Leading Through Quality Questioning: Creating Capacity, Commitment, and Community


Jackie Acree Walsh & Beth Dankert Sattes

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  • Dedication

    In memory of our fathers, Jack K. Acree and Herbert W. H. Dankert, whose lives were our best lessons in leadership


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    List of Tables and Figures

    Figure 1.1Leading Through Quality Questioning (LQQ) Framework7
    Table 2.1Common Errors in Questioning17
    Table 2.2Habits of Mind That Promote Quality Questioning23
    Table 2.3Follow-Up Questions and Comments to Extend Thinking26
    Figure 3.1The Maximizing Leader's Mental Model37
    Figure 4.1A Dialogue Tool48
    Figure 6.1Reflective Questioning65
    Figure 6.2Walkabout Summary68
    Figure 7.1Rating: To What Extent Do We Engage in Inquiry-Centered Practices in Our School?76
    Table A.1Approach 183
    Table A.2Approach 284
    Figure B.1Data on Display89
    Figure B.2Fishbone91
    Figure B.3Force Field Analysis95
    Figure C.1The Quality Question Quotient (QQQ): A Self-Assessment111

    Preface: What Have we Learned from Our Work? Quality Questioning is not Just for the Classroom Anymore

    What Do we Mean by Quality Questioning?

    Quality questioning is a process for engaging individuals in thinking together. It begins with the crafting of a focused, purposeful, engaging question and continues with the intentional use of strategies that facilitate and sustain thinking. This process can thrive only in a culture of inquiry that is supported by shared norms and habits of mind. Quality questioning is useful in classrooms, schools, and other venues where individuals come together to learn and create.

    Which Leadership Functions are Most Enhanced by Quality Questioning?

    Quality questioning practices enhance the ongoing informal and formal communications in which leaders engage—regardless of the purpose or context for the communication. However, certain leadership functions are particularly supported by quality questioning. We spotlight four of these functions in this book: maximizing, mobilizing, mediating, and monitoring. When coupled with quality questioning, the execution of these functions takes a school leader beyond management and into the realm of true leadership. We define these functions as follows:

    • Maximizing relates to the development of individual and organizational potential and capacity.
    • Mobilizing is the process of getting folks on board, motivated, and committed to attaining an organization's vision or goals.
    • Mediating refers to the means by which leaders help create common ground between and among members of their community.
    • Monitoring engages individuals in assessing the extent to which they are progressing individually and collectively toward identified benchmarks.

    We view leadership expansively, as a practice, not a position; hence, each of the above functions can be performed by leaders at all levels within the educational environment—from the school superintendent to the school principal to the classroom teacher to the student. The scenarios in this book, however, feature school and district leaders.

    What is the Organization of Leading Through Quality Questioning?

    We designed this book as a hands-on manual of practice for education leaders at all levels. While readers need not proceed sequentially from Chapters 1 to 7, we suggest that you begin with Chapters 1 and 2. In Chapter 1, we present the Leading Through Quality Questioning Framework and a rationale for adopting this approach; in Chapter 2, we elaborate on the questioning skills and strategies associated with this practice.

    Chapters 3 through 6 focus on the four leadership functions: maximizing, mobilizing, mediating, and monitoring. These chapters can be read in any order, depending upon the reader's interest. Each features one or more scenarios based on real cases or composites; the names of schools and individuals, however, are fictional. Throughout these chapters, we highlight various structured group processes that leaders have used to engage members of a school community in thinking and responding together. Detailed instructions for facilitating 20 of these processes are included in Resource B. The success of each process depends upon the formulation of quality questions to drive the conversation. We have used each of these processes countless times to engage educators in quality conversations. We invite you to experiment with them as you seek to expand and enrich inquiry across your community.

    The scenario in Chapter 7 features a principal who is a composite of several principals with whom we have worked. This school leader is struggling with how to transform her school into an inquiry-centered school in which quality questioning characterizes adult and student interactions. While there is no single how-to or simple formula for building such a community, this scenario profiles one approach. The chapter references a self-assessment, the Quality Questioning Quotient, which is included as Resource C. We hope you will use this self-assessment individually and with your staff as a tool for reflection and professional growth.

    Quality questioning is a dynamic that is best learned experientially. We were challenged to reduce this dynamic to words on a page. It is our hope that readers will try out strategies, experiment with sample questions, and reflect on their experiences. We hope, too, that you will share these experiences with us, and contact us when we can support your learning.


    Enhanced insights and learnings emerge from reflection and dialogue. Over the 20-plus years of our work together, we have engaged in dialogue with hundreds of clients and colleagues about the practice and potential of quality questioning. Their insights and questions were catalysts for our deeper reflection about the implications of quality questioning for educators in varying contexts. Their stories were inspirations for the scenarios presented in this book. While we cannot mention each one of these individually, we are deeply appreciative for their interest and support.

    We single out the following individuals without whose influence we would not have completed this project. Betty Burks, Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, San Antonio Independent School District, first encouraged us to expand our work in quality questioning to the leadership arena. Tony Thacker, Coordinator of the Alabama Governor's Commission on Quality Teaching, shared deeply from his personal experience as principal of an alternative high school and motivated us to continue our endeavor when we were stalled. Cathy Gassenheimer, Director of the Alabama Best Practices Center, made it possible for Jackie to work with and learn from leaders at all levels across the state. Carla McClure, a long-time friend and colleague, read the manuscript multiple times and provided critical-friend feedback. Hudson Perigo, Executive Editor at Corwin, was patient, encouraging, and supportive over the course of the project.

