March 22, 2018
You already know that questions are an important tool for learning. In the classroom, they can help improve students’ reading comprehension and drive project-based learning. But questioning is also a strategy you can use to support your program staff. Here are three ways you can use questions to become a better leader.
Ask Questions That Focus Attention and Stimulate Thinking
Some questions you ask staff members are very basic, and are necessary to routine program activities: Are the art supplies ready for today’s activity? How many students will have their artwork ready for next week’s showing? Did you send the invitations to parents today? These questions ask for facts. They can usually be answered without much thought.
Questions that focus attention and stimulate thinking ask for ideas: How did you think today’s art activity went? What are your thoughts about ways we can make tomorrow’s activity less chaotic? They go beyond asking “What do you know about X?” to ask, “What do you think about X?”
Listen to Your Staff
If staff members wait a few seconds before responding to a question, that’s good! It means they’re thinking about what you said. Be quiet and give them time to process their thoughts.
When staff members speak, listen for content and tone If someone says, “I think it would be good to put three students at each table instead of four during the art activity,” that person has identified overcrowding at each table as a possible cause for the chaos and offered a solution. If someone says, “I guess I could stay up the night before and plan things better,” that person might be feeling overworked, stressed or perhaps blamed for the problem.
Respond with Respect
To show that you heard what the person said, you might paraphrase the response (“So you’re suggesting fewer students per table”) or ask a probing question (“Do you think having three students share art supplies instead of four will be sufficient, or do we need to consider other strategies as well?”). Sometimes, it may be appropriate to acknowledge the underlying tone of a response (“It sounds like you found the situation stressful”) and provide support (“Let’s figure this out as a team. I don’t want any of us losing sleep over this!).
Don’t overlook questioning as a tool for leading and coaching your staff. Effective questions can enhance everyday interactions — and professional development. What are some ways asking, listening and responding to your staff as described above might lead to tangible improvements in your program? What’s the first step you’ll take to make questioning part of your leadership strategy?