"That’s really a good question." - Steve Barkley

“That’s really a good question.”

Perhaps one of the greatest things for a coach to hear in the middle of a coaching conference is the response “that’s really a good question.”  Whenever I get that response, I smile because it indicates to me that my work in questioning has caused the coachee to consider something that he or she is thinking to be of value.

I see three main categories as purposes for my coaching questions. I call the first one finding out and knowing, the second, reflection, and the third, exploring future actions.

Finding out and knowing.

I’m big on using the phrase ‘the teacher’s agenda.’ It’s important to me that I know what thinking is going on behind the teacher’s actions that I’m observing. What did the teacher think about when planning this lesson? What decisions did the teacher consider?  How did the teacher come to make the decisions that she made?

  • In a pre-conference, “What did you know about the students as you planned this lesson and how did that knowing influence what you planned?”
  • Another pre-conference question might be, “How important is this piece of the curriculum to your learners and why?”
  • In a post conference, “When during the lesson did you see what you thought you would see when you were planning and what did you see that differed from what you thought while planning?”
  • Another post conference question might be – “You asked me to record (a particular action). What do you think you’ll find when you look at the data that I’ve collected?” As an example: “You asked me to record the questions that you use. What do you think you’ll find as you look at the list of questions?”

In many ways, the finding out and knowing questions are really for me. I want to know the teacher’s thinking before I share my thinking. My decisions about what I’m going to say or how I’m going to say it are influenced by my understanding of the teacher’s thinking.

Reflection Questions

With reflection questions, I’m sparking the teacher’s thinking. Through that reflection, the teacher may consider something that he or she would not have consciously thought through had it not been for the questions coming from the coach. I’ve had experiences in a pre-conference where because of the reflection the teacher has done, the teacher may look at me and say, “You know what? I don’t even need you to come into my classroom now because the piece that I wanted to work on, I’ve thought through.”  That consciousness is an important outcome from reflection.

Reflection questions might be something like this.

  • In a pre-conference:
    # So you’re planning to have students work in groups of four. What have you experienced when you’ve done that in the past?

#How much of this lesson are you able to plan prior to the lesson versus how much of this lesson will have to be decisions you’re making as the lesson unfolds?

  • In a post conference:

# How do you think my presence impacted what happened in the lesson?

#  What questions came to your mind as the lesson unfolded?

# Are there questions that are remaining at the end of this lesson?

#What would you say you learned while teaching this lesson?

It’s critical to give enough time when you’re asking reflection questions in conferencing. If you ask the question, and the person doesn’t begin a response right away, be careful not to begin to offer possible answers.  Extend the pause time and wait time.

Exploring future actions

Future action is mostly a post- conferencing process although it may be used at the end of a pre- conference to set the focus for the observation.

#What’s the best way for me to record information in my observation so that it will be most useful to you?

# What’s the question on your mind that you’d like to use this coaching observation to answer?

In the post conference

# How can we go about finding the answer to the question that has arisen?

 #You were interested in the questions that you got students to ask during the lesson. What ideas do you have for changes to increase the number of student questions?

 #You’re thinking of extending the time for students to work on this project? What do you see as the benefits to be gained from extending that time, and what risk are there in extending that time?

Two clues for increasing the effectiveness of your questions.

First, consider the purpose of your questions. Are you finding out? Are you seeking reflection? Are you looking ahead to action? Thinking of the reason for your question will help add clarity to your question.

The second most critical part is listening. Avoid trying to think of your next question while the teacher is speaking. Dedicate your time to listening, and then give yourself pause time at the end of the teacher’s answer to think of the next question. Only then can your questioning truly follow the teacher because your question comes from the depth of listening you did to the teacher’s response.

 Investing in building your questioning skills will extend the impact of your coaching.

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