I think as I age I realize that answers are far less important than the questions. Hey, we all learned years ago that the answer is 42, it was the question that remained elusive. So how do we learn to ask good questions? There are all kinds of pyramids and charts showing various levels of thinking and multitudes of fancy named hierarchies of thought processes. Sure, those all play a role, and are worthy to examine; thinking about how we think is totally up my alley. However the highest levels of thinking are completely pointless if the people in the room don’t feel they have permission to ask the questions out loud.
So what do we do?
This is by no means a polished list, simply my thoughts in the moment after struggling with this concept for a few days. Here goes:
- Everyone needs to feel that they are a stake-holder in the discussion. Why ask questions if nothing you say matters?
- A safe environment, devoid of ridicule, is clearly needed. More vital however is a feeling that you won’t be permanently judged on your ideas as you work through thoughts together. This allows greater participation and exploration. I suppose the word is trust…
- Questions need to be accepted as standard faire and not automatically viewed as a challenge or full dissent. This is particularly of issue in a teacher/student type power balance.
- An ability to disregard the minutiae and focus on areas that have the most impact.
- Time– discussion takes time. Dictating is far more efficient, but ultimately less evolved. If all you do is give answers there is never room left for new questions.
- Attribute value to debate– actively encourage it and the ideas it produces.
We have a lot of married couples at my school (the result of a school so loved that most teachers become “lifers”). It is not uncommon for one member of a couple to express an opinion and the other to counter vehemently in opposition. I adore this, and am amused when others are taken by surprise. I love seeing examples of people who can respect, enjoy and even love one another while simultaneously disagreeing and expressing that disagreement loudly and passionately (in public even!).
I want my classrooms to be a place where ideas matter enough that people get heated about them. Where classmates can strongly disagree on one issue, strongly agree on another and remain friends through it all. I want to be comfortable being challenged by my students, and my colleagues, and know that it doesn’t wound or scar our relationships. I’d bust out some kind of sports metaphor here about opposing teams sharing a pint after a brutal game, but I’ve never played competitive sports, and in my world of ‘academia’ (eye roll) people seem to have a much harder time leaving ‘things on the field’. (woops– I did it anyway)
Here is one of my favourite RSA Animates: Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From”
The concept of hunches colliding until they become something larger than the sum of their parts appeals to me. Now it’s just a matter of creating the spaces for it to happen.