    Finally, we acknowledge the ongoing love and support provided by our families who have enabled us to blend our professional endeavors into our lives as wives and mothers.

    About the Authors

    Jackie Acree Walsh, PhD, and Beth Dankert Sattes are long-time advocates of quality questioning for students, teachers, and school leaders. Authors of Quality Questioning: Research-Based Practice to Engage Every Learner (Corwin, 2005), they have provided professional development in classroom questioning for thousands of teachers and school leaders in more than 30 states. They are codevelopers of Questioning and Understanding to Improve Learning and Thinking (QUILT), a nationally validated professional development program on effective questioning and copresenters of the Video Journal in Education series Questioning to Stimulate Thinking (1999). Included in their other joint endeavors are the creation of professional development modules on improving school culture (for the Southern Regional Education Board) and leading learning communities (for the Alabama Leadership Academy).

    Jackie Acree Walsh holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Duke University, a master's degree in teaching (MAT) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a PhD in educational administration and supervision from the University of Alabama. Beginning her career as a high school social studies teacher, she has worked in university administration, at a state department of education, and as a research and development specialist at a regional educational laboratory. In recent years, she has worked as an independent consultant, specializing in design and facilitation of learning experiences for adults with an emphasis upon questioning, classroom coaching, and leadership. Jackie can be reached at WalshJA@aol.com.

    Beth Dankert Sattes holds a bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University and amaster's degree in early childhood special education from Peabody College. A former teacher, she worked in research and development at Edvantia (formerly AEL, a regional educational laboratory) in professional development and in parent and community partnerships with schools. Currently, she heads Enthused Learning, an educational consulting company. Beth can be reached at Beth@EnthusedLearning.com.

  • Resource A: Examples of Closed and Open-Ended Questions

    Approach 1 (Closed Questions)

    Leader: Do your students know the procedures for cooperative work?

    Teacher: Well, most of them probably do.

    Leader: Don't you think it would help if all students knew specific procedures for cooperative work?

    Teacher: Yes, I guess so.

    Leader: Have you ever asked students to assess themselves on their use of the procedures for cooperative learning?

    Teacher: Not really; I pretty much have a feel for who's acting appropriately and who's not.

    Approach 2 (Open-Ended Questions)

    Leader: What are the rules and procedures that you believe are most helpful to students as they work in cooperative groups?

    Teacher: It's certainly important that they establish leadership roles: recorder, materials manager, timekeeper, and facilitator. And, I think it's important that these roles be rotated so that every student has an opportunity to assume each leadership role. Also, I think it's important that everyone contribute; it's not right to depend on one or two students to do all the thinking for the group.

    Leader: How have you helped students learn procedures for working together in groups?

    Teacher: (Pauses to consider the question.) Well, to tell you the truth, I haven't spent a lot of time specifically teaching these procedures. Of course, at the beginning of the year, we reviewed the four leadership roles—and defined each. And, I continually remind them how important it is that each student contributes. But generally, we follow the same rules in cooperative learning that we do in whole-group instruction: don't interrupt, listen to others, have all of your materials available, and don't talk out unless you are recognized by the teacher. Oh, well, that one doesn't work for cooperative groups. I guess we really need to have a set of rules and procedures that we follow when we work like this. In fact, I think the kids themselves could help formulate a list. They've done this enough to know what works and what doesn't.

    Leader: What might be the benefits if students did have clear expectations for how to work in groups?

    Teacher: Well, we all work better if we have a vision of how it can be. I think having clear expectations—and having them posted on each cluster of desks while students work together—would help them remember. And beyond that, they don't all know how to work together. Some do; but others haven't really engaged in teamwork before. Or they may feel inadequate and not feel that they can contribute. Yes, I definitely think that it will help if we have posted rules and procedures for working cooperatively. And, I'm going to let the kids help me develop them.

    Leader: How might students monitor their use of effective procedures for cooperative work?

    Teacher: Oh, that would really seal the deal. If they can help me create the procedures, they are certainly in the best position to assess their group's functioning. You know, I think I remember hearing something about that at the inservice session we had last semester.

    Now, read through these two approaches again. This time, we have added a column to represent what each person might have been thinking as he or she spoke. Can you see that questions have a powerful effect on attitude—for example, defensiveness versus openness; trying to guess the “right” answer versus articulating one's own thoughts; boredom versus excitement and enthusiasm?

