We know that this is a time when we need to frequently check in with our staff to see what they are experiencing and how they are feeling. We also want to encourage and support them as they work their way through a very difficult set of professional challenges.
It is often not enough to simply ask, “How are you doing?” First, staff may not know if we are using the question as a casual greeting without an expectation that they really tell us what they are going through, or if we really are trying to understand what they are experiencing. Second, staff members may be reluctant to unload their concerns without a more specific inquiry, fearing that they will be perceived as whining and complaining. Third and as a result, we are not likely to gain consistent, useful information to inform our leadership. Fourth, without more specific guidance, what we hear is likely to be predominately negative even though there may be a lot of positive and insightful information that we need to hear.
Rather than defaulting to this habitual question, we can shift our inquiries to focus on elements and aspects of teachers’ experiences that reflect what they are going through, inform us, and are shareable and useful to others. In its place, here are six questions we can ask to learn how teachers are processing their experience. The answers we hear may also offer important insights, reinforcement, and humor to colleagues.
What hilarious or heart-warming situations have you encountered this fall? This question invites teachers to reflect on and appreciate the wonder of learners and learning and the delight they can bring to our lives, even under difficult circumstances.
What is one thing that has worked really well for you in the past two weeks? We can become trapped in negativity by focusing only on problems and challenges, when we are also experiencing important new learning and successes. The answer to this question can also offer insights and hope to colleagues who may be struggling with similar issues.
If you were to give one piece of advice or wisdom to your colleagues about the current situation, what would it be? This question invites teachers to think about what they have experienced, what they have overcome, what they have learned, and how others might find that information useful.
Who has gone above and beyond to help you since the year started? Here we give teachers an opportunity for a “shout out” to someone who has made a positive difference for them or their students as the new school year began. While we need to attend to problems, we also need to recognize those who have been key problem solvers.
What is your greatest hope for your students in the coming weeks? This question invites teachers to share their goals and reveal their thoughts about what they and their students are experiencing. We may hear about challenges and barriers to overcome, or we may hear about the path a teacher has constructed to ensure student success in the days ahead.
Who has given you the best advice this fall and what was it? This question speaks to what teachers have learned and who has supported them in their learning. The answers we hear can give us important insight about who is offering significant, informal leadership and making a meaningful difference for their colleagues.
Be ready to hear surprising and important responses from your staff. They will also give you a lot to think about and share.