Tony Gurr

More Questions for “DINOSAURS” (and those of us who just love LEARNing…)

In Educational Leadership, Our Schools, Our Universities, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 15/11/2011 at 4:14 pm

Word has it that my last post on “Questioning Culturesupset a couple of folks!


It would appear that even the act of “questioning” why we do not have more “questioning cultures” in education is enough to get on the nerves of those that recognise that they may, in fact, be “dinosaurs” themselves…

I’m really struggling (seriously) not to mention “peas” and “brains“…must fight the urge!


It just seems, to me – at least, if more people stepped out their comfort zones (as quickly as they seek to defend their “status quo”), we might see a few more of the things we “really” need in our schools, colleges and universities…

Onwards and sideways


The bottom line is basically that no self-respecting institution (well, those that want to remain “effective”) can ignore the fact that the “21st Century transformative moment” just does notfit” with a 20th (or 19th, in some cases) Century organisational culture!

I shared this mind-map with you all a fair few months ago – and have just realised that QUESTIONING is not explicitly mentioned. When we look at all the elements, however, the notion of a “questioning culture” appears to underpin every single peice of the jigsaw.


Am I right or am I right?

OK – I agree (a little)…that it is not always “fair” to lay the blame (not that I was doing that) for the lack of “questions” (of both the meaningful and effective variety) and the lack of “questioning cultures” in our educational institutions at the feet of educational leaders!


Hey, I did not invent the phrase:

…and we all know that the “heads” of some fish “stink” more than others!


But, and this will bake a few more noodles, who said I was only talking about high-ranking, formal leaders? If I remember correctly, I did say that ineffective institutions and organisations have trouble at the top, in the middle and at the lower levels of their organisational charts!

In truth – if we want more questioning cultures in our schools, colleges and universities, everyone has a role to play…it’s just common sense that if you have a leadership role (or want one), you have a bigger role to play!


Basically, in many educational institutions – we have all got it ass-backwards:


Other sectors have this “challenge”, too. This obsession with “telling” is a remnant of the kind of command-and-control decision-making created in the minds of forelock-tugging bureaucrats and the “right-answer-and-quick” approach of many captains of industry – who the hell “invited” these guys into education, anyways?

Questionsnot “orders” – open up our minds and help us connect with eachother. A well-timed question cannot not only “wake us up”, it can help shake down paradigms that are well past their sell-by dates – by stimulating new ideas and new ways of “doing business“!

As educators, we have known for a while that our future lies in the creation of LEARNing communities – communities grounded on inquiry, collective responsibility and a questioning mentality.


We need to turn around the 20-80 ruleand get back to communicating the way we were imagineered to do so.


The problem, however, does not stop there – just as questions can inspire new types of creativity, they can also smack us in the face and drive us straight down the highway to hell!


What am I getting at?

Well, it’s not just that we need “more” questions, it’s that we need more of the right kind of questions.

Our parents (and grandmas), our schools and even our friends have all done a wonderful job of stunting the growth of that part of the brain designed to create questions – all before we even stepped into the workplace!

Many of us are “disabled” when it comes to questions – we are “question-challenged”.

Think about it (if you are a Turkish national, for example) – what did the little word “ayıp” mean to you as a child? How many times did you hear it before the age of 12? How many questions were “silenced” by those 4 little letters?

Every country has its ways…I was disadvantaged for years through the “mixed marriage” of my parents – catholic guilt and a protestant work-ethic that LEARNed me to keep my head down in my books and not “speak-till-I-was-shouted-at”.


Don’t believe me?

OK – let’s do a quick litmus test and ask a couple of questions around a few mini-cases or scenarios:

It’s all about the mind-scape, dummy!


What I am getting at is not rocket-science, is it?

Was Freud right after all? Does it all come down to “mummy” – and grandma?


Now, unless you were raised and educated by (and currently work for) “angels” – I would bet my right leg you got a “warm tingly-feeling” when you read at least one of these options (even though I cheated a bit)!

We are “human” – it’s OK to have the occasional “Dexter-thought”, if we do not act them out. Everyone, “yes” I said everyone, can improve a “bit” – and “yes” (again) I know this can involve putting ourselves “out there“…


A bit earlier, I mentioned that “leaders” have more responsibility in the questioning culture “creation” stakes than mostThat’s because:

  • Everyone watches the “boss”. 
  • Leaders set the “standards” of any group.
  • All communication, all relationships and all leadership is dependent, and has always been dependent, on the questions used to “get things done”.

What I said earlier about the “power” of questions for both individuals and institutions holds true – LEARNing depends upon curiosity and asking questions.

Effectiveness depends on the quality of your questioning culture!

The critical challenge in creating this type of culture, of course, is the ability of leaders to create a “climate” where all staff (and students) feel “safe”. This, in turn, requires that everyone in the institution can “trust” the system and the people involved – especially those at the top and in the middle.

Without this level of safety and trust – you might as well invite grandma and a bunch of retired civil servants to come and run your instıtution and re-write your mission statement to read “In Ayıp We Trust”!

As a “leader” – the buck starts and stops with YOU!

I think it’s time I got off the soap-box – besides my typing fingers are getting tired!


So, what’s next?

Three questions you need to ask TODAY:

  • Do I really get what a ‘questioning culture’ is all about? 
  • How can a ‘questioning culture’ help my institution, my people – and me? 
  • What needs to change to help me to create a ‘questioning culture’ in my institution?


Three books you need to read TOMORROW:


2) Michael Marquardt’s LEADING WITH QUESTIONS


And, one more you need to read YESTERDAY (depending how you did with the scenarios):


For those of you that might wish to put your allthingsQUESTIONS  “bedtime reading” on steroids this weekend – check out the NEW Library:  Tony’s QUESTIONING CULTURE Library



I used the Turkish word “ayıp” to get my point across with regards how “families” can impact our questioning abilities. It is most often translated in its noun form – “shame” or “disgrace”. However, these translations into English do not do justice to the “power” or “real meaning” of the word. The adjective form does a better job of this – obscene, rude, filthy, scandalous, dirty – esp. when we consider it is such a high-frequency word for so many little kiddies!

My wife simply refused to use the word with our daughter when she was growing up – more parents should do the same.

  1. I came across a great little article this morning – specifically for candidates who want to quiz “interviewers” about the culture of an organisation (after all we also “interview” companies, too).


  2. Reblogged this on allthingslearning and commented:

    This was the follow-up (because the first one got me in so much trouble – with people who respect their “chairs” more than their staff – and students) 😉 ENJOY…

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