Leading With Questions
IBM founder Thomas J. Watson said, “The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” Building principals are in a rapidly changing work environment. They are charged with coordinating the master schedule, fire drills, parent-teacher conferences, faculty meetings, teacher evaluations, car rider duty, safe schools, and more! How can a building principal focus on instructional leadership when the job is so demanding? Instructional leadership requires principals to focus on instructional strategies, student growth, formative assessment, professional development for staff, and continuous improvement. If we are charged with preparing our youth for the future, then we need to make instructional leadership a priority.
“When you are an individual contributor, you try to have all the answers. That’s your job - to be an expert, the best at what you do, maybe even the smartest person in the room. When you are a leader, your job is to have all the questions” (Welch, 2005).
36 Questions For School Administrators and Teacher Teams
1. Are students using technology to replace worksheets and note taking?
2. Are we designing lessons/units that encourage personalized learning?
3. Do we ask students to contribute? (i.e., Create, Collaborate, Revise, Record, Document, Blog, Communicate, and Curate)
4. Are students focused on the transfer goals or on the tool? (i.e., TodaysMeet, Padlet, Kahoot, DreamBox)
Curriculum and Instruction
1. What are the key concepts we will address in this course/grade level?
2. What are the key skills we will address in this course/grade level?
3. What are the priority standards for this course? How will we ensure that these standards are emphasized throughout the year?
4. What is the ratio of compliance vs. contribution in my classroom/school?
1. What is the role of formative assessment in measuring the written, taught, and understood curricula?
2. What is the role of feedback in supporting student understanding? (See Feed Up, Back, Forward- Fisher & Frey, 2009).
3. How often do I see formative assessment when I visit classrooms?
4. Do we have a plan for when students don’t learn?
1. What are the “hidden” messages students receive in our school?
2. How do the hidden messages interfere with the intended curriculum?
3. Can students share their thoughts on the hidden curriculum? Have we asked them?
4. How can school staff analyze the hidden curriculum to determine ways to address it?
1. Does our learning space support student understanding of the key skills, concepts, and soft skills that school staff have identified as important?
2. Does the learning space influence student voice and student choice?
3. Do students have multiple seating options?
4. Have you asked the students what the learning space would look like if they were the architect(s)?
Measuring Student Growth
1. Does each grade level team/course have established learning targets?
2. Which artifacts/data will we use to measure student growth?
3. Is student growth measured with a single snapshot or with a portfolio of student work?
4. Do we give assessments for the sake of assessing students or do we use the feedback from assessments to inform future teaching and learning?
Return on Investment (ROI)
1. How will school staff or grade level teams measure the Return on Investment?
2. How much money was spent on Program A. Was there evidence of a positive ROI?
3. Are we focused on the right things?
4. If there is a positive ROI, what are we going to do to increase our efforts with this program, instructional strategy, or collective effort to deepen student understanding?
1. What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
2. How will we measure student understanding?
3. When will our grade level/team meet to discuss teaching and learning?
4. Have we identified “Transfer Goals” for each grade level/course? (See What is Transfer? Wiggins, 2010).
What Are We Chasing?
1. How will we implement the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity) in curriculum, instruction, and assessments?
2. Are we designing authentic tasks for students or asking each student to complete the same assignment?
3. What is so wildly important that we cannot afford to address this semester?
4. What is one thing that our school could transform to improve student understanding?
Mark Sanborn (2015) wrote, “In the past, leaders were those who knew the right answers. Today, leaders are those who know the right questions.” What questions are guiding the work of your team?
Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (Arkansas). He has served as a classroom teacher, assistant principal, and principal. He also served as a social studies coordinator with the Arkansas Department of Education and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. He consults with teachers and administrators and provides support to schools seeking to build a Culture of Learning. Connect with Weber on Twitter at @curriculumblog or on ASCD EDge.