Asking Questions

This week I was able to take some time to read A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. It was intriguing to read about how much progress has happened because of simple and sometimes naïve questions. Working with my kindergarten students, I get a healthy dose of questions all the time, but also more sarcastic questions from my older students such as “Why are we doing this?” “Why do I need to do this?” “Why is this important?”

With my sixth graders I took these questions to heart to look at my own practice. In my district, if students are in sixth grade general music, it is likely the last music class they will take. Upon realizing this, I knew I needed to change the way I looked at the class. My focus question that I decided upon is “What do I want society to know about music so they can hold a musical conversation intelligently?” My classroom has since shifted from learning classical instruments and music history to understanding genres, how to create music in today’s world, and understanding form. Hopefully my students will be able to confidently explain why they do or do not like a song that they heard other than saying “it’s bad” or “it’s dope”.

Not only did I recently question my sixth grade practice, but as a district we are looking to reorganize our music program. We just had our first music all-staff meeting in 10 years on January 31 to discuss what we could change. When I was asked to think of questions about my practice this week in a quickfire activity, the questions came to mind quickly. If you aren’t familiar with quickfire challenges, check out this blog post by Leigh Graves Wolf (2009).

21 Post-its with various questions about music programs in my district. Photo by the author.

I ask a lot of questions in my head, but I do not always take the time to get them answered, especially when it comes to my schools. Sometimes it’s the unfortunate nature of working at three buildings that I simply do not have the time to find the right people to help me with the questions. However for this quickfire activity, this is something we have been currently doing as a district so I had a lot of questions ready. I even added a few more after my five minutes were up!

After reading the first couple chapters of A More Beautiful Question, I feel like this is a process our director of music is currently going through. Warren Berger (2014) focuses on a sequence of Why/What If/How that I think is very important (p. 32). Our music director started his position in December 2018. So far he has done an amazing job asking “Why” questions about our processes, procedures, and policies to find out why our program works (or doesn’t work) the way that it does. The “What ifs” starting coming out at that first all-staff meeting. Hopefully, over the next few months and years we start seeing “the final, and critical How stage of inquiry–when you’ve asked all the Whys and considered the What Ifs . . . and must now figure out, How do I actually get this done?” (Berger, 2014, p.36). In our case I hope it’s more of a “we” since it is a group of 70 educators.

One of the parts of A More Beautiful Question that really stood out to me so far was the basic formula: “Q (questioning) + A (action) = I (innovation). On the other hand, Q – A = P (philosophy).” (Berger, 2014, p. 31). I started to wonder about how much of the questioning I do in my professional and personal life turns into innovation, or is just philosophy. If I can change something in my professional life after a question, I will, like I did in the earlier sixth grade general music example. Interestingly if it is a personal question, I tend to be sluggish and do not act on the question. It seems my next question may be “Why do I react quickly to self-questions in professional circumstances, but sometimes do not act at all on self-questions in a personal circumstance?”

References:

Berger, Warren. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. [Kindle]. http://a.co/fZPVPuf

Graves Wolf, Leigh. (2009). Quickfires Explained [blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.leighgraveswolf.com/2009/08/19/quickfires-explained

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