Friday, July 19, 2013

Exemplary Educators Ask Exemplary Questions

                A few times in the past, I’ve expressed my personal doubts about Twitter as a worthwhile medium, but I’ve come around to seeing its value when utilized effectively. One big reason has been the #isedchat which occurs every Thursday evening at 9:00 ET. Even if I can’t participate live, I find myself checking out the archive.[*] It’s a great chance to connect with passionate, forward-thinking independent school educators from across the country.
                A couple of weeks ago the topic was “What do exemplary educators do differently?” Because of another commitment, I had to look at the transcript after. Plenty of ideas had flowed, and all of them resonated in some form or fashion. I was reminded once again of how complex and demanding being an educator is, particularly as we undergo cultural shifts. So I found myself thinking: “What do you consider the single most important thing?” I wanted it to be something concrete, not abstract such as “embody the school’s mission” or “exude passion,” although those matter greatly. I realized my answer hadn’t popped up during the conversation.[†] As I’ll explain at the end, this omission was ironic.
                I think exemplary educators ask more and better questions. Whether teachers or administrators, such educators always are seeking better ways, probing for the reasons behind things, striving to connect ideas, pondering the real meaning of mission, considering the implications of it all. A favorite question: What if...? Questions that arise from a compelling vision spur reflection and subsequent action. The right questions keep us on a forward track while reminding us of our values and most important objectives.[‡]
                Posing incisive questions also can prick holes in the conservative[§] bubble of many schools. Most schools change very slowly, for many reasons.[**] Only now are some seeing the true urgency for new models and practices. The time is ripe for the right questions. More and more teachers are open to rethinking the entire educational process, and guiding questions can aid in their reflection and steer them towards meaningful answers.[††] I think it also models the sort of teaching and classroom experiences that many of us want to see our students have. And learning to ask the right questions is one of the most essential skills we can help students develop.
                At this point I should provide a list of some great questions. However, they are too numerous. Plus I believe they work best when culturally specific. There are many people out there asking them. I urge you to explore and see which jab you in just the right way, that odd mix of pleasure and pain. Twitter[‡‡], and the #isedchat, is a great starting point.
                Which leads the irony of no one in the chat having brought up this notion. They’re asking all the right questions and thus revealing themselves as exemplary educators.[§§]

[*] In some ways this can be much easier, as the comments fly pretty fast and it can be hard to keep everything straight. I’m getting better at it, but still am not totally comfortable. I’m kind of in awe of the moderators!
[†] My response at the time and right now, with the caveat that at a different time I may offer something else. But it seems to be sticking.
[§] By “conservative” I mean averse to change. I’m not commenting on political or ethical position.
[**] Old joke: It can be easier to change the course of history than to change a history course in a school.
[††] Emphasis on steer. Providing the answers would defeat the purpose.
[‡‡] @GrantLichtman, he of the famous nationwide journey in search of educational innovation, just Tweeted several of them. He frequently does.
[§§] If you have stuck with me and worked through the footnotes, thanks. I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace and tried to ape his form. Could never match the elegant prose, though.

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