Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘reflective practice’

Questions, questions, questions…(Guest Post by Laurence Raw)

In Adult Learners, Classroom Teaching, ELT and ELL, Guest BLOGGERS, Teacher Learning on 08/11/2012 at 7:55 pm
Well, give a man an inch…on a blog, and he’ll want a bloody mile!
A couple of days ago, Laurence did a super guest-post for us. He must have known it was pretty well-received…’cos he asked me to give him another one.
Not a “rant” this time…but one of the most honest posts I have read for a while on “real LEARNing”!
So, I’m going to shut up…and let him tell the story.
Are you sitting comfortably?
I’ve been fortunate enough to take on a class of graduate learners – the first time I’ve done so in many years.  It’s a pleasurable experience, but also a tough one.
The reason is this: I’m continually being asked similar questions by learners.  “Is this right …?” “Am I doing it right?” “Do you approve of what I’m doing?” “Can I do it better?”
My stock answer to such questions is: “I don’t know.  What do you think?”
However…this often leads to even more confusion.
I recently came across a site explaining why learners find Top-Down Learning so congenial: it’s because they are “given the ‘Big Picture’ first, and then, maybe, the details of what’s involved in the process.” This may sound acceptable at first, but how do we know precisely what the “Big Picture” is? Is it defined by the educator, the institution, the learner, or a combination of all three?
My graduate learners seem to be in no doubt: it’s the institution and the educator who determine their agenda
In my spare time, I devote a couple of hours each week to teaching my thirteen-year-old niece.  Hitherto she has found the task of learning English a difficult one: many of the activities assigned to her have proved difficult for her to complete, and her grades have been correspondingly low.  However this summer she made the effort to improve herself through immersion: watching films, reading books, and trying to converse with as many people in English as she could.
The results have been fascinating: now she is more than happy to communicate in English, but more importantly, she wants to ask questions – about my life, about her own life, and the different ways in which we were brought up.
Asking questions is the key to all learning.
Children learn by asking questions. New recruits learn by asking questions. It is the simplest and most effective way of learning. Brilliant thinkers never stop asking questions because they know that this is the best way to gain deeper insights. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, has said: “We run this company on questions, not answers.’ He knows that if you keep asking questions you can keep finding better answers.  
My thirteen-year-old niece has understood that asking questions lies at the foundation of improving her language abilitiesInstead of completing endless assignments, ask a question. Intelligent questions stimulate, provoke, inform and inspire. Questions help us to teach as well as to learn.
Top-Down Learning may be safe for my graduate learners, but it discourages them from asking questions.  Everything is nicely prepared and packaged for them, just like packets of frozen food in a supermarket.  The only way I can encourage them to learn is to ask questions of them, and encourage them to ask questions of themselves in response
Maybe, just maybe…I should get my thirteen-year-old niece to come and give them a lesson in learning.  If she had sufficient self-confidence, I would certainly do so.  It would be an interesting reversal of accepted wisdom: the further you advance up the educational ladder, the more you are supposed to ‘know.’
I wonder how it would work in practice?
Laurence Raw
(aka @laurenceraw on Twitter)
Baskent University – Ankara, Turkey.
Editor: Journal of American Studies of Turkey

New BLOGS on the BLOCK (in Türkiye)…

In Guest BLOGGERS, News & Updates (from the CBO) on 19/05/2012 at 12:35 pm

A few weeks back, I did a post entitled – Made in Türkiye (BLOGS that is)… – and highlighted a number of great ELT bloggers from Canım Türkiye (Seriously, seriously…Google Translate…when will you get your act together)!

OK – I also had a bit of a “rant” about how many of these bloggers cannot use the beautiful spellings of their names and surnames. But, things are changing – and as a wise old fella once said:


Also, if you is a fan of the “Bard of Avon” (and have a couple of hours to spare) – why not check out the excellent movie “Anonymous” this weekend. You will not regret it…

Tony, will you ever LEARN to “focus”?


Ken Wilson also did a recent post – Young Turks in ELT (in their own words)and profiled a few of the lovely and talented bloggers from around the country. But, I have to say that a few of them (you know who you are) were, shall we say, not quite as “young” as Ken’s title suggested – and certainly not as “lovely” as some of Ken’s female bloggers!


