Developing A Questioning Mind

Children team

In management training you hear a lot about teamwork and in many industries it is an essential skill for success. Daughter 2, who is studying psychology and cognitive behavior, sent us an intriguing article recently from a book by Tony Wagner called “The Global Achievement Gap.” The article had to do with what employers are really asking for out of their fresh, new hires and it isn’t what you would expect.

No, they weren’t interested in any information their new employees knew that is tested by any available standard achievement test, with the possible exception of the LSAT. The qualities these major, global employers were looking for were things that we are rather systematically doing away with in public education due to required standard testing and budget cuts, because they take time and money. These employers were looking for employees who asked good questions and could work well in teams.

They highly valued flexibility, communication skills and a questioning mind.

What?  We don’t have any core classes for that!

Our students are, for the most part anyway, trained to memorize information and regurgitate it on command. They may stumble across an outstanding teacher who challenges their perceptions of the world and sneers when they fail to question the status quo (International Baccalaureate classes did this for our children) but it is the very, very rare teacher out there who really knows how to teach kids how to be a team. Often the best example they will experience will be in PE or the musical or theatrical fine arts, which are of course the first things to go in budget cuts. In his book, Wagner reported that scientific and tech firms were frustrated with employees who were asking “What should I see?” when they made observations. They didn’t even realize they were completely missing the point of observation.

Teamwork was a fairly foreign concept to them as well, because in school (elementary and secondary) they had looked at academic teams as a joke. No one really had any authority or responsibility other than their own grade, so the best or most motivated student generally did the lion’s share of the work if the project was to be completed at all. This will not fly in the workplace and often that is the first hard lesson they learn.

Dysfunctional teamwork in academics with one or two people doing all of the work was certainly our daughters’ experience and often they were the ones who cared and finished the project. Luckily, they both participated in choir and the older daughter loved being in band, which set some of the expectations of being a part of a larger whole. Sport teams helped both of them to develop some of the skills and strategies of teamwork and respectful leadership, but it was not until college that Daughter 1 discovered the real joys of leading a successful team to complete a large and complicated project. We are hoping for that experience for Daughter 2 as well. Otherwise she will be like the majority of new hires out there in America who have to learn it the hard way, on the job and on the fly.

So, enough complaining. The educational system is what it is and changes will often come too slowly to benefit your child. What can you do to foster these critical skills in your younger children?

Here are some tactics that we found helpful and others I have read about and will share.

  • Using adult vocabulary with your children as soon as possible and making it clear that they can always ask what a word means.
  • Encouraging them to ask questions by asking questions yourself. They are modeling on you, after all.
  • In the interest of sanity, limiting any questions on one given topic to a maximum of 3-5. This forces them to think strategically about what they want to ask and saves you from the dreaded “Why?” cycle of doom.
  • Responding to complaints about what another child or group of children did with “Why do you think they did that?” instead of, “That was a bad thing to do!” You will be teaching both empathy and analysis of other people’s behaviors which are critical skills they will need throughout their lives.
  • Getting them outside. As a speaker I heard recently expressed it so well,  “When children sit in front of a TV, they use only two senses.When they are in nature, they are using all five.”
  • Facilitating their play with other children as soon as possible. The negotiations, understanding of body and facial languages and the frustrations they will deal with when trying to get what they want in a group of people will be invaluable skills for them to develop. If it is possible, get them in play situations with children of all different colors, beliefs and socio-economics. Their horizons will be expanded in ways you can’t even predict.
  • Getting them involved with something that involves teamwork as soon as they are old enough. I am not endorsing sports, because those are not for everyone, but use your imagination and find some activity that they will have to do with other people. I will say, however, one good feature of sports is that at the younger age groups it is likely to be mostly about fun and sportsmanship.

These are just a few things you can do as a parent to help prepare your child for the future global workforce. I am sure you OQMs out there will come up with a lot more I haven’t even thought of, and that is a wonderful thing!

So, any questions?

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