The Power of the Question

It’s one of the most important tools we teachers have available to us. A major company says in its advertising that it’s the most powerful force in the world. Are we teachers using this power to improve ourselves and advcoate for our profession?

The other evening I decided to watch a little TV, and this commercial from Google grabbed my attention. It opens with the sentence, “A question is the most powerful force in the world.”

The commercial caught my eye, and I found myself watching intently as I considered the statement. Certainly questions are powerful, but perhaps not in the way the advertising agency and Google marketing department were considering.

In the world of education, we’re always asking questions. Early in my career, my principal commented in a post-observation conference that I needed to strengthen my questioning skills. I was still in that place of thinking that I shouldn’t dare ask a question I didn’t know the answer to; I had not yet learned that the questions I didn’t have answers to could become the springboard for some of the most powerful learning my students and I would do in a year.

Questions are most certainly powerful. How often do we ask students, “How do you know?” and “What’s your proof?” But what about other questions:  “Why not?” or “What if you . . . ?” Good questioning sparks learning and reflection, as Rebecca Alber points out here. We have to watch what questions we ask, because if all we’re going for is a single right answer, we can actually stop the learning, as the Critical Thinking Community reminds us. The right questions are incredibly powerful.

Questions aren’t just powerful for students. They’re important for us teachers, and not solely in our work as directors and guides of student learning. We have to be learners, too. We need to ask ourselves questions routinely. There are the reflective questions we need to consider daily as we consider the next steps to take with our students. There are the questions we need to ask parents so we can gain more insight into students’ strengths and needs. Then there are the questions we need to ask ourselves about our role within our field. We aren’t “just” or “only” classroom teachers. We can be–and are–so much more. When that invitation comes to take on a leadership role, we need to question ourselves. Rather than leaping to the automatic, “I’m so busy . . .” or “I don’t know have the expertise,” we need to ask ourselves, “Why not?” We need to step beyond thinking, “Who wants to listen to a classroom teacher?” and ask instead, “Who needs to hear what I have to share, and how can I connect with that audience?”

Some of the biggest accomplishments in human history have sprung from questions. Imagine if no one had ever wondered whether humankind could someday fly through the air. What if the Wright Brothers had dismissed the thought as impossible, rather than asking, “Why not? What would it take?” What if scientists had dismissed out-of-hand the possibility of getting to the moon? What if no one had ever asked if those first-generation computers could be changed in size and processing power?

What questions will you ask your students next year? What questions will you ask parents? What do you need to learn from colleagues?

What questions will you ask of yourself?

Photo by Colin Kinner is licensed CC by 2.0

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  • Adam

    the Art of Questioning…
    http://ifl.pitt.edu/index.php/educator_resources/accountable_talk

    Accountable talk can help support our efforts at maximizing student self reflection and pushing them into deeper understanding. Good for all disciplines.

    Cool blog!

  • maryannfarrugia

    A powerful question can have

    A powerful question can have a powerful effect because questions can be one of the very most effective tool when it comes to communication. In business questions can bloom into great ideas and strategies.

    For more questions visit Quora and ask Maryann Farrugia Here