Mentors trained by the New Teacher Center (the Gold Standard for Teacher Mentor Programs) use a very simple, yet transformational process to support new teacher success. The process includes four questions that the mentor asks the teacher every time they met: What’s working in your classroom? What’s not? What changes can you make to address what is not working? What are your next steps? By responding to these four simple questions, new teachers all over have been able to accelerate their own learning and improve their instruction in ways that have enabled millions of students to have a better chance of success.
This may remind you of other inquiry processes that use a ‘simple question format’. The SWOT format (Successes, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) has been adopted by political campaigns and many corporations around the world to support strategy development. The military currently uses a series of simple questions in what they call Hot Washes immediately after every incident –no matter how tired or emotionally exhausted- to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the events that transpired and identify what they could do better the next time. Hot Washes have subsequently been adopted by Hospitals, the Emergency Preparedness Community and other key agencies that provide aid to communities in need of support. Idealist.org is currently instigating local conversations to support change using a short but powerful 3 question format. There are a host of other institutions and sectors that have begun using similar ‘simple question’ formats.
The simple question process itself focuses on a philosophy that seems to work: If you simplify the questions, you can simplify the answers. The simple question format provides a strategy that allows us to determine a collective path forward in the face of the deepest layers of ambiguity. It does so by allowing us to engage in positive framing, focusing us on what is working, just as much as what is not (a valuable factor that many of us forget to look at). It also helps us be more solutions-oriented when looking at problems, focusing on the analysis of factors that lead to problems and coming up with creative solutions to address them together, rather than spending time blaming one another or engaging in other fear-induced coping mechanisms that can often debunk efforts to solve problems. Also, the simple question format supports a small number of simple, clear next steps that feels do-able for all members of the conversation, rather than each person walking away with dozens of things to do that can feel overwhelming and too often mean that nothing will get accomplished.
The wide and rapidly increasing rate of use of simple question formats is an indicator that the process is an effective tool for positive change. And because the method is easy to use and doesn’t require money or additional resources, it is accessible to anyone that seeks to improve their own situation.
A Big Project was originally conceived with meditation on the question, “If we could take this simple question process to the highest possible level, what would that look like – and what type of change could be possible?”
After a series of conversations with friends and mentors around this wondering, we decided to craft a simple question format that could apply to a world-lens. To ensure large global involvement in the process, we needed to incorporate strategies that would pull on the heart and the head strings of people throughout the entire world. Thus was born an ambitious agenda to capture the world’s attention through the intersection of technology, art, research, media and simple responses to simple questions to fuel a fire of dialogue about global progress, and potentially, to light a path allowing small, incremental, do-able steps forward towards a better world.