Ask the Right Questions

As an aspiring school leader, I once heard  “real school improvement happens through the small 3-5 minute informal conversations that happen everyday.”  Unfortunately, it didn’t totally sink in until years later.  I saw school improvement and conversations centered around change within the arena of formal meetings and group discussions.

Connecting with staff members on important issues of student learning is crucial.  Doing so informally adds a level of effectiveness not afforded in large group meetings.  It allows us to engage our colleagues without the anxiety of jostling with one’s peers and the ability to disappear into the background within a large meeting.  It gives the administrator the pulse of the campus and refocuses those strained by variables constantly calling for attention (most having little to do with teaching and learning).

Rather than walking the halls with dictums, it’s more helpful to ask the right questions.  Observe the following reminders and declarations any well intentioned administrator might use during the school year.

  • “Remember to do give your students the review schedule.”  
  • “Don’t forget to send me a list of your free and reduced lunch intervention students.”  
  • “Tell me what you’re doing to address the kids that failed the quadratics benchmark.”  

Just as we want teachers to behave with students, administrators are served well modeling effective questioning with our colleagues in the classroom.

  • “How do you feel about the progress of your students on the quadratics benchmark?”  
  • “What strategies have you used to address the needs of your free and reduced lunch intervention students?”  
  • “How can I help you with your students during the review sessions?”

Each addresses the same need, yet the owner of the thinking is the teacher.  As I write this, my “wonderings” focus on our Algebra students and the work of our dedicated Algebra team.  I owe it to those teachers to use positive, open-ended questions when I speak to them about learning.

A focused leader finds the right questions.  What is your vision for instruction at the school you serve?  How about the vision for the department you’re worried about today?  What is the current reality?  You see the distance between the vision and reality.  As you mix with key players in that area, what are questions to ask them to help bridge the gap?  In the end, classroom teachers do the most important work in the building.  As school leaders, our most important role is supporting their work for students.

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