Preoccupied with the answers

I am not the first person to say that we are too concerned with answers these days. People are blogging about this stuff all the time. But I guess each time I read it and, in turn, think about it and apply it to my own work, the idea becomes personal in some way. So this is my take on our drive for answers in education…

Most things I do in a day are driven by questions: What should I eat this morning? Should I walk or drive to work? How can I get this idea to those people? How can I make this meaningful? Inherent in questions are answers or choices and making decisions is what much of our lives are about. But I am worried that we are spending too much time in the education field giving answers and making decisions instead of making sure we are asking the right questions. We are in such a rush to solve the problems, fix the kids, cut costs, improve results, that we forget that before you can have answers, you have to have the right questions. What do we want for our children? What do they want? What does it mean to live in today’s world? How can we become better, as humans? How can our education system support positive growth? It isn’t enough to ask how to report achievement or how to design a lesson. We have to ask Why report achievement?How can we foster authentic partnerships with families? When does learning become intrinsically motivating? How does it feel to learn?

I am just as guilty as the next person for being answer-driven. For three and a half years in this job, and before that, in my principalship, and in my work as a differentiated instruction facilitator, I have been all about the answers. Part of my own challenge is the weight I sometimes feel at needing to have all the answers. Despite knowing that this isn’t true or healthy, it is challenging in practice when my inbox is filled with people asking me for the answers. My workshops often seem to shift to the answers. I have daily conversations at the office about the answers. I read and read and read to discover the answers. And tied up in all of this is the consuming passion I feel for learning and figuring out the answers. So, I understand the compelling nature of the answers. However, I recognize in myself and on Twitter and in reading the thoughts of others, that sometimes in our quest for the answers, we lose the question. We have forgotten to step back and ask What am I really wondering about? What is at the root of my quest?

I have been playing with the idea of stepping back; far enough to see a question…and then stepping back again. For example, if I am searching for the answer to reaching a student in grade nine who can’t read, I have to first step back until I can see the question: What am I supposed to do in science with a kid who can’t read? Then I step back again: How can I provide the needed differentiation and supports while still managing a classroom and getting at the content? Again: What do I mean by read? What can they read? Step back again: What does it mean to learn? What factors impact learning? How can I address those factors?

I see this like adjusting a lens. If we start with the telephoto lens, we see lots of specific details and we try to find the answers based on our close up view…We need to shift the lens a little at a time, questioning our assumptions and our understandings. Before we come up with an answer, we have to make sure we have asked all the questions. I think we sometimes forget that not only is it our right to ask questions but it is necessary for getting at solutions that are impactful and sustainable. When you get right down to it, if we believe there is an answer to educating a child, then we are selling short both ourselves and the complex beings we work with every day. This year, I am going to work on asking questions. The answers will be better if I do.

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