    Table A.1 Approach 1
    Actual CommentWhat They Might Be Thinking
    Leader:Do your students know the procedures for cooperative work?This teacher was using cooperative learning when I observed. That's really good; I've been trying to encourage teachers to use these strategies. Unfortunately, not all of the kids seem to know how to act in cooperative groups. Establishing procedures is a key to success in using cooperative learning. I wonder if she has taught them to the students.
    Teacher:Well, most of them probably do.What's so hard about working in groups? There are some kids who don't know how to behave in school; they act inappropriately and get the others off task. That's par for the course.
    Leader:Don't you think it would help if all students knew specific procedures for cooperative work?Remember, we had a great inservice session last semester that really stressed this.
    Teacher:Yes, I guess so.Whew, there's no other way to answer that question, is there? Seems like she's leading the witness. I guess she's not happy with something that happened today. Wish she would stop asking—and just tell me in plain English!
    Leader:Have you ever asked students to assess themselves on their use of the procedures for cooperative learning?This was another strategy we learned at the inservice. I thought this was really great!
    Teacher:Not really; I pretty much have a feel for who's acting appropriately and who's not.What in the world is she talking about?
    Table A.2 Approach 2
    Can you see how defensiveness is replaced by openness, new ideas, and commitment to try something new?
    Actual CommentWhat They Might Be Thinking
    Leader:What are the rules and procedures that you believe are most helpful to students as they work in cooperative groups?
    • This teacher was using cooperative learning when I observed. That's really good; I've been trying to encourage teachers to use these strategies. Unfortunately, not all the kids seem to know how to act in cooperative groups. Establishing procedures is a key to success in using cooperative learning. I wonder if she has taught them to the students.
    • And, I'm wondering what she knows about the importance of teaching rules and procedures that help students work successfully in groups. I wonder what she believes are the most important ones.
    Teacher:It's certainly important that they establish leadership roles: recorder, materials manager, timekeeper, and facilitator. And, I think it's important that these roles be rotated so that every student has an opportunity to assume each leadership role. Also, I think it's important that everyone contribute; it's not right to depend on one or two students to do all the thinking for the group.This is interesting to think about. I'm not sure I've ever articulated these to myself. I wonder why she is asking.
    Leader:How have you helped students learn procedures for working together in groups?I'm wondering if these have been communicated to students clearly. And, I wonder if she could add to the examples of important procedures.
    Teacher:Well, to tell you the truth, I haven't spent a lot of time specifically teaching these procedures. Of course, at the beginning of the year, we reviewed the four leadership roles—and defined each. And I continually remind them how important it is that each student contributes. But generally, we follow the same rules in cooperative learning that we do in whole-group instruction: don't interrupt, listen to others, have all of your materials available, and don't talk out unless you are recognized by the teacher. Oh, well, that one doesn't work for cooperative groups. I guess we really need to have a set of rules and procedures that we follow when we work like this. In fact, I think the kids themselves could help formulate a list. They've done this enough to know what works and what doesn't.
    • That's an interesting question. Let me think about it.
    • I wonder what other teachers have done. Do they have a set of special rules and procedures that help students work cooperatively?
    Leader:What might be the benefits if students did have clear expectations for how to work in groups?Oh, she's getting it! Now, I'd like for her to say aloud the reasons so that she remembers how important it is to do this.
    Teacher:Well, we all work better if we have a vision of how it can be. I think having clear expectations—and having them posted on each cluster of desks while students work together—would help them remember. And beyond that, they don't all know how to work together. Some do; but others haven't really engaged in teamwork before. Or they may feel inadequate and not feel that they can contribute. Yes, I definitely think that it will help if we have posted rules and procedures for working cooperatively. And I'm going to let the kids help me develop them.This makes so much sense. How could I have missed that? This is really going to help, I think.
    Leader:How might students monitor their use of effective procedures for cooperative work?I wonder if I could push just a little bit more. This was something that was mentioned in the inservice session and I think it might be worth bringing up now.
    Teacher:Oh, that would really seal the deal. If they can help me create the procedures, they are certainly in the best position to assess their own group's functioning. You know, I think I remember hearing something about that at the inservice session we had last semester.Yes, I can!

    Resource B: Structured Group Processes that Engage Members of the School Community in Thinking and Dialogue

    1. Conversations88
    2. Data on Display89
    3. Final Word90
    4. Fishbone91
    5. Fishbowl92
    6. Five Whys93
    7. Focus Group94
    8. Force Field Analysis95
    9. Four-Corner Synectics96
    10. Helicopter Visioning97
    11. Ink Think (Nonverbal Mind Mapping)98
    12. Interview or Conference99
    13. Interview Design100
    14. Peoplegraph102
    15. Questioning Circle103
    16. Reflective Questioning104
    17. Say Something106
    18. Thinkathon107
    19. Think-Pair-Share108
    20. Tuning Protocol109
    1. Conversations

    Establishes a setting in which individuals think about and discuss important ideas, contributing from their own perspective and building on one another's ideas to create a new understanding; scaffolds true dialogue; creates a “whole” of collective thinking about a given topic as people share insights through a structured process designed to foster understanding and spark creativity.


    Prepare an essential question (one that gets at the heart of the matter being addressed) for each table at which participants will hold a conversation. Make a copy of the question, and place it on the table. Provide a variety of markers and crayons as well as one or two sheets of easel paper to form a tablecloth on which participants can record their conversation ideas.


    Once four to six participants are seated at each table, introduce the process. Explain that an essential question will guide each table's conversation. Each table should begin by having someone read the question aloud as others in the small group listen and focus on the important issues contained within the question. Group members are to record their responses with markers on the tablecloth. Encourage them to be creative and to use words, pictures, color, and other visuals. Group members should also verbalize their responses. Instruct them to speak openly and honestly, to listen to others carefully to fully understand their points of view, to watch for connections between ideas, and to honor silence (i.e., use wait time as appropriate).

