Podcast: Leading With Curiosity, Questions, and Deep Listening - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Leading With Curiosity, Questions, and Deep Listening

According to a Harvard Business Review article, “curiosity helps employees engage more deeply in their work, generate new ideas, and share those ideas with others.” Certainly, these are all benefits we would want for staff in our schools. The questions that leaders and coaches use can support tapping into curiosity.  Find out why “what” is a good start for your questions.

Listen to the podcast with Tanya Sheckly and Tom Willis here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes! 

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:00.330] – Steve [Intro]

Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.

[00:00:26.730] – Steve

Leading with curiosity questions and deep listening. It’s important that leaders generate and support curiosity among your staff and team. According to a Harvard Business Review article, curiosity helps employees engage more deeply in their work, generate new ideas, and share those ideas with others. When feeling curious at work, 73% of individual contributors report sharing ideas more and gaining new ideas for their organizations. Successful organizations are rooted in curiosity. To generate new ideas and add value to their organizations, employees at all levels need an environment where they can be curious, seek and absorb new information, and make connections. Teacher curiosity should certainly be supported and encouraged through our coaching and facilitating practices. On a podcast titled, “Building a Culture of Empathy and Curiosity,” Tanya Sheckley, from the Rebel Educator podcast, interviews Tom Willis from Phoenix Performance Partners, an organization that supports CEOs and superintendents to forge cultures that foster growth. Listen in to just a short piece of that podcast where Sheckley asks Willis about the role of curiosity, and then she asks a question that I frequently receive in my work. What are some of your favorite good questions?

[00:02:30.790] – Tanya

What role do you think curiosity plays both in education as we shift the way that we’re teaching our students, but also in culture, as we shift the way that we’re working with educators?

[00:02:39.230] – Tom

Oh, it’s huge. I think it’s huge. I think the world is changing so rapidly. You think about the power of chatGPT, and all these AI tools that are coming that you could upload an organization’s entire work history, legal documents, everything else, and within minutes, that system is smarter than the smartest team of lawyers you could possibly hire. So going forward as leaders, it’s going to be less and less about what we know and more and more about what we can help facilitate from a group of people. And the best way to do that, as far as I can tell, is curiosity – is the simple, open ended question, powerful question that gets people thinking and gets teams talking in new in different ways. And so it’s going to be the same as schools, I think, with kids, too, that ultimately, we’ve got to help facilitate a love of learning that’s lifelong and the way to do that is through curiosity. It’s why kids start off asking millions of questions a year, and then by the time we reach adulthood, we’re asking a few questions. It kind of gets beaten out of us. And I think we’ve got to reverse that trend in order for all of us to more fully just be open.

[00:03:50.860] – Tom

I heard this fascinating fact the other day, that the Library of Congress has something like 180,000,000 reference documents and books in it that’s sort of, if you will, the sum total of what we know as human beings, which is a fraction of what there is to know in the world, in the universe. So there’s no possible way that we could read those books. We can’t even read a fraction of them. So quite literally, we don’t know anything. Even the smartest people don’t really know that much. And so if we can let go of that and let go of, like, we need to prove ourselves to the world, it opens us up. It’s very freeing to just be willing to be curious. And as teachers especially, we all know that the sage on the stage is a dying breed, that we really need to be more of the guide on the side. Now, I think there’s a place for both of them. Frankly, it’s neither either or, but I think we need to be moving more and more towards that guide on the side that’s just asking questions and getting kids thinking.

[00:04:47.840] – Tanya

I like guide on the side.

[00:04:49.280] – Tanya

I don’t think I’ve heard that one before. We’ve talked a lot about learning engineers and facilitators of learning and guides, but I haven’t heard it in a nice alliteration like that. That’s fun.

[00:05:00.030] – Tanya

It’s something that I’m always working on is how can I be more curious and how can I ask more questions?

[00:05:15.080] – Tanya

Because I find myself, even in social settings, I’m drawn to the people who are asking the best questions because they draw out so many things in others in the group around and then you can dive into these really interesting conversations because somebody asked this really curious question. So do you have any favorite open ended questions that you like to start with when you work with schools or with groups and culture building?

