Monday, May 16, 2016

Questions to Guide Conversations, Collaboration, or Committee Meetings

As an instructional coach, I meet with teachers all the time to discuss their educational practice, set goals, and to problem solve around current issues. Many times, I use a collaborative log to document conversations. This log serves two purposes. One is that it is a visual reminder of progress made over a series of time. Two, the structure of questions on the log help to guide reflective and action-oriented conversations.

One of the most important roles an educator plays is being a mentor to fellow teachers. Whether your title is an instructional coach, TOSA (teacher on special assignment), classroom teacher, or administrator, there are usually multiple opportunities to mentor new and tenured colleagues every single day. Mentors have the potential to make a positive or negative impact on school climate and student performance. Mindful Mentors can use these questions and attached conversation logs to lead colleagues or to assist in keeping things productive on your school campus. These questions can be discussed at staff meetings, grade level collaboration, within one on one coaching models, or in the lunch room or hallways on any school campus.

Ask the Right Questions 
Educators are so busy working with kids every day, and sometimes they can't wait to communicate with other adults about what is going on in their classroom. Start conversations or meetings by asking questions to check in with colleagues. Give them an opportunity to talk and problem solve to work through the day to day concerns that arise. Try using this series of questions in your conversations with colleagues or when leading a group of educators:
  1. What is going well for you in your classroom?
  2. What is currently a challenge for you?
  3. What are your next steps?
  4. What can I do to support you? 
What is going well for you in your classroom?
Asking thoughtful questions shows your support for the work that is being completed. This first question keeps the focus on what is going well and positive classroom success. It helps the educator to name the positives and see the potential for things that are currently working in their classroom. Additionally, an opportunity to share some success, builds mutual respect, sparks new ideas or collaborative projects, and helps colleagues to feel like the work that they are doing is meaningful. 

What is currently a challenge for you?
Asking the second question moves the conversation into a reflective stage. Taking the time to think about our challenges, forces one to address them head on. If you are currently experiencing some challenges with a colleague, it's possible that asking this question is an entry point to having a hard conversation in a safe environment. If there are patterns in the challenges shared at your school site, as a leader, take the time to problem solve around those issues as a group.

If you are using this series of questions with a small group of people, make sure that each member of the group has an equal amount of time to share their responses. Giving colleagues an opportunity to share challenges builds community and gives the mentor an opportunity to see trends and patterns in the everyday classroom struggles that teachers are faced with. 

What are your next steps?
Asking this question shifts the conversation from a state of discontent to problem solving. This question puts the responsibility for learning on the educator because it asks for them to think deeply about what they can do to change the current situation. During this time, give your colleague time to think and reflect on what they can do to improve the challenges. Discuss aspects that are within their control and identify the factors that are out of their control. Keep the conversation focused on controllable factors and share ideas about what resources are available to best support the situation. If it's difficult to decide what is within your control, ask yourself this question, "What is best for the kids(s)?" It is important to keep the students at the center of decision-making at all times.

What can I do to support you? 
We are all in this world of education together. Support each other along the way. Asking this question reminds your colleagues that they do not have to teach in isolation. If someone asks you this question, think deeply about how to respond and ask for help when needed. Working with students is complex. There are so many directions and avenues available to create the best possible learning experience on a school campus. Work together to plan, share responsibilities, and put structures and procedures in place to ensure a positive learning experience for ALL students. Asking this question reminds educators that we can make a difference in the lives of the students that we work with. Avoid placing blame on students, parents, or other colleagues and focus on supporting each other to support the kids.

Keep these four questions in mind when you are working one on one, on committees, or in small groups. Guiding the conversation in this way helps to ensure productive outcomes and an inclusive community of educators.

Tech Tip
CLICK HERE for a link to a collaborative questioning log. Each week, or each time you meet, use the same Google Doc. Add the new notes to the top of the log so that you and your colleagues can view and document the successes, challenges, and problem-solving that happens throughout the school year.