Asking Beautiful Questions

Photo by Ann H on

By Payton Hobbs, head of Lower School

beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.”

Warren Berger

In A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger argues that the key to innovation and creativity rests in one’s ability to ask beautiful questions.
Asking questions seems too simple to be a solution for how we can ignite change in our world and overcome the many challenges we face. And yet, it makes so much sense—if indeed the questions are meaningful and important. 

Questioning, when done beautifully, is a tool that powers learning and innovation because it supports a meaningful exchange of ideas. When we intentionally consider the type, tone and timing of our questions, we engage in a reflective process that promotes strategic and creative thinking. During these meaningful exchanges of ideas, interpersonal relationships are also strengthened as we demonstrate a sincere desire to learn more from and about someone else.

Allowing time and space for beautiful questions impacts relationships because it breaks down potential power imbalances and removes the format of a right or wrong answer. This creates a safe space to be vulnerable with one’s thoughts and ideas. It positions everyone in the conversation to be a learner instead of a knower. 
As Berger points out, “to encourage or even allow questioning is to cede power—not something that is done lightly in hierarchical companies or government organizations, or even in classrooms.”

There are many different types of beautiful questions to consider, and Berger shares a three-part questioning cycle in his book. 

  1. Why…? — Stepping back from knowing to seek true understanding
  2. What if…? — Opening a pathway for a different perspective, solution or idea
  3. How…? — Considering opportunities to put what if ideas into action

By asking beautiful questions and suspending our judgment and biases, we connect differently with people and ideas, and we identify challenges and opportunities more clearly. We also give ourselves permission to consider and embrace the possibilities when we answer the questions. This is precisely the type of freedom and space leaders and innovators need to develop game-changing ideas.

LJCDS knows that game-changing ideas are what we need when facing a global pandemic, democracy in peril, and increasing tension surrounding the inequities and injustices in our society. This is the reason we are focusing on the concept of essential questions to guide our experiences in the 2020-2021 academic year. Asking ambitious, meaningful and open-ended questions is at the heart of the learning and growth process.
In Lower School, one of our main divisional goals was developed using the following questions:

  • Where are we as individuals and as a team on our journey to become a diverse, equitable and inclusive community? 
  • Where do we need to go next? 
  • How will we get there?

We are using the following set of questions to frame and support this work with our students:

  • Who am I? (exploring our individual identity) 
  • Who are you? (exploring the diversity within our community)  
  • Who are we together? (exploring our collective identity) 
  • What are we called to do together? (exploring the impact we are striving for in our community and beyond).

Imagine what a community looks and feels like when these questions are offered a safe space to be explored and answered. Imagine a community where all members can share what makes them unique, celebrate the differences that exist among each other, embrace a shared identity, and agree on a purpose that guides them into action.

Beautiful questions create beautiful opportunities.
Ask more beautiful questions. Believe in the magic of conversation. Allow wonder and curiosity to lead the journey towards discovery.

Real transformative joy is in our future when we commit to a mindful exploration of ourselves, others, and the world around us.

Payton Hobbs
Payton Hobbs

Head of Lower School

Payton Hobbs began her work in the field of education learning with the youngest students as a classroom teacher. She taught kindergarten and first and second grades at both public and private schools. As Mrs. Hobbs’ career progressed, she wanted to expand her impact with learners of all ages and transitioned into leadership positions that included director of curriculum and instruction, assistant head of Lower School, associate director of admission, and head of Lower School. Prior to joining the LJCDS community, Mrs. Hobbs was the head of Lower School at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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