Say Less, Ask More

Sometimes the smallest change can make a huge difference, especially in education. Things such as greeting students individually upon arrival at school can set the tone for the entire day.  Small changes in habitual behaviours can improve communication and relationships with students.

Over the last few months I’ve been reading the work of Michael Bungay Stanier.  Most recently I’ve been reading “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever”.  I admit, that at first blush, it doesn’t sound as though this book has much relevance to elementary education.  However, as I was reading I kept making connections to communicating with students more effectively to encourage independence.  As learning becomes more inquiry based in many classrooms, teachers are having to move into more of a coaching role.  I think that the education sector as a whole has made some assumptions that teachers know how to be effective coaches and facilitators.  In my own teaching practice, there has been a huge learning curve.  Teaching through inquiry isn’t about leaving students to their own devices.  Students generally aren’t familiar with the curriculum and other than being children, they aren’t experts on child development.  Educators have to be guides for student learning.  But what exactly does that mean and how do we transition to this type of teaching?

For me the biggest change and challenge in becoming more of a guide in my classroom was talking less and letting the students do the learning. I am a problem solver, helper and rescuer and I’m sure many teachers can relate, which is why it is so hard to be quiet and back off.  I’ve also learned that asking questions might be easy, but asking effective questions is a skill for teachers and students alike.

So what did I learn from a “coaching” book that might help a classroom teacher? Keep in mind, these examples might be better suited for the older grades.  You might need to keep it a bit more simple for Kindergarten.  However, in most cases, better questions get better answers.  Here are some examples:

A student comes in from recess and is visibly upset.  Instead of asking, “What’s wrong? Did something happen at recess?  Can I help?”  Try asking just one question, “What’s on your mind?” and then be quiet and listen. The question “What’s on your mind?” is a focused question and invites someone to get into the heart of the matter. Sometimes all that is needed is a venting session and the child feels better.  You don’t always have to be a rescuer or problem solver. Most of the time, kids just want to be heard.

Normally in a situation like this I’ll ask, “Can I help?’ or “Would you like some help?”  However, the small change to “HOW can I help?” helps the student to articulate their request.  In addition, it gives them the opportunity to identify the solution and not have the adult jump in to solve things for them.

Tweaking the questions that we ask could improve communication and lead to more effective answers.  In addition, asking focused questions could empower students and lead to more independence. Michael’s work and questioning techniques are helpful for dealing with the people in your workplace.  You can sign up for Michael Bungay Stanier’s “The Coaching Habit” Podcast online and find other great coaching resources at Box of Crayons .

 

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The Author

Michelle Fenn

I am a teacher with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and I have been teaching for over 20 years. I am an Instructional Leadership Consultant with the portfolios of Innovations and NTIP. I have the privilege of working with new teachers and their mentors as well as helping teachers develop 21st Century learning competencies with their students. When I grow up I want to be Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus.

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