    When time is called, each group will identify one person to remain as table host. The others will disperse to different tables so that participants will be with different people for each round of conversation. During the second round, most people (with the exception of the table host) will be talking about a new question. Instruct participants to listen to the question, review the ideas on the tablecloth, discuss them, and add their own ideas.

    The role of the table host is to welcome people to the table, answer any questions about the prior conversations held at the table, and remind people to write down ideas and questions—not to merely talk to one another—and to make connections between ideas.

    2. Data on Display

    Helps establish a risk-free environment in which group members reflect individually on core issues, see a visual display of the thinking of the whole group, and move from thinking about their own responses to thinking about implications of the group's responses; prompts hypothesis formulation and the examination of their own and others’ assumptions.

    Figure B.1 Data on Display

    Select a topic, and prepare four to six statements about which participants can agree or disagree. For best results, the statements will create cognitive dissonance among participants (i.e.,abelief with which they strongly agree followed by a statement of action that does not align with the belief). Prepare a handout for each participant with each statement followed by a scale from 100 to 0. Write each question or statement at the top of a sheet of easel paper; down the left edge of the chart, include a scale ranging from 100 to 0, marked off in 10-point increments. Leave enough space between the numbers for participants to place sticky notes (see Figure B.1). For each participant, provide one blank sticky note for each question (preferably 0.5″ × 1.75″). Hang the charts around the room. Seat participants at tables in small groups.


    Ask participants to respond individually to each of the statements by first selecting the extent to which they agree with the statement (from 0% to 100%) then by using sticky notestopost their responses on the charts, contributing to a bar graph for each statement. Allow time for individuals to view the charts and come to conclusions about what the data mean. Allow additional time for participants to discuss the data in small groups. Finally, facilitate a large-group discussion to identify conclusions and implications.

    3. Final Word

    Encourages listening to and learning from different points of view about a common reading; helps participants to think through, in depth, their own understanding of a specific passage of text; and facilitates true comprehension and meaning making.


    Identify a common reading related to the topic under consideration. Ask participants to read it before coming to the session and to identify three ideas about which they would like to talk or hear discussion. Seat participants in small groups of four or five. Provide copies of the directions for the process.


    Ask each group to identify (1) a facilitator, who will monitor the group's use of the Final Word protocol; (2) a timekeeper, who will alert participants to the time; and (3) a volunteer, to go first in the discussion of an idea from the reading. Throughout this process, when one person is speaking, others in the group are quiet; they are listening or taking notes.

    The first volunteer in the group selects one of his or her ideas, directs the attention of the group to the place in the reading where it appears, and talks about this idea for up to three minutes. When the first person finishes talking (or when time is called), each of the other group members will respond, in turn, for up to one minute each—staying on the topic introduced by the first speaker. When all members of the group have responded, the original speaker has up to one minute to give “the final word” on the topic.

    A second person then selects one of his or her ideas and follows the same process. If time allows, every person introduces an idea from the reading for discussion by the group.

    4. Fishbone

    Facilitates group brainstorming of specific ways to achieve a common goal.


    Decide on the quality question, or subject, that participants will consider. Draw a sample fishbone for the group (see Figure B.2). Seat participants at tables in small groups (4–6).


    Ask each small group to brainstorm strategies for accomplishing the goal that is specified in the point of the fishbone. After they have written the big ideas on the ribs of the fish, they can write more specific ideas branching out from each (as suggested by dashed lines). As small groups share their ideas with the large group, look for commonalities—and unique ideas.

    Figure B.2 Fishbone
    5. Fishbowl

    Engages participants in true dialogue with one another; helps a group learn the skills of dialogue and be intentional in practicing them; and encourages active listening and questioning.


    Prepare a pivotal question around which a group could have varied opinions and engage in dialogue. Arrange chairs into two concentric circles, with 6 to 10 chairs in the inside circle and the remaining chairs in the outside circle.


    Begin by sharing group norms to guide the experience and reviewing the skills and behaviors of dialogue (e.g., have an open mind; listen with respect to others’ responses, seeking to fully understand; use Wait Time 2, allowing at least 3–5 seconds of silence after each speaker; and monitor your participation, contributing ideas and allowing others to do the same).

    Select a group of participants to sit in the inner circle (or fishbowl), leaving one chair empty. Direct other participants to sit in the outer circle. Explain that the inside circle is to model dialogue—clarifying assumptions, speaking without defensiveness, and working to understand others’ points of view. The outside circle is to (1) listen to the exchange of ideas, (2) enter the inner circle to pose questions or make statements (which pushes the thinking of the fishbowl members), and (3) monitor the use of norms and dialogic skills used by the members of the fishbowl. (Whenever one of those in the outside circle wishes to pose a question or make a statement, he or she should move to the empty chair in the fishbowl to do so and then return to the outer circle.)

    Pose the pivotal question. Allow time for the group to respond. Prompt for clarification, as necessary; monitor the use of norms.


    For a rich discussion, give the question or questions to small groups for discussion prior to the fishbowl. Include a member from each small group in the inner circle; this will accomplish representation of the full group. Alternatively, allow time for individuals to respond in writing to a prompt prior to entering the fishbowl discussion.

    6. Five Whys

    Provides practice in asking probing questions; helps to uncover the underlying problem or root cause of an issue; and goes beyond the easy answer to help people explore their own assumptions.


    Develop a problem statement.


    If the group is large, ask participants to gather in small groups of two, three, or four people. In each group, members should designate one person to respond; the others are to be interviewers, listening and posing questions. Explain the process: One of the interviewers will ask why the problem occurs; the respondent will identify a potential cause. Then, an interviewer will ask why that cause occurs, and so on. Typically, it takes 5 times to get to a (sometimes unexpected) root cause; but 5 is not a magic number. Each group may ask fewer or more than 5 whys.


    Explain that interviewers can use respondents’ answers to phrase their follow-up questions. For example, interviewers shouldn't merely say “Why?” each time. For example, if someone asks, “Why do so many students fail algebra?” the response might be, “Many of them never mastered the basics of math.” A good follow-up question might be, “Why do we have so many students who don't have a mastery of basic math?” (instead of a simple “Why?”).

    7. Focus Group

    Serves to gather information and perceptions from a small but representative group (8 to 10); encourages the open and honest expression of different points of view; and goes deep into a topic, bringing to the surface issues that may be difficult to express in the larger group.


    Create 5 to 10 open-ended questions around the topic of interest. For each question, create follow-up prompts that will help participants go deeper after initial responses. Select participants by inviting a representative group from the population of interest (e.g., teachers, parents, or students). Arrange chairs in a circle so that everyone can see others in the group. Write ground rules for the group. For example: One person speaks at a time, allow three to five seconds between speakers for all to digest what has been said, listen without judgment, monitor the amount of time you talk, contribute but allow others to do the same, add to others’ comments, refrain from using the names of students or teachers, agree to keep what is said in confidence.


    Welcome the group. Explain the purpose for the focus group and its ground rules. Pose an initial question and, in silence, allow time for people to think about it and to make notes to themselves. Open the floor for dialogue. Use probes and follow-up questions as appropriate. Encourage elaboration by using silence and verbal prompts.

    8. Force Field Analysis

    Analyzing the pros and cons of (or forces for and against) a decision, learning enough to be able to strengthen those forces that support a decision and reduce the oppositional forces.


    On an easel pad, create a sample force field (see Figure B.3) with the vision of an initiative in the center. Use this sample to describe the activity. Participants will replicate a version for their small-group work.


    Ask participants to brainstorm forces within the school and/or community that work to oppose the change—and to list them on the right side of a work-sheet. Then ask participants to list the forces that work to strengthen the change on the left side of the worksheet. The group should then analyze the forces listed on both sides and decide whether the proposed change or initiative is viable. If a decision has already been made to implement the initiative, Force Field Analysis can help the group determine how to improve its probability of success.


    If you want to create a quantitative look at the forces, ask participants to assign a score to each force, from one (weak) to five (strong). This can help the group set priorities as it moves forward with its plans.

    Figure B.3 Force Field Analysis
    9. Four-Corner Synectics

    Engages participants in metaphorical thinking about the issue under consideration; facilitates creative thinking that stimulates group discussion and problem solving.


    Prepare a prompt around the issue under consideration. For example, the prompt might be, “Describe your vision of effective professional development.” Select four words or images that participants can use to create metaphors (see examples below). Put each word or image on a separate sheet of flip chart paper, and post one in each corner of the room, along with a flip chart marker.


    Present the prompt and ask participants to write their responses. After adequate time for individual thinking, ask, “As you think about this issue, is it more like _____ or _____ or _____ or _____ [name the four metaphors]?” For example: Is effective professional development more like scuba diving, mountain climbing, deep-sea fishing, or white water rafting? Ask each participant to select the one metaphor that best matches his or her thinking on the topic.

    Direct participants to move to the corner of the room that displays their chosen metaphor. Once participants are grouped with others who selected the same metaphor, tell them to list the reasons for their choice on the flip chart paper (that is, to tell how their selected metaphor is like the topic under consideration). Ask each of the four groups to share its thinking with the others. Move to a large-group discussion on the topic.


    Here are some other possible metaphors: earth, wind, fire, water; playing basketball, conducting an orchestra, directing a movie, working a family farm; and a pick-up truck, a Cadillac, a Prius, an SUV.


    Simple synectics involves choosing two contrasting items and asking participants to respond individually, in writing, and then to share their ideas in small groups. For example, you might ask one of these questions: Are parent conferences more like spaghetti or ice cream? Is grading student work more like summer or winter? Is school improvement more like a roller coaster or an 18-wheel truck?

    10. Helicopter Visioning

    Prompts individual reflection that, when shared with others, can result in a common vocabulary and shared expectations and vision.


    Select an issue that needs attention at your school. Prompt participants to imagine themselves in a helicopter hovering above a school or classroom, able to see what is going on in that setting. Write the prompt on a handout for each participant or display it on a slide or easel so that all can see it. For example: Imagine you are hovering in a helicopter over your classroom six months from now—after you have successfully implemented hands-on activities to help students better learn and understand science. What would you see in that classroom; that is, what are you, as the teacher, doing? What are your students doing? What does the classroom feel like? What are the sounds and sights?


    Allow about three minutes for participants to think and write individually in response to the prompt. Then ask those present to form small groups and to identify a facilitator and recorder. Within each small group, individuals should share their responses and brainstorm ideas in a tell-around fashion, with each person contributing one idea in turn. Ask the groups to record each unique idea on a sticky note. Bring the sticky notes from all groups together and post them on a wall. Ask participants to cluster them into like categories and to name the categories. Assign at least one cluster to each group for naming.


