Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Five Thought Provoking Questions for Teacher PD, PLCs or Personal Reflection

Image by Bart Everson from here.
If you’re interested more about good questions for reflection and PD, please see:
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Asking questions is probably my favorite part of teaching. Whether it's in the classroom, at a conference for teachers or just while talking with friends, I love giving people something to think about. (I even made a party game about asking one really BIG question.)

My math students weren't always thrilled with my idea of a good question in that subject! From my career and college class to my teacher professional development sessions, though, I've received a lot of thanks and appreciation for thought provoking questions I've raised.

Good questions at the right moment can make a tremendous impact on our lives. In searching out the answers, we experience the excitement of discovery. They help us see the wonder that is around and within us.

I like to ask teachers questions that remind them why they chose a career in education. I want to awaken dreams and that vision they once had of making a big difference. Questions can draw us back to those moments and give us a fresh perspective on the daily challenges we face.

So here are some of my favorite questions for teachers. With each one I'm also including followup questions for further reflection or discussion. For all of them, keep in mind:
  • You should alter the wording and list of followup questions to fit the specific needs of time and the purpose of the meeting or activity. (As worded here, some of these could be too personal or time consuming for some settings.)
  • Some of these are suitable for small group discussion or sharing in pairs. Others are probably best for each teacher to write a response individually that no one else will read. 

1)  What is your favorite advice that you share with students? 

This might be something you have told students for years or something you recently started saying. It might be that thing that they say in a mocking voice, to make their classmates laugh when you're not in the room.
  • Is there a particular way you say it (or otherwise present it) to help them remember it?
  • Why is this advice particularly meaningful to you or how did you come up with it?
  • Do you have a story to tell about how students have received it or what difference you have seen it make?

2)  When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?

  • What do you remember about that moment? Explain it in detail.
  • What appealed to you about the job?
  • Who did you first share that dream with and what was their reaction?
  • How does the vision of yourself that you had in your mind then compare to the reality that you see in your classroom each day?
  • Did you believe that those early moments of the dream to teacher were, in some sense, a calling? Explain.

3)  Imagine writing a letter to yourself as a first year teacher. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?

I thought of this question after reading Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist. See my own letter to myself here.
  • What struggles and successes did you experience that first year that relate to this advice?
  • Would you try to talk yourself out of the job (maybe even just a little) or encourage yourself to stay in it?
  • Did this activity bring back a memory or make you think about your work in a new way? Explain.

4)  What are your three favorite books and why?

  • When did you read these? If it was years ago, do you think they'd affect you the same way if you read them now for the first time?
  • Do you recommend them to your students or colleagues?
  • What is the most recent book you've read that had a big impact on you? Explain.

5)  Imagine your retirement party. Three people stand up to pay a tribute to you and your work. Who would these people probably be and what would they say? 

This is a spin on Stephen Covey's excellent Funeral Exercise in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the most memorable, emotional moments that took place in my classroom was the day I had high school seniors work through that exercise.
  • Also imagine you give a closing speech to the friends and colleagues in attendance. What message would you most want to leave them with? What story would you almost certainly share?
  • The purpose of this type of exercise is to know what you're aiming for. What did the activity reveal about the mark you want to leave?
  • How well have you done so far at making that mark?
  • What changes could you make in the remaining years of your career to be sure you have this desired impact on your students and colleagues?

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