“What are your burning questions right now?”
The first time someone asked me this, I was a fifth year teacher at a group interview in a coffee shop in West Michigan. We were all there interviewing for the Lake Michigan Writing Project's annual summer institute — four weeks of intensive professional learning with a group of sharp colleagues.
This kind of thing — extended PD, during the summer — wasn't really my kind of thing back then. But Crystal and I only had Haddie at the time, and she was a baby. There was a small stipend for the LMWP experience, and some of my colleagues just raved about the learning that takes place — colleagues that I really respected.
So I went for it.
That LMWP experience proved seminal for me. It was the first time, for example, that I was ever required to lead a professional development session — I've done 100+ since then — and it was the first time that I'd been encouraged to write as a means to develop myself professionally.
But my point isn't to laud LMWP's summer program today — it's to ask you what your burning questions are.
You see, I think that question — What are your burning questions right now? — has proven to be the seminal question of my career. Looking back, I see that the trajectory shifted right there.
“Oh,” I remember thinking. “That's interesting. What are my burning questions? I should probably have some.”
I didn't need to look. There were things that I was wondering about and wrestling with, things that I wanted answered.
Burning questions drive our learning. In the summer of 2012, when this blog was about the Common Core, I started thinking, “Geez, this is a lot of standards. How in the world can I organize these things in my brain? What can they be reduced down to so that I can actually do them?”
Six years later, that burning question has evolved — “What does impactful teaching boil down to — all across the content areas?” The burning question ended with a book-length answer: It seems to boil down to These 6 Things.
This isn't to say, of course, that our burning questions need to end with us writing books — but they all ought to end with change and with growth and with more questions.
What are your burning questions right now? The first step is defining them. Do that in the comments. And if you're feeling generous, interact. Comment on your colleagues' questions.
(I'll be down there, too.)