    If too many clusters or ideas are generated, you can use a voting system by giving participants three to five colored dots each and asking them to post their dots next to the ideas or clusters they deem most important. List the top vote-getting ideas and ask the group to add any others that seem essential.

    11. Ink Think (Nonverbal Mind Mapping)

    Organizes information in a visual, nonlinear way; stimulates thinking; helps to develop new patterns of thought; and gets people to go deeper into a subject.


    Create one to four key questions that will help participants consider the vision, barriers, or benefits of a given concept. Prepare participant worksheets that include all four questions for individual reflection. Post wall charts (one for each question) around the room so that participants can record their thoughts. For each question, put a word, phrase, or symbol in the center of the chart to represent what you want the group to think about. If you have more than one group, provide each group with markers of a different color.


    Ask participants to reflect on each of the questions and to record their ideas individually. Encourage them not to censor their ideas but to record all thoughts. Divide participants into four groups. Assign one question (and its corresponding easel paper) to each group. Before the groups move to their wall charts, explain that this activity is to be done in silence. Members of each small group are to “listen” to one another by reading what the other group members write on the wall chart.

    As they gather at their assigned wall charts, one person in each group is to begin by writing a thought on a line coming out from the center of the page. Others add their thoughts to the visual. If the ideas are new, they will be written on new spokes emanating from the center. If the ideas are related to a previously recorded thought, they will be shown as branches coming off the previous idea. Encourage participants to draw symbols, as well, to create thought pictures on the mind map.

    If you began with more than one question, ask each group to move to another chart and add their thoughts to it. If members of a group use same-colored markers, the original group can see where ideas have been added.

    12. Interview or Conference

    Helps to surface issues and provide better understanding of deep— and perhaps unspoken—concerns; particularly helpful when individuals are polarized or unable to candidly and openly discuss an issue.


    Identify a setting where all individuals will be comfortable; avoid having a table or desk between you and the person to be interviewed. Develop at least one open-ended question with which to begin; create three or four others to pose as the conference proceeds. Consider using protocols or strategies to ensure honesty and understanding of one another.


    Articulate the purpose, establish norms or ground rules, and help participants understand that your purpose is to better understand individual points of view around a particular issue. Assure participants that you are interested in what they think and that there are no “right” answers. Explain that you will be taking notes for your own reference, and that the information shared will be held in confidence; that is, no response will ever be associated with an individual interviewee.

    Pose the first question. Use Wait Times 1 and 2. Prompt to more fully understand; for example, “Can you give a specific example?” or “Can you say more about that?” or “Can you help me understand your thinking here?” Throughout the interview, use effective communication techniques— including eye contact, nodding, and other nonverbal signals to demonstrate listening and to encourage reflective thought—and use strategies to help ensure clarity of understanding, such as rephrasing: “Do I understand you to say …?”

    Continue to pose the other questions at a comfortable rate. Refrain from giving your own point of view. During the course of an interview, do not discuss others’ responses.

    13. Interview Design

    Engages all group members in asking and answering a set of questions in a one-on-one setting; participants both gather and synthesize information and perceptions from group members in a manner that ensures that everyone has an equal voice.


    Prepare four questions of equal complexity around the topic of interest. Label the questions A through D and put them on a handout for all participants. In addition, create a handout with each question written on the top; make enough copies so that a fourth of the group will get question A, a fourth will get question B, and so on. Arrange the room so that there are several sets of eight chairs (a row of four facing a row of four), with enough chairs for all participants.


    The Interview Design process encompasses two phases:

    Phase 1: The Interviews. After participants are seated, review the process of interviewing. Ask with interest in the response; record what is said; probe, as necessary, to get behind thinking and reasoning; and refrain from making evaluative comments. In each row of four chairs, assign each participant one of the four questions, A–D; assign each person's partner (the person in the facing chair) the same question, so that question A faces A, B faces B, and so forth. (To simplify the process, you might want to place the appropriate questions underneath the chairs, face down, before the participants arrive. If you do this, tell the group not to retrieve the papers until they are directed to do so.)

    Allow a few minutes for the partners to ask and answer their assigned question. Then, within each set of eight, have one row of four participants remain seated while those in the facing row move in the following order: The person on one end of the moving row gets up and walks to the other end of the row, and the others in his row each move down one seat to let him sit in the end chair. Allow time for the new partners to ask one another their questions, and then have those in the moving row move again. Continue this pattern until every person in each row has answered all four questions—and has asked his or her question to each of the people in the facing row.

    Phase 2: Summarizing Data. Bring people together who asked the same question and have them work together to summarize the data they have collected. Ask each group to use easel paper and markers to record the major ideas. When all groups are finished, ask each group to share its results with the large group.

    • Provide context for each question by prefacing it with a statement or a provocative quote.
    • Use a timer and call time so that each person has the opportunity to pose a question and respond before the group moves.
    • Make accommodations, when the size of the group isn't evenly divisible by the number of questions, by adding a person to either end of one of the nonmoving rows.
    14. Peoplegraph

    Engages participants in active thinking about an issue that is central to a planned discussion prior to opening the actual discussion.


    Formulate a statement that is central to a key issue in an upcoming discussion. The statement should be one that is likely to promote divergent points of view. Prepare a handout with the statement and space for participants to write in response.


