at home?
- What are the strengths of my child’s school?
- How could my child’s school be better for my child and all children?
- How often do I talk with my child about school and about what he/she is learning?
Pursuing answers to questions will drive the work of the team. A lack of clarity is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in schools. “If you want to make discoveries, if you want to disrupt the status quo, if you want to make progress and find new ways of thinking and doing, you need to ask questions” (Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, 2014). Each day, educators have the chance to make a difference and have an impact on the learning that occurs within the classrooms, in the hallways, and on the playgrounds. What questions will you reflect upon that will allow you to have an impact on learning with your students, staff, and community?
Dr. Matt Wachel is an elementary principal with the Gardner-Edgerton School District in Kansas. He is a 2015 ASCD Emerging Leader and a coauthor of the book Having an Impact on Learning. Connect with Wachel on ASCD EDge or on Twitter @mattwachel.