Education Opinion

Why? Why not? What if? Questioning Our Way to a Better Tomorrow

By LeaderTalk Contributor — November 18, 2011 3 min read
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by Dave Dimmett

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”
Albert Einstein

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”
Naguib Mahfouz

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

“There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men.”
John Locke

I was recently in a training where the facilitator went around the room asking everyone to identify the type of person with whom they have trouble communicating. When it came to me, the best answer I could think of is the kind of person who answers every question without fully hearing or considering it. The ready answer is often not the most thoughtful. Listening well and thoughtfully responding with questions or possible answers takes skill and practice. Asking better questions can radically improve all aspects of our lives. It can make us more mindful of the world around us. How do we ask better questions and what resources are available to realize the power of curiosity?

The Socratic Method –

Asking better questions and having healthy dialogue takes skill. It is worth investing time in training and practicing the basic skills that serve as the foundation of the Socratic Method. Perhaps the biggest challenge here is developing true listening skills. Some of my best experiences in teaching and learning were the result of really listening to others. The Socratic Method is a powerful tool that can help improve the quality of dialogue between students, teachers, administrators, and parents. We should not underestimate the power of listening to one another and asking questions that help us better understand our peers, the world around us, and ourselves.

The Scientific Method –

The Scientific Method encourages thoughtful questioning and a curious mindset. What would happen if …? How does this work? What are the possible solutions to this challenge? When we greet each day with this perspective, it changes the way we see the world around us. By asking questions and hypothesizing about possible solutions, we create the context for innovation and creativity. Any list of the all-time great innovators and thinkers will be filled with people who lived the Scientific Method.

Much of our K-12 education system, especially the 3-12 part, is focused on right answers. The mantra of our time seems to be, “what gets measured gets done.” Couple this logic with large numbers of students to assess and limited resources to design and deliver such assessments, and the outcome is less than desirable. Short of a full debate on this topic, I suggest a paradigm shift would prove beneficial for our country as we seek to be an innovative leader in both thought and action. Our quality of life requires an economy that allows families to earn living wages as they attempt to deliver on the American Dream. Innovation, creative thinking, the Scientific Method, and curiosity are all bound together. What does teaching and learning look like when these elements are considered cornerstones of best practice?

In short, I believe we need a paradigm shift, and we need it today. Out of crisis can come opportunity, but not through wishes and hopes. What we say and how we say it matters. Questions invite dialogue and thought. The concrete actions and everyday interactions of educators, learners, and students like you, me, we, us are the difference in a more thoughtful and inquisitive tomorrow.

How do we shift from Q and A to Q and C (question and consider)?
How do we pivot from FAQ to I-FAQ (infrequently asked questions)?

I have found the resources below to be interesting and useful. Please share additional thoughts, great questions, and relevant resources.

HBR – “The Question That Will Change Your Organization”

How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci
, by Michael Gelb

Leading with Questions
, by Michael Marquardt

What’s the Big Idea?, by Jim Burke

Socratic Method Research Portal

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.