189. The Right Question

Sometimes, when a particular child is a challenge, a teacher can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with a successful approach. Teachers – especially experienced teachers – often have vast repertoires of strategies, and want to make sure they’ve exhausted these repertoires before asking for help. It’s partly a matter of pride, and partly a matter of convenience. Asking for help can feel like a sign of weakness, and besides, who has time to ask for help when they’re busy trying to solve problems?
When a teacher can’t seem to find the answer to a question about a child, it’s possible that he/she could be asking the wrong question. A simple example is “Why can’t Rufus pay attention?” A more useful question
would be “What strategies could be effective in helping Rufus learn to attend better?” “Pay attention” is an unfortunate phrase; one can only pay what one has, and for some children, attention is scarce, and paying it had better yield immediate and satisfying results.
My friend, Ann Morse, is an expert at asking questions. She has spent most of her adult life working with children who have special needs, and with the parents and teachers of these children. Teachers and other humans have a tendency to think that answers, not questions, are intelligent, but Ann and many other consultants have taught me that asking the right question can reveal answers that may be much closer and simpler than we ever imagined.
Questions, at first, may not seem to be what are needed. The minds of inexperienced teachers may feel too full of questions. They want answers. And when teachers have been teaching for many years, they can start to believe that they’ve already asked all the important questions. They want answers, too. They feel as if they’ve already exhausted their own resources, and they want someone else to come along with some new resources.
I know it can be irritating, in times of crisis, to be asked questions. When you’re down and troubled, you want someone to come along and say, “Here’s what you should do.” And you want it to be something you’ve never thought of. But teachers very often already have the answers, and don’t know it. Their years of experience and their intelligent minds are filled with creative and appropriate answers, just waiting for the right question.

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