    Ask participants to think about the statement, taking time to clarify their thinking by writing individually. After a few minutes, ask them to decide the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement and to be prepared to offer reasons for their positions on the issue.

    Establish a continuum—an imaginary or real line in the meeting room or hallway—with one end designated “strongly agree” and the opposite end designated “strongly disagree.” Ask each person to stand at the point along the continuum that represents his or her current point of view on the statement. When participants have taken a position, tell them to form a group with two or three others who are standing nearby. Ask participants to share with others in their groups their reasons for selecting the position they took along the Peoplegraph. After about 5 minutes, ask a spokesperson from one of the groups to offer reasons to support that group's position. Open the floor for comments from other groups.


    This is a good strategy to use prior to a fishbowl, where the discussion can move into dialogue, with participants using active listening and other communication strategies to understand others’ points of view. Some facilitators like to group people with opposing views, having the “strongly disagree” end of the Peoplegraph get together with people from the “strongly agree” end to promote better understanding of opposing viewpoints.

    15. Questioning Circle

    Encourages thinking about a reading in order to identify key ideas and formulate questions about them; facilitates listening to and learning from different points of view about a common reading; and helps participants come to a deeper understanding—and make personal meaning—of a written passage.


    Identify and distribute a common reading (an article or a chapter from a book on the issue under study). Prepare written directions for the process.


    Organize participants into groups of four or five. Direct them to read the handout individually and identify three ideas that are interesting— ideas they would like to think about further. Tell participants to mark these passages as they read so that they can easily find them later. For each of these ideas, participants should craft an open-ended question. This should be a “true question” (one they truly wonder about), and it should call for responses that are above the level of recall or simple comprehension.

    Each group should identify (1) a facilitator, who will make sure that the group stays on task and that everyone participates, and (2) a volunteer to go first in posing one of his or her questions from the reading. During this entire process, as one person is speaking, others in the group should be quiet as they listen or take notes. This is not a discussion; there should be no back-and-forth conversation.

    The first volunteer in the group selects one of his or her ideas, directs the attention of the group to the place in the reading where it appears, and then poses the question. After some think time, the person to the right of the question asker begins to address the question. Note: This is not so much to “answer” the question as it is to think aloud about the question, with the question asker listening in. When the first person finishes talking, the others, in turn, have an opportunity to address the question posed by the first volunteer. Finally, after every member of the group has discussed the question, it returns to the original question poser, who then can think aloud about his or her own question. This concludes the first round.

    In turn, each of the other group members introduces a topic and poses a question, listens as the question is addressed by all group members, and then speaks about it. After all members have had an opportunity to pose a question, the cycle is complete.

    16. Reflective Questioning

    Helps professionals become intentional and skilled in the process of reflection, listening, and asking questions that stimulate reflection.


    Prepare two written prompts, paper on which participants can write reflections, and a description of the Reflective Questioning process, including the three participant roles (see below). Arrange participants into comfortably seated groups of three.


    Give individuals time for individual reflection and writing in response to the two questions (8–10 minutes). Call time, and tell participants that over the next 30 minutes each triad will engage in three rounds of reflective questioning. During each round, each member will have a particular role to play—reflector (speaker), interviewer, or observer.

    • The reflector is to begin the process by sharing thoughts from his or her written reflection. Reflectors speak openly, attempting to go deeper in their thinking as they are talking. Reflectors interact with their interviewers, seeking to use interviewers’ questions to take their thinking deeper.
    • The interviewer's job is to listen actively to the reflector and pose questions that will help the reflector think more deeply about the selected issue. Interviewers pose at least two kinds of questions: (1) clarifying questions designed to secure information that enables the interviewer to better understand the context and characteristics of the reflectors’ issues and (2) probing questions intended to get behind the reflectors’ thinking and facilitate deeper thinking on the part of the reflector.
    • The observer's role is to listen to the interchange between the reflector and the interviewer, taking notes about questions that seem to be particularly effective in triggering deeper thinking. Observers also watch the two discussants, looking for nonverbal behaviors (head nodding, eye contact, etc.) that support deeper reflection on the part of the reflector. The observers do not talk or otherwise enter into the conversation.

    Allow sufficient time (6–8 minutes) for the first round, in which one reflector shares. At the end of the allocated time, ask observers to provide feedback to their partners. Allow 2 minutes or so for feedback. You may then want to ask for whole-group sharing from observers by posing this question: What did the interviewer in your triad do that was particularly helpful to the reflector's thinking more deeply?

    Repeat this process for two more rounds, with each participant serving in each of the three roles.

    At the conclusion of the third round, debrief the process with the whole group by posing the following questions and using quality questioning strategies, such as Wait Times 1 and 2 and probing, to engage individuals in responding.

    • What did your interviewer do to take your reflection to another level?
    • Talk about the importance of nonverbals in the questioning-responding process. What can we take away from this experience that we can use in our everyday conversations?
    • What challenges did you face when you assumed the interviewer role? How did you handle these challenges?
    • Formulate questions that are mutually supportive. For example, you might ask individuals to reflect first on what they did regarding a particular challenge or issue and then to think about why they decided or acted as they did. Or, you might ask individuals first to reflect on and write about a strength they have and, then, to think about how they use this strength in their work. If individuals have made connections in their initial reflections, they will be more likely to continue that connection making during the interview.
    • While triads are conversing, walk around the room to ensure that participants understand directions and are on task. This is particularly important during the first round of the process.
    17. Say Something

    Helps learners process a reading; increases comprehension by allowing readers time to think through a passage by talking about it; and creates connections by having learners connect a reading passage with prior knowledge.