[00:05:30.510] – Tom

Yeah, it’s a fair question, and the answer is no. And here’s why – because when I started doing this work eight years ago, I was focused on memorizing good questions, and I completely missed the point because your question has to be in response to what people say, which means you have to be deeply, deeply listening to what they’re saying. Because if you’re not, then all you’re focused on is the question you’re going to ask, not a question that will help the other person, and that’s really hard to do. I have not mastered it myself. It’s very difficult to do. So my response would be, first of all, to ask an open ended question. We don’t realize how often we think we are, but we’re not. Especially as leaders, we’ll say things like, well, here’s what I think, and I think we should do this and we should do that and don’t you think that’s a good idea? Now, if I’m a leader and I just ask my team that, it’s not even a closed ended question with two possible answers.

[00:06:25.670] – Tanya

They have to agree with you.

[00:06:28.250] – Tom

It’s not a question. Now, there are some very good hearted leaders who don’t intend to do that. They genuinely want to know what their team thinks, but they don’t realize that they just shut the conversation down with a closed ended “don’t you agree with me” type of question. So I would say if you’re going to focus on anything, use the word “what” and then insert your question after that. Because if you start with what, you almost can’t get yourself in trouble. Whereas some of the other questions like why technically open ended but can be very judgmental, there can be like an element of like, well, why did you do that? So what is kind of the fail safe way to start an open ended question?

[00:07:08.650] – Steve

I think that tapping my curiosity helps me to ask questions that emerge from my deep listening. My questions can prompt a teacher to reflect on their practice, consider the impact of their teaching strategies, or identify areas for growth or change. Examples: What do you think students need to do that will cause the learning outcomes you desire to occur? What do you see yourself doing to get those student learning behaviors? Questions from coaches can lead teachers to discover insights about their teaching style, preferences and the potential areas for innovation. Guiding teachers to articulate their thoughts and feelings about their teaching can uncover new ideas and strategies that teachers may not have considered otherwise. For example, if you had more time for this unit, would you want to approach teaching this unit differently? Why?

[00:08:21.650] – Steve

What do you feel is most important for students to gain from the unit? How similar or different are the experiences your students need to have? Coaching questions can challenge teachers to solve problems creatively. Engaging in the problem solving process, teachers can develop a more flexible approach to overcoming challenges in the classroom. An example: Where in the lesson did you get the student engagement and learning that you wanted? What do you think caused or supported that? Where did you not get the engagement you wanted? Any thoughts on what might change that? I’m wondering what other teachers are finding with that student. Questions that focus on teachers strengths and past successes can reinforce their self efficacy and encourage them to embrace new challenges. Example: I noticed students being very comfortable when challenged by a task and struggling, yet they kept persisting. Seems like that is supported by your classroom climate. How did you create that? Or, what would you say are changes you’ve made across your teaching career that were based on things you learned? Coaches can use questions to help teachers set goals and develop plans to meet those goals. These conversations can help teachers focus their creative efforts and track their progress over time.

[00:10:04.050] – Steve

I like to approach this with the teacher forming a hypothesis to reach a desired goal. Here’s an example: You talked about students lacking some critical executive functioning skills. If you had a scale of one to seven where one was students substantially below level and five were students on level and seven was above level, how would you place your students currently on that continuum? What ideas do you have for moving those at one, two, or three to a four? How might we experiment with those ideas? How might I, as a coach, observe students and provide you with information as you’re working with your idea? Do you have thoughts for adding skills for the other students? Asking questions that encourage teachers to articulate their vision for their classroom and their students creates an opportunity for my coaching to be in partnership with the teacher. An example might be: What would you say you want students to learn from the classroom management approach you take? Or, what would you say students gain from their experiences with you that are not in the curriculum? As I put together these sample questions, I realized that Tom Willis’s suggestion that what can often provide a good starting point is quite accurate.

[00:11:48.770] – Steve

Note that my questions don’t jump quickly to any what the teacher should do next. They do generate a teacher voice for me to listen to. That listening guides my next coaching response. Consider recording one of your upcoming coaching conferences and then examine your questions. What do you find? What might you want to change? You can always reach out to me with questions at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.

[00:12:30.110] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley. Or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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