Honest Inquiry

What is the most common question we ask a child? My bet is it’s “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I know I’ve asked it myself a number of times. I’ve even answered it when one of the smallest on our campus innocently enough thinks I’ve still got time to become someone or something else. (My response is always what it was when I was five, a big rig truck driver. Or, if that doesn’t work out… Zorro.)

But how often do we ask it of our schools? Who do we want to be?

It certainly makes you think. It also makes you appreciate that we can (like me- when a 4 year old asks) become something new, better, or different.

However, to know what you want to be, you have to first know who you are. That knowing is never easy. It is difficult to be as honest with ourselves as we are with each other. But we have to be if we are going to know what we are dealing with.

Honestly inquiring into our organizations might sound like: What are we good at? What could improve? Who comes here? For what? What are our hopes, dreams and desires as a group? What are we afraid of, worried about, or don’t understand?

It reminds me of Seth Godin’s question “What is school for?”

If we know what our classes, courses, and campuses are for, and can honestly say we know what we are right now, it leads us to the topic of what’s next. However, then, it’s easy to just say: “I like what I’m doing now thanks. I want to be what I am.”*

Right? You’ve heard that before I’m sure.

However, deep down we all know that’s not enough. Things are and continue to change. From the climate to the gadget, from the need to memorize to the necessity to act, solve and create- we need to find a flexible resilience in what we do and what we pitch school as being for. (Flexible because we will change again. Resilient because we need to be strong enough keep changing, growing and discovering.)

In International Schools especially, we need to recognize our mission and unique position. We have the mission to educate children in a certain style (American, IB, standards-based, college prep, globally aware, etc.). However, we have an opportunity to educate for so much more. We are uniquely positioned to take advantage of our diversity, and/or our locales.

Honest Inquiry in International Schools might sound like: Are we taking advantage of our unique setting? Do our students and parents understand and value what is different about our internationally located school? Are we maximizing our own potential and not just mimicking what schools in our home countries are doing?

Who do we want to be?

Some schools are taking risks, trying on new paradigms and noticing the shifts. From there, it’s true there is a lot of work to be done to make risks realities. However, it is only with the planning, attempting and reflecting; then trying something different, that we can move our organizations forward.

As I head off to start the end of this year, I find myself wondering how I can help plan for five or more years of change, and yet keep the inquiry process alive and more important than adhering to the plan.

In a nutshell, how can we use questions to drive us to more and better questions, instead of letting our answers snuff out the inquiry?

*(Oh, how Plumbeam would have answered that! Photo above is from that famous and wise book The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater)

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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