I have read a great deal of the practice of questioning as a teacher. Watched and learnt alot from Ted Wragg Teachers TV videos and Dylan Williams on The Classroom Experiment, trialled the pose, pause, pounce and now bounce method, the ‘magic pocket name’ technique, randomisers on Triptico and iphone apps, hinge questions, multi answer, questions you can answer, question you can not answer with research…. in fairness there is a great deal of learning available for question as teachers, but where do you learn about leadership questioning, holding performance management conversations (with questions) and single agenda conversations (a new tern for a conversation focusing on something a colleague you should have done, but have not done it yet)? Certainly the coaching and mentoring debate / dichotomy encompasses many of the ‘questioning’ strategies I am reflecting on, although I expect there is more to it. Here are a few of my observations and strategies I have found myself adopting / copying in my role.
As a (senior) leader I am aware of the limitations of not working within the department. The limitations of one’s knowledge and the need to work hard to ensure one has a true reflection of the teaching and learning with the department. Questions start at the heart of learning and work they way out to formal conversations with team members; informed by lesson observations, learning walks and day to day (not so casual) observations, conversations with students, book sampling, area improvement plan tracking, data investigations, intervention schedules…. and so the list goes on.
In observing the senior colleagues at work, I have noticed two key things. First that the pace of explorative questioning (pertaining to a situation or issue arising or performance management point) is a good degree slower, more patient than the pace I commonly applied. Note to self; slow down, thoroughly confirm the information one is receiving, yes, that does mean paraphrasing what you just heard. Second, that conservations follows a set format or structure, defined by experience. In my case, I still have to plan these conversations but occasional, if caught on the fly, I have defaulted to Why, How, What impact mode. I have shared this model with my lines, who in turn have said that its a good steer, but that it must be contextual, I think that is a fair reflection.
What about your gut feelings? Extras.
A hunch, your gut, is your leadership barometer however you very rarely challenge without
firm concrete evidence. It is not always a matter of how fast your respond but that you respond correctly.
I find myself answering fewer questions, offering fewer solutions, and asking more questions. A definite transfer towards coaching process. I find it lends itself towards a greater interdependence in future situations. Sometimes, not offering a solution can slow down the system, but that is preferable to the system coming to a halt in your absence or where there is an over reliance on you.
There are times of course, when a simple, well-thought-out and suscinct answer is the right approach, particularly when it’s accompanied by a clear explanation.
So, what is the alternative. By asking the right questions, the person seeking advice is positioned to generate answers and develop solutions that stick. By asking the right questions, colleagues must consider their response.
As a result, we have to grow comfortable with letting the silence do the heavy lifting, you do the heavy listening.
Allowing the colleague you are questioning time to think, process and communicate also allow you time to listen. A long pause at the end also encourages you to draw connections and plan future questions to advance the conversation.
Probe. Expand the conversation with relevant, well-formed and challenging follow-up questions and evidence. Even the same question re-formulated.
Repeat what you think you heard. Or Parroting – I feel a little idiotic when I say, ”So, let me just make sure I have that, …….” Especially when they just respond with a very simple “Yes.” Although restating key messages to show your colleague was heard, reduces wriggle room in subsequent phases of the conversation or future conversations. I have at times been corrected and this is of course the more obivious reason.
Practice. Have those conversations when needed. ‘You get what you overlook.’
There are several reasons why getting comfortable with asking questions is difficult: It is not your default, certainly not mine (stop smiling those of you that knew the younger me) it is not your cultural position or communication style, it clashes with your personality. Second, not knowing “the answer” challenges the traditional notion of what high performers do, a few well thought through questions might reveal the answer. Of course, all the time you seek a questioning style, the more capacity your colleagues will have to answer their own questions….. and the more likely they will be to apply the same technique as leaders themselves.