    Identify a short reading that is on a topic of interest and that might stimulate discussion and dialogue.


    Direct participants into pairs; each individual needs a copy of the reading passage. Give instructions: “I'll ask you to read a short passage. As soon as you have finished, turn to your partner and ‘say something’ about what that passage means to you. Then listen as your partner ‘says something’ to you about the same passage. There are no right or wrong comments; you may ask a question, agree, or disagree with the reading.” Assign the short passage. After participants have read and talked, call time. Give them another passage. Continue until the passage has been completed.

    • This activity works very well with a bulleted list of items. Ask participants to read two or three of the bulleted items and talk about them; then assign another two or three. Continue until they have read and discussed the entire list.
    • Alternatively, a series of four or five provocative quotes works well. Ask participants to read and say something about the first quote. Continue to call time and assign a new quote until they have read and discussed them all.
    18. Thinkathon

    Engages learners for a variety of purposes: solving problems, generating ideas, and reacting to others’ ideas.


    Formulate several open-ended questions related to the topic under consideration. Post each question on a piece of easel paper, and post the paper around the room. Place several flip chart markers near each station. Divide participants into teams (one team for each question).


    Assign a team to each question. Direct teams to gather at the posted easel paper that displays their question, brainstorm their answers, and record ideas on the easel paper. After sufficient time, direct all teams to move to the next station, rotating clockwise. As teams approach a question that has previously been answered by another team, their job is to read through the answers, placing checkmarks next to those with which they agree and adding additional comments or responses. When the teams have rotated through all the stations, they return to their original question, read what others have added, and summarize the team's thinking about their assigned question.


    After the team responds to the first question, they select a team member to stay behind and explain their thinking to visiting teams. This team member's job is to record comments and additional ideas.

    19. Think-Pair-Share

    Provides time for individuals to clarify their own thoughts before participating in a large-group discussion; and helps individuals process information, making meaning and connecting it to prior knowledge, through talking and listening to a partner and then to the large group of participants.


    Decide on strategic times to use this process to engage participants in thinking about a topic (might be used before, during, or after a presentation); it is especially good to use prior to a large-group discussion. Decide how you will pair participants and create the prompt that will begin the discussion.


    As implied by the title, this activity is carried out in three parts. Pose a question, and ask all participants to think about it—usually through writing to a prompt or a question. Then ask them to pair with another participant and share their ideas. Finally, when everyone has had time to think individually and talk about his or her ideas with a partner, the pairs share with the larger group.

    20. Tuning Protocol

    Encourages intentional and deliberate reflection about a specific work process or product through a protocol of talking and listening, in turn, with colleagues. The process of thinking aloud moves the reflection to a deeper and more meaningful level; and the use of a protocol protects individuals and limits defensiveness as colleagues share ideas.


    Decide upon a focus for the group's work (e.g., aligning student work to state standards; improving reading comprehension; helping students understand an algebraic concept). Identify an individual or small group who will present. Help the presenters select appropriate samples of work to discuss and reflect on with the full group. Reserve a meeting space that includes a table or circular seating so that participants can see and talk to one another easily. A timer would also be helpful.


    Review (or introduce) the steps of the process. Lead the group through the following five steps, announcing the amount of time to be allowed for each.

    • Reflection: Presenters share what they hoped to accomplish, what they did, and with what results. Listeners take notes but do not talk. Allow 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the complexity of the task.
    • Question: If the listeners have clarifying questions, they may ask them at this time. These are questions to seek more information—not to judge. Allow 3 to 5 minutes.
    • Feedback: Listeners provide positive (“warm”) feedback about what they heard; then “cool” feedback that includes suggestions for improvement. During this time, the presenters listen but do not talk. Allow 10 to 15 minutes.
    • Reflection: The presenters reflect on what they have learned, both through their own reflection and from listeners’ comments. Others listen but do not talk. Suggested time: 5 minutes.
    • Debrief: Finish the protocol with a discussion of how it went—what went well and what didn't; how participants might want to change the next protocol session; and what was learned. Suggested time: 5 to 10 minutes.

    This process increases in value with repetition. As groups become used to the process, there will be less need for a facilitator; however, initially, a facilitator can help a group follow the suggested protocol.

    Adapted from Brown & Isaacs, 2005

    Adapted from Looking at Student Work protocols, http://www.lasw.org

    Resource C: The Quality Questioning Quotient (QQQ): A Self-Assessment

    Think about each of the items below. Assess your leadership questioning skills by using the following scale:

    1 = Novice: In this area, I need skill development and practice.

    2 = Proficient: I have this skill but do not use it as consistently or

    intentionally as I would like.

    3 = Advanced: I am consistent in doing this skillfully.

    In the rating column to the right of each item, record the number that best matches your assessment. When you have finished, add your subtotal scores in each of the four dimensions of quality questioning to help select an area in which to focus your improvement efforts. Add all four subtotal scores together to determine your Quality Questioning Quotient (QQQ).

    Figure C.1 The Quality Question Quotient (QQQ): A Self-Assessment


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