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On Inquiry-Based Learning and Conversations

Real conversation that happened with someone dear to me.

Her: I'm so sorry that happened. I understand how you're feel--

Me: Nope.

Her: I mean, I can imagine how--

Me: Nope.

Her: I mean, wow, that really does sound sh*tty (the word I used). I can't imagine how that feels. What DOES it feel like? What were you thinking then, and how about now?🎯

Me: Thanks, and next time spacing out those questions would help. I love you for listening. This is gonna take a while. ❤️

It's called "perspective-getting" and read Mindwise: How we understand what others think, believe, feel, and want, by Nicholas Epley for more.

Training in Inquiry-Based Learning

When I was studying for my doctorate at New York University's School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, foundational to the program was something called Inquiry-Based Learning, which was motivated by the desire to move away from the model of teacher as the expert and the transmitter of information to receptacle-like students.

Learning is deep and lasting when the learner is motivated by their own curiosity. In the Inquiry model, the teacher is a guide-on-the-side as opposed to a sage-on-the-stage. If your kids went to Montessori school, you're probably familiar with this idea (and you wish your local Montessori continued through high school).

The Inquiry Model isn't just for teachers. It's for parents, leaders, advisors, coaches, managers, and, well, any human who wants to truly connect with and guide other humans, regardless of the subject matter/topic. It's for people who don't want to center their own expertise, but instead want to empower others and guide them in their learning. It's social, it's relational, and it's experiential. It's the way humans learn.

Train Yourself in Inquiry

If you've taken a class with me, you know that I spent over a year just studying Inquiry. It's required for Mindful Schools as well as for Brown University's training for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teachers.

This is why I can't give anyone a list of questions to ask their clients or children. I can provide examples of what has and hasn't been helpful for specific individuals, but what's helpful for one person might not be for another person. Even if they appear to be in the same position.

If you want to walk with your clients, children, and students, rather than in front of them, that shift in relationship begins with finding out what's important to them in that moment. This is why we ask, "What's here now?"

  • A question like this surfaces whatever is intriguing, surprising, or just plain present for them.

  • If you ask the dreaded closed-ended question, or one that can have a curt answer such as, "How are you?" and you get "Fine." Guess what? It's not the end of the world, and what you do next can easily get you back on track. For example, if this happens with your child, and there was something about their voice, you can say, "Wow, that 'fine' sounded like it had a story behind it. Tell me the story of Fine" (Can you tell this happened to me? It was quite a story, and No, things weren't at all fine.)

  • Your follow-up question depends on their answer and can go in many directions if you're listening to their tone and word choice and body language. Even if your question was terrible, if you're paying attention, your next question can resurrect the interaction.

  • If you know the person well, make potential connections with them. You're not doing this because you KNOW there's a connection, but because you're curious. You're modeling curiosity and reflection, which are crucial for learning. "This sounds a lot like something that happened last year. What comes to mind when I make that connection? And what did you feel in your body when I said that?"

What's here now?



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