Tales from the road: The art of questioning
Tales from the road: The art of questioning
Tales from the road: The art of questioning


By Scott Huyler, School Support & Evaluation Officer, CIS    



Visiting a new school after weeks of phone and virtual communication is always interesting and exciting. It’s also somewhat challenging. 

A significant amount of observation, engagement, and analysis is required during a visit to a school undergoing evaluation for CIS International Accreditation. The school has invited us in, to assist in its continuous efforts to refine, improve, and even innovate with respect to educational practices.

Upon arrival at the school, the meeting schedule has long since been established, we take a tour of the facilities, and there is a general familiarity with the administration and personnel who have so kindly assisted with the process up to that stage. The nuts and bolts of the visit are firmly in place. But really, the work starts here.

During the next four to five days, the CIS School Support & Evaluation Officer must brush aside preconceived notions, go beyond the evidence that has been reviewed to date, and genuinely explore the unique aspects of the school. 

An illustration of jigsaw pieces showing how asking a question can lead to good ideas/outcomes shown as a yellow lightbulb

For me, this always starts with questions. 

And I’ve learned there’s an art to asking a good question that elicits authentic responses in the spirit of openness and collaboration. Especially when we meet and engage with such a broad group of people, from the evaluating team members to the whole school community of students, staff, administration, parents, and support personnel. 

Schools are complicated, multi-layered entities that operate on many levels, from strategising at the board level to the day-to-day facilities management and operational functions. We must glean as much information as possible from these interactions. 

These meetings, and the questions and conversations that flow from them, are the cornerstone of a visit, setting the stage for further review of documents, lesson observations, and “triangulation” of evidence and data.

During recent school visits to South Asia, I tried to develop a structured and organic approach to questioning. Namely, while preparation, structure, and organization are key ingredients for any school evaluator, there must also be recognition that no amount of preparation can prepare you for answers that may require an entirely different line of inquiry. 

Any evaluator must be prepared to abandon their list of carefully drafted questions when it becomes clear that any response requires new and additional engagement. This is not always the easiest thing to do in a formal meeting, but evaluators can gain a more accurate and less formulaic picture of the school by demonstrating the ability to pivot and adapt. 

They can also follow up with a more structured question later in the visit. 

Developing a contextualized and effective approach to questioning is a key skill for any school evaluator as they continue to support schools throughout the school improvement process.

And, of course, we teach our students that one of the keys to learning is developing great inquiry skills and critical thinking. With students at the centre of everything we do, it makes sense that it comes full circle, and the questions we use in our school evaluation process will help schools shape the future of education for the young people in our care. 

Tales from the road: The art of questioning
  • Intercultural learning & leadership
  • International accreditation
Tales from the road: The art of questioning