Anyways, I’ve also been doing a bit of “digital stalking” and come across a batch of new bloggers from around Anatolia…and that tiny, wee place that pretends it’s a city but is, in fact, almost a country in itself

The reason I like so many of these new blogs is that they are really getting to grips with “reflective practice” – by sharing some very personal stories about TEACHer LEARNing and growth…


So, yes – this is a “call to arms”…drop in and say “hi” to some of our new kids on the block, leave a comment and pass on the word…

…and, hey…let us know if you hear of any more budding bloggers out there!

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.


In Educational Leadership, Our Schools, Our Universities, Uncategorized on 14/11/2011 at 8:01 pm


Ask yourself a question – what is at the heart of almost everything we think, feel and do as a species?




Be they closed- or open-ended, questions drive how human beings listen, think and behave…And, I’m not just talking about matters of life, the universe and everything – you know, the questions our kids ask us (*):

  • Why do baked beans give us gas?
  • Why do people shrink when they get really old?
  • Why do men have nipples (if they can’t have babies)?


We know (don’t we?) that questions are the secret to more effective student LEARNing (esp. when these questions come from our kids and students). We know (don’t we?) that questions can help teachers do a better job of supporting student (and their own) LEARNing. We know (don’t we?) that questions can help improve team, departmental and institutional performance levels


So, why is it that we ask so few questions – and even fewer questions that really “matter”? And, when many of us do ask questions – why is it that so many of them are just so God-damn awful?



Over the years, I have had the priviledge of working for a number of larger (and smaller) educational institutions and also been a consultant for others.

Some of these could be described as “effective”, some others…not so much!


What I have noticed in the “less effective organisations” is a series of “patterns” vis-a-vis the questions people in the institutions ask (or do not ask):

  • Many of those at the “lower-levels” of these insistutions do NOT ask many questions at all (esp. of those at the “top”) – it’s almost as if they have been “conditioned” not to ask questions and “trained” to assume that it’s OK to “bitch” and “moan” when things do not go well (a lot more when the “bosses” are not around).
  • Many of those in the “middle” ask questions – but questions that often seem to have been “crafted” by UN diplomats or “engineered” to make those at the top look “wiser” or “smarter” than they actually are. Mostly, however, the questions asked by this group are about getting “permission” – or making sure those at the top “sign off” on ideas that might be a bit “risky” (this forms part of a much more complex matrix of “CYA strategies”).
  • Those at the “top” ask the most questions – but many of these questions are about “What’s new?” or “How can we (be seen to) be different?” (for example). Other questions seem focussed on “bitching” and “moaning”, too – or, more specifically, seem to come from a place that is all about “pointing fingers” and “assigning blame”.


I refer to organisations and institutions that exhibit all three patterns (together) as “dinosaurs that just do not know they are already extinct” – and if we knew how many of them really exist out there (in education), we’d not get a lot of sleep at night!

Extinct…because the world has changed…and it’s continuing to change faster than ever.


These ineffective and dinosaur-like institutions just don’t seem to “get” this (I was going to say something about “brains the size of peas” – but you’ve all read Darwin, yes?).

It seems as if many of them are “scared” of embracing the “energy” that real, powerful questions could bring them – and prefer to opt for “improvement initiatives” that are, in practice, little more than re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic

So, what is it that inhibits the “evolution” of these institutions or prevents them from carrying out the type of “adaptive imagineering” that is required?


In a word…

Sadly, organisational cultures that “live” in the pastcultures that thrive on the “prestige” of the past…and are dominated by out-dated notions of respect, deference and tradition.

This is why – IMHO – we see the three “patterns” I noted earlier!


Don’t get me wrong!

I’m not some kind of “whacko-educational-bolshevic” (OK – maybe just a bit)! It just seems so “dumb” to try to protect a “status quo” at the expense of what really matters – but, then again, maybe it’s just people protecting their own “status” that is the real problem.

