I had the honour of addressing the Trillium Lakes District School Board in Ontario recently, and I was amazed by the culture of learning they have created. They were an enthusiastic group and seemed to just want to keep pushing themselves to get better and better. These days are awesome for me as an educator because I feel I really grow through the process even though I am the one “delivering” the workshop.
I was inspired in listening to Andrea Gillespie, one of their superintendents, the night before, and the board’s vision of constantly moving forward and growing as a learning organization. You could tell by her stories that this was not just something they said, but something they lived. The feeling I got was that they were not a board that felt they had “arrived” because they know that great organizations never stagnate. Education will always have a target just out of reach because of the consistency of of change, and instead of being frustrated by this notion, they build upon it. It is not that they aren’t a great organization, if anything, quite the opposite. Growth is continuous as is learning and this is something that they are aware of and embrace. It was refreshing.
One of the ways they keep this momentum moving forward is by starting their professional learning opportunities by stating the following:
“We are a board questioning our way forward.”
EEK! I love this!
This sets quite the tone and embraces the notion of the innovator’s mindset of constantly learning and creating better opportunities for students. This phrase really struck me and is something that we need to embrace in our work.
When I thought about it deeply., there is a difference between saying, “we need to ask questions” and “questioning our way forward.” Often, when I hear questions, they are more like statements about how this won’t work disguised as questions. For example, I will hear things like this:
“This is great, but what about standardized tests?”
“You showed me some really great stuff, but when we are going to find time for this?”
Both of the above are questions, but seemingly leading to a dead end. What if we tweaked these questions to ask the same thing but to find solutions instead of looking for problems?
“How do we move forward with these initiatives while still ensuring that our students are doing well on standardized tests?”
“What are some suggestions you have to create time to make this happen?”
Again, both questions but they are not dwelling on problems but instead looking for solutions. Simple tweaks that make a world of difference.
Questions are so crucial to our growth, but I think we need to focus on phrasing them in a way to find ways to move forward, not to stand still. In education, stagnation is the equivalent of moving backwards and in a world where change is the only constant, asking questions to move forward is something we need to not only teach our kids, but embrace ourselves.
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