Culture of Learning: Asking Questions to Foster Innovation

More than ever before, schools are facing a time where they must focus on fostering habits of mind that go beyond just learning content to teaching students how to think. By providing opportunities and routines for students to develop these habits of mind, schools prepare them to be problem solvers and innovators. As students become more equipped with higher-level thinking skills, they better understand God’s creation and their Creator, and as they know God more, they know more about how to serve Him.

People often attribute innovation to the creative right-brained individuals who come up with out-of-the-box thinking that helps drive new ideas and concepts. Stephen Shapiro, in his book, Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems, provides a left-brained approach to innovation.[1]

Although the purpose of his book is to guide businesses through innovation, Shapiro’s content can also provide a framework for teachers to foster creative and critical thinking in their students. The key element of this process is forming different types of questions to help frame a problem in different ways, resulting in a process that leads to new and creative ideas. It is an effective way of assisting students in developing critical thinking skills. Shapiro refers to these questions as lenses through which one approaches problem-solving.

Shapiro organizes these lenses into different categories:

  • Reduce Abstraction: Questions used to help bring focus to a challenge that is overly large, broad, or abstract.
    Example: What gives us the greatest leverage in solving this challenge?
  • Increases Abstraction: Questions used to help expand one’s thinking to increase the range of possibilities.
    Example: How can we ask questions that promote a growth mindset, rather than focusing on the obstacles to solving a problem?
  • Change Perspectives: Questions that help to look at a problem with a fresh set of eyes.
    Example: How else might this task be accomplished?
  • Switch Elements: Questions that cause you to switch from one parameter to another.
    Example: How can we turn a bad idea into a good one?
  • Zero-in: Questions that are used if you are not sure you are hitting the right target.
    Example: Are we solving the root cause of the problem?

As we prepare our students for the 21st century, it is important to teach them how to approach problems. The pandemic has reminded us that an essential aspect of thriving in an ever-changing world is adjusting our thinking and creatively solving problems. Being curious and asking questions is an integral part of effective teaching; these questions help foster a higher level of thinking that we desire in our students.

As Christian teachers, we have an amazing opportunity to come alongside our students and help them develop into young men and women who will make an impact in this world. Although the way we are teaching has changed this year, teachers can focus on the fact that they still have the fantastic opportunity to be a part of their students’ educational experience. The challenge to continuously provide the best Christian education is worth it, even though it has been extremely challenging. It can be overwhelming to think about the many problems and challenges our students will face, but if we equip them with skills that help them discern truth, ask questions, and think of innovative ways of solving problems, we will send them out into the world to make a significant impact for Christ.

Leighton Helwig
Head of School
Faith Academy – Manila, Philippines

[1] Shapiro, Stephen M. Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems. Mascot Books, 2020

Photo Credits: Problem Solvers via Shutterfly. Developing Thinkers via Shutterfly.