I had a minor epiphany today, when two books I am reading, converged to make a common point that struck me.
As I prepare for an associate principal role in my school next year, I am reading as much as I can – which is not all that much, at my reading pace – about leadership. I have recently been reading How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader, by John G. Gabriel. He suggested, when in an awkward situation, answering a question with a question: “Why do you ask?” or “Why do you think that?” That way, you can take the evidence on board, suggest how to deal with the problem, without outright saying you agree or disagree with the person’s point of view. In addition, asking another question, and waiting, then absorbing the answer, buys time for you to gather your thoughts.
Meanwhile, I am reading Making Thinking Visible (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison) as part of a Twitter book club, in the context of high school mathematics. In chapter 2, the book advocates asking students to clarify, and elaborate on their thinking, by asking the question “What makes you say that?” The idea behind this question is that students can clarify their thinking for themselves as they answer, whilst also making their thinking “visible” to others.
The book goes on to say that one teacher remarked that this question does not just belong in the classroom, but in professional situations, families, relationships, etc. She said the question was not just a teaching tool, but a way of life. The wording of this question strikes a good tone with people, inviting them to elaborate, in a non threatening way. It is likely that the respondent will open right up. This kind of wording is much less threatening and confrontational than “Give me your reasons and evidence for that statement.” or “Tell me why.”
So, as simple as it may seem, I have a new favourite question.