The Power of Asking Great Questions
As we enter adulthood, we often stop asking questions. We get too self-conscious about not knowing the “right” answer. And it becomes even more intensified when we become “the boss.” Children don’t judge us as harshly as adults. They haven’t developed such strong opinions about the world so it’s natural during this shift to feel that we need to be the one with all of the answers--instead of being the one that gets curious.
We can learn a lot from the young children we teach. They are full of energy and vibrancy and they have such inquisitive, curious minds. They speak their truth, usually without any malice.
They are open to new and fresh ideas, they are willing and eager to learn, and they ask a lot questions. THEY ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS! In fact, the average 4-year-old asks around 200-300 questions per day! Child care is not for the faint of heart!
These are many of the reasons we love the children in our care!
As we enter adulthood, we often stop asking questions. We get too self-conscious about not knowing the “right” answer. And it becomes even more intensified when we become “the boss.”
Children don’t judge us as harshly as adults. They haven’t developed such strong opinions about the world so it’s natural during this shift to feel that we need to be the one with all of the answers--instead of being the one that gets curious.
I would argue that asking good questions of your staff is one of the keys to creating a great community in your center.
When I first started out as an owner and director of a child care center, I thought it was my job to tell people what to do and I was supposed have all the answers.
And everyone saw right through me because I wasn’t being truly authentic.
Yes, technically, as the “boss,” I have the “authority” to tell people what to do and how to do it. After all, everyone needs guidance on some level.
But people don’t naturally respond well to someone barking orders at them. Especially if you think the person giving the orders doesn’t understand you, care about you, or understand what you’re going through in your classroom.
And truth be told, I hated barking orders at people as much as people hated hearing them! Trying to make everyone think I had all the answers was exhausting. And more importantly, I wasn’t living with authenticity.
When I wasn’t doing my job with transparency and authenticity with my staff, I found my job very dissatisfying. I wasn’t being honest with them or myself. And honesty is one of my own deeply rooted values, so it caused a near constant struggle within myself.
When I ordered my staff in exactly what to do, I found that they might do it for a day or two, and then we’d be back to square one. I was basically ordering my teachers to do the basics of their jobs – all of the time. It was constantly “me” vs. “them.” Sound familiar?
There’s a tremendous shift that happens when you drop your persona of having all of the answers, and start becoming the person that asks the questions. Allowing others on your staff to give input is a huge game-changer. This shift requires humbling yourself, asking questions, giving others’ ideas real consideration, and having genuine discussions with your staff about their ideas.
Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friends and Influence People, “Be a good listener...[and] ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.”
Will you be able to accommodate every idea they have? Probably not. But make sure they know you’re listening, you’re present, you’re giving them consideration, and that their input is important! Because it is. My staff have come up with so many great ideas I never would have thought of on my own.
In our meetings, we have a set list agenda of things that we need to discuss, but we spend most of our meetings asking our teachers and staff members questions.
What can we be doing better? How can we support you? What do you think our families need? Do you have any ideas for…? We all like this idea, who would like to take on…? What would you like to focus on in your classroom? What book would you like to read next? What do you think about…? How can we level up on…?
We focus a lot on asking questions and then allowing our staff to take a lot of ownership. If they have a stake in the initial idea, they are much more likely to buy into doing the work to make the dream come true.
We also have something similar to a staff book club. Our staff read books on child development and personal development, and then we discuss their thoughts and key takeaways as part of our meetings. It usually only takes 1 or 2 questions to spur a unique and inspiring conversation.
Our meetings would go late into the night if we would allow it. Our teachers LOVE discussing their ideas and opinions about what they’ve read and learned.
Asking the right questions and being curious is also incredibly important when you are coaching a team member or teacher, or helping them solve a problem.
I believe people today are often taught what to think, rather than how to think.
I don’t know precisely what has been taught in schools in the last 10-20 years in terms of critical thinking, but I know information is everywhere and the answers to any question you may have is easily found on your iPhone or Android. The answers you get from your smartphone may be rooted in your own personal algorithm, instead of giving you access to new or fascinating perspectives and information. We all fall victim to our own algorithms from time to time, and it’s disempowering. In the age of limitless information, who is teaching people how to problem solve? Who is teaching people how to approach a problem, think it through, and come to their own conclusion or solution?
Coaching your staff on solving problems is an exciting and rewarding opportunity. Hardly anyone seems to be doing it actively in the workplace. And over time, it makes your job easier.
When a teacher approaches you with a problem, it’s much more empowering to coach them on how to solve the problem instead of solving it for them. If you solve it for them, they’ve learned nothing and they probably won’t remember what you said anyway.
Coaching your staff means asking a lot of questions, such as, “How do you think you can solve this problem?” “Why do you think that would work?” “Why do you think this is happening?” “What would your favorite teacher from childhood do if they were in your shoes?”
It may take some practice on your part, but you’re teaching them how to think for themselves and how to solve their own problems, which is truly an empowering way to live.
Coaching in this way may be done in addition to any other professional development you may assign to them to help them with their problem. The key is – don’t spoon feed them all the answers. Let them put the pieces together. You can help them get to possible solutions with professional development and guidance, but be open to what they have to say and how they would like to solve their problems in the classroom.
Remember, there may be more than one good answer to a problem. And if their idea doesn’t work, help guide them to find another possible solution. This teaches problem solving AND grit. And who doesn’t need more of that in their center?
Asking questions, coaching, and teaching problem solving is enormously underrated in our industry. In fact, I’d argue it’s underrated in most industries today. Be part of the solution by empowering your staff to take charge of their problems. In doing so, you’ll also create future leaders that our industry desperately needs.
Lindsey Walker is a regular contributor to Seasonal Pathways and serves as a subject matter expert for our new and emerging leaders. Her expertise in this area is a great benefit not only to our emerging leaders, but to our advancing and executive leaders for the insights she brings in bridging the generation gap prevalent in many centers. Lindsey is currently launching a Facebook page dedicated to supporting our emerging leaders. Email Lindsey if you want to be one of the first to join this community at lindsey@SeasonalPathways.com.