Those of you who follow me on this blog - or know me personally - understand that I like to ask questions...and that I like to ask questions that are difficult and thoughtful. I am not sure where that comes from, but I have come to understand that the better questions one asks, the better answers one receives. As a teacher, this is an important technique to assess whether or not students have comprehended the ideas in class...and as an administrator, this is an important technique to help my faculty and others around me consider our mission and vision at an even deeper level.
I have spent much of this past week doing exit interviews with graduating seniors in the hope that they will provide me with information that leads to an improvement in our program. The best results from this type of interview come from good questions. While I have a standard set of questions I ask everyone, there is always a moment in each of the interviews in which I have to pause and consider what the next question should be, because I know I am on the verge of getting an answer that will give me even better information. In fact, most of the best questions I ask often come as a result of me having to pause and think for a few moments about what the next question will be. Using the right words, the right tone of voice, and the right intention are all a part of shaping "the best question ever."
In a recent book I have been reading entitled Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, the authors have a section entitled "Intent Trumps Form" in which the reader is reminded to consider the intent of the question...what is the context in which the question is being asked? what is the purpose behind the question? what is it that we really want the student to consider when answering the question? and what will the answer lead to next? In the interviews noted above, I have to be careful that the students never feel as if I am trying to trap them or that I am looking for a specific answer, otherwise the answer will provide little or no useful information and the student will stop trusting the process.
So what is "the best question ever?" My initial thought when beginning to think about this blog was that "the best question ever" would be a simple WHY? The depth of asking WHY? is critical to helping others understand themselves and for getting an answer with which you can learn something. But I think I have changed my mind...perhaps "the best question ever" is the one asked where 1) the inquirer has only the best intentions; 2) the inquirer has no preconceived notion of what the answer will or should be; 3) the inquirer cares enough about the one being asked to create a safe and trusting environment; and 4) there is always an option for the one being asked to not answer the question.
So start practicing asking "the best question ever." It will not be easy...it will not be comfortable...and it will not be welcomed all the time - but it WILL make a difference in the answer you receive and in the life of the one being asked.