Monday, February 3, 2014

Why You Should Ask Questions

Have you ever noticed the techniques of really intelligent people in making it so you see things their way?

Have you ever noticed how a parent gets a child to recognize his or her mistakes?

Have you ever noticed how powerful a simple question is in getting you to think?

I keep being reminded about the importance of asking questions. I think I could go on and on about this topic in a variety of circumstances.

Asking questions helps you understand a situation and a perspective. You've probably noticed that a large number of your arguments arise from misunderstanding. Have you ever thought to ask and make sure you're interpreting somebody correctly? It can be as simple as, "What do you mean?" Or, "So do you mean to say this...? because that's how I'm perceiving it."

I can't tell you how many times asking questions has saved me from a potentially awful situation. One such event happened today.

I have a student for the second year in a row. She's a big reader. She is an average student. But she's always had a good attitude and has seemed to really enjoy my class. But lately she's been giving me some serious attitude, and a lack of effort.

You guys, she was rolling her eyes at me today! Rolling her eyes! For asking her to add more to her paragraphs that were half-assed and missing information. Who is this girl? What on earth is happening?

I kept her after class for a few minutes today. She sighed and I could tell she wasn't happy about it at all.

My defensive side just wanted to rip into her and give her a good lecture about her horrible attitude lately and tell her to get her shiz together. Yes, shiz. But I didn't. I took a step back and applied my theory that questioning can help lead us to understanding and avoiding trouble.

Me: "I just wanted to ask if you're OK."

Student (with a somewhat relieved half smile):  "Yeah, just my mom had surgery last week. Then she had to get moved to this recovery place, and it's just been weird. I'm sorry for my bad attitude."

Me: "Well who is taking care of you?"

Student: "My grandma."

Me: "Oh, OK. Do you guys live with her?"

Student: "No, she lives with us."

Me: "Oh I see. OK. Well I am sorry about your mom. I was wondering what was going on because you've always been really good for me, and I never had attitude from you last year, but the past few weeks you have acted differently."

Student: "Yeah..."

Me: "I want you to know that the only reason I push you to do more is because I know you are capable. You don't see me pushing other kids to write more, because I know a lot of them won't do it or can't do it. I know you can, so that's why I am pushing you to do more."

Student (nodding, understanding): "Okay."

Me: "Again, I'm sorry about your mom. Let me know if there's anything I can do. But try and improve your attitude because I can't do much for you with the attitude."

Student: "OK, I will! Thanks Miss Balibrea."

And she left with a smile on her face.

Oh, man. Today was seriously a really rough day. Just so many of my students had attitude problems and were being disruptive. (Is it a full moon, does anyone know?) I was wiped out at the end of the day, and it really took some perspective for me to step back and not rip into this girl who was being uncooperative, distracted, and rude to me.

I'm so glad I didn't. I learned that something was, in fact, going on with her. She had been acting out last week too, when her mom was apparently having surgery. I think I made her understand that I care, and that I think she can do better, without ripping into her. That all came with some very simple questions. If I had ripped into her, I'm sure I just would have worsened her struggle and her mood.

I don't do this all the time. Sometimes it's hard to think of the right questions fast enough when I am so amped and ready to pummel these kids for how they're acting. I do want to be better because I know that everyone struggles, and that there's usually a reason a teenager is acting the way s/he's acting. I hope this experience helps me to keep my cool more often and be better about asking questions so I can better understand and help my students.


Camille said...

Janae, this is such an inspiring story. You're wonderful.

Lisa Petrarca said...

AWESOME post Nae! Thanks for sharing…it definitely is a good reminder to remember that situations are not always as they seem and when we choose love and kindness…people are touched. Changed. So are we.