How To Lead A Leadership Team By Asking The Right Questions
As we delve into the world of leadership, one of the most potent tools we have at our disposal is questioning. This skill, much like others such as active listening, time management, or collaboration, requires practice and application for proficiency. It’s no secret that great leaders ask great questions, but how can we as school leaders best utilise this tool to guide our teams?
Drawing upon insights from “Decisions Over Decimals: Striking the Balance Between Intuition and Information” by Christopher J. Frank, Oded Netzer, and Paul F. Magnone, we will explore how to up your questioning game in the context of educational leadership.
Understanding the Types of Questions
Questions can be broadly classified into four categories:
- Factual Questions: These are based on facts or awareness. They can be open or closed, and while the answers are factual, they may require an explanation. For instance, “What is our current student to teacher ratio?” or “How many students are we expecting to enroll next year?”.
- Convergent Questions: These are close-ended questions with a finite set of answers, typically with one correct answer. For example, “Did we meet our target for this semester’s student performance?”.
- Divergent Questions: These are open-ended questions that promote multiple answers and are used for exploring a situation or problem in depth. An example might be, “How might we improve our school’s literacy program?”.
- Evaluative Questions: These require deeper levels of thinking and elicit analysis from different perspectives. For instance, “Based on our current performance data, what are the strengths and weaknesses of our teaching methods?”.
In the realm of school leadership, these question types can be instrumental in decision-making, problem-solving, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement.
Building an Inquisitive School Leadership Team
Building an inquisitive culture within your vision for your school leadership team involves a combination of the types of questions previously outlined and the environment you create. Here are three basic steps to building an inquisitive culture:
Step 1: Start with an Open-Ended Question
The practice of asking open-ended questions sets a tone of receptivity and signals that you are open to new information. For example, starting a meeting with questions like “Help me understand our current progress on the new curriculum implementation.” or “What surprised you about the recent parent feedback?” can encourage dialogue and foster a learning environment.
Step 2: Respond, Don’t React. Embrace Silence.
Effective listening combines active and passive listening. This involves providing feedback, paying close attention to words and nonverbal actions, and allowing for silence. Embrace the discomfort that silence may cause, as it often leads to the speaker revealing more information, hence creating a richer learning environment.
Responding thoughtfully, rather than reacting impulsively, is crucial in maintaining an open and respectful dialogue. For instance, when receiving feedback about a new policy, resist the urge to defend it immediately. Instead, consider the feedback, ask clarifying questions and thoughtfully respond.
Step 3: Ask a Stream of Questions
The ability to ask informed, thoughtful, and relevant questions can advance learning and foster creative thinking. Varying your questions can help to sustain engagement and uncover new opportunities. For example, when discussing ways to improve student engagement, you might ask: “What specific strategies have been successful in the past?”, “What new approaches could we explore?”, and “How can we measure the effectiveness of these strategies?”.
Applying Questioning in School Leadership
The practical application of these questioning techniques can significantly enhance your school leadership approach. For instance, when met with a challenge such as declining student performance, you can start with a broad, open-ended question like “How might we improve our student performance?”.
As the discussion progresses, your questions should become more precise and focused. You might ask, “Which subjects are our students struggling with the most?”, “What teaching methods have we used to address these areas?”, “What has been the response to these methods?”, and “What other strategies could we explore?”.
The skill of questioning is a powerful tool for school leaders. It can help foster a culture of curiosity, encourage open dialogue, and drive continuous improvement. By understanding the different types of questions and knowing when and how to use them, you can steer your team towards greater success.