From the Principal – Ask good questions

Dear members of the Whitefriars College family,

As a Principal, I do tend to spend a fair bit of my time responding to other people’s questions, concerns, ideas and initiatives. In these situations, as the person is speaking to me, I often find myself thinking about how I am going to solve their issue, what statement I am going to make which will ‘fix’ the problem/issue/dilemma they are presenting, what words of wisdom I could provide to support the other person. In other words, I focus more on making statements than asking questions. In doing so, I acknowledge, perhaps I am not listening as intently as I should be.

I recently read an article by a prominent Company CEO who suggested that he struggled with the realisation that he was more of a “teller” (someone who tells others what they want them to know) rather than an “asker” (someone who asks questions to be better informed before giving a response)…

I wonder how many of us default to being tellers rather than askers in our work lives, and more importantly in our roles as parents and care givers. Research suggests that learning to ask questions will not only cause us to slow down and listen better, but it will also give us time to think about how to respond more accurately and appropriately to the question being asked. It may also provide us with more insight into what the other person is really asking than we first realized.

I am not suggesting that we should not make statements or offer advice to those who seek us out. I believe it is a natural inclination to offer advice. Afterall, we do have life experience to share which may provide the other person with a different way to view the situation. However, if that’s all we do then we are missing an opportunity to not only develop greater awareness and understanding of the issue but more importantly, to assist the person to take ownership of the matter and empower them to solve the problem themselves. This approach often takes more time but it is worth it.

A psychologist friend of mine told me once that they don’t solve other people’s problems. They simply ask lots of good questions to assist the person in finding the answer for themselves. I think perhaps that most people who come to us for support/help/advice are not wanting to be dictated to. They want to engage in conversation, they want us to understand where they are coming from and to express their ideas and opinions. It is our role to listen, to clarify and to ask good questions. That’s the best advice we can give.

I was privileged to witness a perfect example of this approach in action at this weeks’ ‘Time and Space Year 7 Mother and Son’ evening. Over 100 mothers and their sons attended this significant event in our College calendar, hosted by our good friend Bill Jennings. The premise which underpins this experience is based around positive, open-ended questions which are used to encourage conversation and illicit thoughtful and deep responses.

This valuable evening provided a wonderful opportunity for connection and conversation between mothers and sons where the theme for the night was about asking good questions and listening. I spoke to many mothers whose stories were similar: “Life is incredibly busy, its so hard to find time just to stop and talk.” These were common themes expressed by our parents.

At the end of the night the mothers and mentors were asked to comment on their experience of this event. These were some of the reflections:

“Such a wonderful opportunity to talk to each other in such a meaningful way.”

“Really helped my son and I to open up and talk about thoughts, feelings and experiences we’ve never actually shared before.”

“Great work, especially by the older boys. Proud of all the Year 7 boys stepping outside their comfort zone.”

“Heart-warming and a beautiful way to stop and take time to treasure each other.”

It appears that this whole questioning idea is a good one. Perhaps as we move forward into the final term of the year, we could reflect on the idea of being less of a “teller” and more of an “asker”.

I hope you all enjoy a safe happy and restful term break, and I look forward to working with your and you son, as we enter the final exciting term of 2023.


Mr Mark Murphy