For me, respect (prestige, too – even though there is nothing “real” about it) is something that has to be earned (and re-earned every day). It is earned best by thinking-doers who prioritise “service to others”, especially during challenging times – not those that demand that they “be served” by others (and egos “fed” with a healthy diet of flattery and hot air).


OK – went a wee bit off track there! 

The bottom line is that…the original dinosaurs were not very good at QUESTIONING, either!


Those of you that pick up allthingslearning on a regular basis from your newsagent (I must admit I do miss one or two “pre-historic traditions”) will also know that we try to use a “questioning insight” on a pretty regular basis…

We have tried to bring all these together as:

And, also looked at how these align with: 


Come on…we’ve even touched on: 


However, in matters of “culture”we keep coming back to many of the same points. One of these is:


It is for this reason that we have suggested a wide range of: 



The problem is that questions like these are only useful if an institution has  a questioning culture.

“Effective” institutions do, “ineffective” ones do not…

And, instıtutions that have a questioning culture usually havequestioning leaders” that know how to ask the right questions and encourage others to do the same.


“Effective” institutions do this, “ineffective” ones do NOT…

The original dinosaurs didn’t get the “memo” from Deming.


I wonder how many of today’s dinosaurs might “wake up” before it is too late – and then, how many of them would decide to do something about their questions…or just look for someone else to blame!

This might need a post-script!


(*) If you are really interested in finding the “answers” to these questions, check out Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg’s book Why do men have nipples? – Hundreds of Questions You’d Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini (Three Rivers Press, 2005). I chose these three because my big, little girl did, over her “7 ages”, actually asked me these (but Mark and Billy had not published the book at that time).

I have it now…and, I’m gonna be an awesome grandpa one day!


Putting Our Own House in Order – as the CEO suggested!

In Our Schools, Our Universities on 27/02/2011 at 5:33 am

The quality of a question is not judged by its complexity but by the complexity of thinking it provokes.

Bir sorunun kalitesi onun ne kadar komplike olması ile ilgili değil, cevaplandırılması için gereken derin düşünceye ne kadar yol açtığı ile ilgilidir.

Joseph O’Connor

In a recent post, I posed a number of questions for CEOs (who might be interested in promoting “learning” across their organisations).

My friend, Bruce, took the post and re-wrote it for Principals. Thanks Bruce and “Kia kaha” to all our friends in NZ!

I had actually originally designed that post for “university deans” – but changed it to CEOs at the last minute (I had made a promise to someone that I would also touch on “business- proper”).

Wish I hadn’t!

I got a very “loud e-mail” from a “CEO” who told me (and I quote) – “you bloody teachers should put your own house in order before you try telling us how to do business”!

Now, I’m not sure if he (it was a “he”, BTW) really got what I was saying! But, to redress the imbalance that I have obviously created in the universe – teachers / lecturers – I have some questions for you:

Hey! Teacher…

Think about a recent class / lecture you had with a group of your students:

  • What was the topic or theme?
  • What did you teach?

That was easy, yes? OK, let’s try a few more:

  • What did the students learn? How do you know?
  • What else did the students “get” from the session? How do you know?

Mmmm, getting tougher, yes?

  • What difference did the session make to the lives of the students? How do you know?
  • In what ways did the session promote “learning that lasts”? How do you know?

Let’s really push the envelope – and take things “wider” than a single class:

  • Who are you as an educator?
  • What are your passions as an educator?
  • What is your purpose as an educator?
  • What “business” are you in as an educator?
  • What do you “do” as an educator? Who are you doing this for?
  • Who does “your shadow” touch most – students, colleagues, parents? In what ways?

  • What do you know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do you do with what you know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do you do to improve what you do with what you know and understand about learning and teaching?

  • How do you know all this?

As I prepare to turn these questions into pixels, what strikes me is that this blog is probably the wrong place to be posting these. If you are reading this, you are probably the kind of teacher who has been reflecting on these types of questions for years.

Now, if only I could me get an e-mail address for the “rubber room”!

I’m only doing as I was “told”.

I’d love to hear what you think though – perhaps then we can show “the CEOs” of this world that we are also working to put our houses in order, too.

Hey, perhaps we should do it together…more.