The supreme importance of questions.

This week has been a big one for me regarding the value of questions.

As educators, we know the value of asking good quality questions to stimulate student thinking. The Harvard publication, Making Thinking Visible repeatedly emphasises the value of  good questions.

This morning I read a post from, regarding the importance of questions. Their main point is that the best leaders, innovators and learners owe their success partly to asking good questions.

Yesterday I was part of a conversation where a teacher was expressing her dissatisfaction with an interdisciplinary project in which she is involved. She is not happy with both the process of designing the project, and her role in the project. The conversation involved the teacher, me – a math HOD and soon to be associate principal, and our MYP coordinator.

I am not certain the conversation achieved a resolution, but the teacher did go away with some thoughts on how to proceed.

A big observation for me, though, was the difference in the approaches to the conversation that my colleague, @ibiologystephen, the MYP coordinator, and I took. Strictly speaking, it was more appropriate for him to be involved in the conversation: as MYP coordinator, he had more knowledge of the subjects and the issues.

However, I really felt that his approach was far superior to mine. I tended to offer suggestions of how she could participate in the project, without much knowledge of her subject area, and stated my opinion on her comments. Meanwhile, @ibiologystephen did not directly offer very many suggestions. He tended to ask a great deal of questions. Such as

  • “What would you be teaching if you did not participate in this unit?”
  • “Are there any other ways you could contribute to the project?”

His approach is clear to me now: he wants the teacher to arrive at her own resolution. Let her own the solution. Cognitive coaching, basically.

Thanks for letting me learn from you, @ibiologystephen! Hopefully I will develop the skills you have.

About eadurkin

Originally a HS Mathematics teacher from New Zealand, currently working as Associate Principal in the Secondary School at Canadian Academy, an international school in Kobe, Japan. Married with two children.
This entry was posted in Leadership Roles, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The supreme importance of questions.

  1. Stephen says:

    Nicely written, Liz – and thanks for the mentions. I’m not sure the questioning was a conscious thing, but it’s an interesting observation. Digital Bytes is turning into a great source of questions, discussions and ideas.

    I have total confidence that you and Liz will do a great job next year.

  2. eadurkin says:

    Hi Stephen
    I think the questioning came from your strong knowledge of the purpose of interdisciplinary learning. You had recently read about interdisciplinary work: both/all parties must mutually benefit. So I think that was what you were getting at through the questions. To be honest, I don’t think I had much of a place in that conversation other than an observer really.

  3. Pam Wilson says:

    As I think back on the colleagues/educators – the ones who pushed me most were the ones who rarely told me but guided me – allowing me to arrive at my own decisions. I was committed, not merely conforming – I appreciate your post. Another example of just how important our questioning practices can be in moving learning forward. If one focuses simply on asking better questions, how great of an impact will this have on student learning?

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