Powerful Questions, Brave Responses

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I’m currently enrolled in a life coaching course and we have been exploring and experimenting with powerful questions. Which questions are powerful? you ask. They are the questions which force you to stop and think. Powerful questions can startle you out of autopilot and make you grab the steering wheel of your random thoughts. You can feel them land. They can catch you off guard and cause you to prick up your ears. They may confound and exhilirate you. Powerful questions tend to find you when you least expect them. They’ve got your number and when they come calling, you’ll be compelled to answer.

What I like about powerful questions is that they are not powerful according to formula. Depending on who you are, what you need and how you function, the power of the question lies in its reception. That makes powerful questions both a gamble and surprise. I like to raise all sorts of questions with my students. Many questions are closed – require a yes or no answer – and yet are often asked in service to a deeper learning: “Was that kind?” ” Were you respectful?” With these queries I often want to draw students’ attention to their behavior and the impact their behavior may be having on others. On the other hand, when time allows, I can create open questions to stimulate a different student response: “What did you do that was kind?” “How were you and your teammates respectful of each other?” In these cases I am encouraging students to dig a little deeper into the topic and give me some specifics from their thinking.

It can be an inspiration when my students respond to a well posed open question. Their answers are often amazingly articulate and plain. They cut to the chase and get to the point. Following a round of challenging team building activities, I asked my 5th graders silently to ask themselves this question: What am I learning? Then I asked them to share their answers with me individually and I noted them on a sheet of paper. Here’s what some of them said:

“We should be safer, be more respectful and cooperate more.”

“We need to have teamwork which is kinda hard, but we learn to problem solve.”

“I need to rely on others.”

“Working with teamwork means that you have to put in effort.”

“If we yell at each other, people get discouraged and feel under pressure and then can’t do their best.”

“It’s basically a trust exercise. You have to trust others…”

“When you work as a team, winning isn’t what matters.”

“I am learning about the word challenge. You have to keep on trying and challenge yourself.”

“Maybe we don’t have to fix it every time, maybe sometimes we should go with the flow.”

“To listen to others more carefully.”

“It was better when more people gave ideas. We had more brains thinking.”

“We shouldn’t scream. We should be more helpful and give support.”

Those are some powerful responses. I felt each of them land. They hit the nail on the head and gave me pause. In my students’ answers I find fuel for my own ongoing inquiry: What am I learning?

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