Written By: Hans Appel
"Asking questions is one of the best ways to grow as a human being."
As a counselor, I frequently find myself in a position of talking to students who need help; although, sometimes the help they need isn’t actually from me. Ironically, they seek my guidance or thoughts when they should be talking directly with a teacher. Maybe they’re struggling to understand a concept. Or perhaps they’re having a conflict or feeling disconnected with a teacher. Other times, they may have a desire to make a change to some aspect of their learning. While students hopefully view their counselor as a safe advocate, we often work to empower them to plug back into their own student/teacher relationships and follow-up directly with the adult who can most appropriately help them.
However, students’ avoidance of asking teachers questions makes me wonder:
Where does this inquiry based trepidation come from?
Would you like to know the most frequently uttered statement by teachers to parents during conferences: I’d really like to see him or her ask me more questions. What prevents some students from seeking help? Ok, sure, at the secondary level, and even upper elementary level there are a multitude of factors that play in with peer acceptance near the top. ‘Peers might think I’m stupid if I ask this question.’
Fair enough. Social pressures for teenagers weigh heavily and can greatly influence their willingness to seek help. Talented educators recognize the need to create a safe space where classmates can support inquiry. Yet, the reality is, there are so many opportunities to ask for teacher assistance, in quiet non-observable to other peers sorts of ways. Students can talk to teachers during work time, before/after school, lunch time, over e-mail, google classroom, or any other technology program. Some of my introverted readers might be quick to point out, that Susan Cain’s “Quiet” would remind us that personality types impact their boldness to ask questions. Yes! A student’s outgoingness absolutely affects their frequency to ask verbal questions. Although, I’m not quite as convinced that a propensity toward introvertedness precludes all online questioning. Indeed, teachers have found exceptional ways of eliciting student participation from our quieter students, through the use of technology, personal connection, and warmth.
If I hadn’t witnessed an overt discomfort to seek help by consistently ALL ranges of personality type over the last 19 years, I might have been content to conclude that peers and personality were the only driving force preventing inquiry. Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda, authors of “Let Them Speak” so eloquently explain that if we want to know WHY kids do something, why not just ask them! So, I have...for most of my career. What keeps you from asking the teacher? While there is no denying personality and peer influence as impacts to students’ willingness to seek help fear of teacher response is clearly involved. There’s actually three categories of this fear: Witnessed, Perceived or Experienced. A major fear factor that students cite:
“I’m afraid the teacher will make me feel stupid.”
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of Positive INTENTIONALITY and ACTION; with a daily mantra to make our sphere of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Part of AWC's mission is to highlight outstanding educators, companies, and resources that support an Award Winning Culture. Both Jennifer and Hans work at Enterprise Middle School aka Wildcat Nation. Wildcat Nation received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness.