Start Asking Questions

Last week, I attended the Indiana Association of School Principals conference. While I have attended this conference for the past few years as a participant, this year I was offered the opportunity to present a session on blogging. It was an awesome experience for me to be able to share my journey, over the past few years, of writing this blog. I believe that there is no other practice in my professional (and possibly personal) life that has helped me grow as a leader and as a person like the weekly reflections that I share through this blog.

I presented on Monday and on Tuesday had an interesting conversation with an individual who I recognized as someone who had attended my session the day prior. I happened to sit beside this person during the last session of the conference and so I struck up a conversation with him. I first thanked him for attending and then asked him what he thought.  He said he appreciated the message, and spent some time reading through some past posts the evening before.  He then said, “But, I am not sure if I get the point of your writing. You never really get to the answers for any of the questions you ask or the problems you discuss. So, where is the impact?”

I was, at first, caught off guard by the honesty in his response and subsequently with his follow up question.  Usually, questions such as I posed to this gentleman are met with simple, bland comments that don’t really provide much feedback.  I paused and thought about his question and then I responded with, “Yeah, that’s the point.”

I think he, in turn, was as taken aback by my response as I was with his honestly. I went on to explain why I never try to fully answer questions or solve problems- at least in this format, honestly- I don’t know the answers to most of the issues I address.  I feel that the role of a leader is to ask more questions, rather than to give canned or flippant answers to questions. I explained that I if just give answers to all the problems that are brought to me, then I am assuring my school will never be any smarter than me. Asking questions brings people together in the search for finding answers, which ultimately leads to better, more thoughtful solutions.  Once we realize we are better together and we are all pursuing the same goals, the need for a leader to have solutions to every problem fades away and the group is made stronger, with ultimately more ownership, as we search for answers together.

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Our conversation continued as we were waiting for the session to start and we bantered back and forth with questions about how we manage situations with this group mindset and how it ultimately makes us (as a leader) and our school stronger.

This idea can be applied to many aspects of our lives. Many times we jump to conclusions wanting a quick fix to problems, which usually leads us to only addressing a symptom of the problem, not the root cause.  Asking questions allows us to dig deeper, find better solutions, and move forward together.

Start asking more questions in your classroom, your school, and your life. Realize you don’t have all the answers and your advice is not as good as you think. Realize that most problems worth solving do not have easy answers, because if they did, they would not be challenges. To be our best, we need each other.  We need to ask questions when met with a problem, instead of looking for quick, simple answers. Next time you come to a challenge in your life start asking questions. And, continue asking questions until there are no more questions to ask. Then, and only then, are you ready to embrace the possibilities.

Keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!

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