Admit it. We all have questions

Admit It. We all have questions. In collaboration with the Independent Educational Consultants Association, Crisp Consulting + Coaching will be addressing issues and practices of educational consulting. These thoughts will be cross published on the IECA blog and Admit It. Professional development is critical to a community of learners as it strengthens professional practice and benefits families and students.

First and foremost, I am and will always be a teacher. During my career, I have had the privilege to teach a wide range of learners from preschoolers to graduate students. Students, regardless of their age, have never ceased to amaze me with their voracious desire to know and understand. All seem to possess myriad intellectual abilities, talents and wisdom. The fulfillment of decoding, deconstructing and demystifying to understand, predict and reflect is compelling for all members of a learning community. Simply, education is powerful.

For many years, a Chinese proverb has influenced my approach to teaching,

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

For me, learning and teaching invites participants into an experience that potentially allows for a new understanding of self and the world. When I transitioned from teacher, professor and head of school to an educational consultant, maintaining the dynamics of learning and teaching was critical to my practice. To focus on this goal, I crafted an essential question that would govern my approach to working with families and students:

What ideas, skills and values can be constructed while engaging in the process of school fit and the admission process?

Recently, during a local meeting for sustainable business practices, I was asked to reflect upon and further define this essential question. Although there are several meaningful values, I identified inquiry as a critical practice and skill acquired by students and family members during our work together. While educational fit and admission serve as the immediate goal, the process itself encourages the strengthening of this critical skill that will serve participants beyond the paradigms of school.

My own journey with inquiry was bolstered during 2004 while working with the talented educators in the municipal schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. I was amazed by the thoughtful and intentional questions utilized to provoke and engage students. One morning I was particularly fascinated as a very talented teacher, Marina, asked a small group of children, “What makes a city desirable? If you could build a city, how would you make it?” Excited by the questions, the small group launched into a conversation that would be heralded by urban planners and politicians alike. The children described the welcoming feeling of their city, the beauty of their city and the opportunities the city could provide to all its citizens. Completely engaged, the children began to draw and sculpt their city replica while their conversation continued feverishly. Their intellectual fires were sparked by the right question. Inquiry promotes wonder, a desire to understand deeply and an invitation to invest completely.

As independent educational consultants, we have diverse resources and tools to ascertain an educational fit. Yet, we also have the gift of asking simple questions and often these questions have the ability to move beyond the product of education to the core of educational values. Harkening back to my time with the Reggio educators, I now utilize critical questions. When first meeting with a family, whether for early childhood, boarding school or college admission, I ask a simple question: “What are your hopes and dreams for your child?” Rarely, do families answer “We just wanna get into school X.” In fact, the values expressed are critical and help guide the process as families convey hopes for critical thinkers, confident students and global citizens.

For students, inquiry is also a critical gateway. “If you could go to the best school for you, what would it be like? What would it look like? What would it feel like? What would it sound like?” Students, youngest to oldest, provide answers that are insightful and outweigh heavily a standard answer as a result of a multiple-choice assessment. Students voice their ideals as they convey their desire to belong to a community where the best work is the norm and everyone’s voice is essential.

Empowering students and family members to ask questions is equally critical in the process. Being the eternal teacher, I assign homework to families between appointments. These assignments go beyond application completion and brochure browsing; I ask students and family members to compile questions. Also, I ask them to reflect on the questions and contemplate why their questions are critical and how the answers could influence future decisions.

Inquiry allows students and family members to gather information that will assist them in critical decisions and allow them to construct meaning about themselves and the world. Reaching the educational goal is essential, yet, the process in which we all engage is just as critical As John W. Gardner proclaimed in Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society, “All too often we are giving our young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. We are stuffing their heads with the products of earlier innovation rather than teaching them to innovate.”

Recently, after working with a family and a very bright student, I asked a family one of my favorite questions, “If you had to give advice to another family about finding the right school and working with me, what would you tell them?” After a very prolonged silence, the nine-year-old daughter said, “I would tell other children that this is like a journey to a really happy land and you may not always get what the map is saying but, really, it helps to ask questions (along the way).”

Now, any questions?

Brian D. Crisp is an independent educational consultant with Crisp Consulting + Coaching who works with families in Asheville, Charleston, and Savannah to optimize and realize their unique educational fit and admission success. As a former professor, administrator, and teacher, Brian has the knowledge and skills to counsel families in all aspects of educational planning.

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