Knowing through Strategic Touchpoints and Questions: A Guide to Edu-Listening

Professionally I have always craved working with people who were clear and transparent communicators.  Valuing this quality over the years led to the development of two skillsets I exercise on a weekly basis. The first is practicing what I desire.  When I communicate, one of the guiding questions I use is “who needs to be included?” The second skillset focuses on the power of inquiry and being able to craft the right question so that my course of action is informed, comprehensible, and action oriented. To summarize, effective communication involves identifying strategic touchpoints and questions which will support future action. Combined, these two approaches generates a nexus for you to listen to schools and school systems that will generate an information base you can act on.

Let me expand upon what a strategic question is.  In short, it is an inquiry that is framed to gather the information you want.  A strategic question balances the general with specific requests while inviting the touchpoint to expound or engage in a conversation.  Let’s look at two examples.  The first is a good example of a strategic question: “I have been keeping up on the transitions schools are making to digital learning.  What are some areas of the transition where you are succeeding and where there are some obstacles regarding teacher and student readiness?”  Compare this to a second example that, for one, lacks an informed ‘set-up’ statement: “How is it going in your district with the move to digital learning?”

To highlight, the second (non-strategic) question whether asked of someone or used as a launching point (model) for your own research, invites tangential responses with limited pathways for action.  These may yield “nice to know” information but runs the risk of not getting the information you need. 

Once a strategic question is formed, selecting your touchpoints is the next step.  Below, I have provided five sources I have used with successfully and informed my action.  Additionally, knowing that arranging a meeting can be an obstacle in itself, all of these touchpoints will build your understanding sans meeting. 

  • Read what they Read: Educators subscribe to a lot of publications. Having that information come to you is like having an informed insider at your service. I suggest subscribing to Education Week and ASCD Smartbriefs as well as their journal Education Leadership.
  • School Web Pages and Twitter Handles: Public facing websites don’t necessarily share everything going on in the school system, but the good ones share a lot! Moreover, you will most likely be able to access strategic plans, see what successes are happening in the community, and subscribe to their updates on social media.
  • Nurture Relationships: I don’t mind getting emails from vendors.   Periodic check in emails are reassuring.  I usually reply as well with gratitude because I want to remain in their foreground. Also, if they ask me a targeted question I am happy to answer it.
  • LinkedIn Groups: Joining groups dedicated to areas of education that are important to your field can yield innovative ideas, provide insight to policy and practice, and expand your network.
  • School Board Public Meetings: They may not be the most dynamic events, but school boards that post their meeting minutes and recordings of their sessions for public reviewing  is bound to yield a good number of nuggets.

 

So, the information is out there.  As you listen to what is being shared you can start to categorize that information by school size, specific programs being used, long and short term goals, and demographics.   As you map out your path to informed success keep in mind the approach outlined above. The strategic question is your compass and the touchpoints are your navigators that will make your eventual meeting a safe harbor for success.

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About the Author

Craig Perrier is the High School Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, VA. He is also an online adjunct professor of history and education for Northeastern University and Adjunct Professor of Education, at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. He has taught in public schools throughout the U.S. as well as in Brazil for six years. Craig maintains the blog The Global, History Educator and is the creator of the free online teacher resource U.S. History in a Global Context. You can follow him on twitter @CraigPerrier.

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