Habits of Mind: Questioning & Prior Knowledge

This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Questioning and problem posing: How do you know?  Having a questioning attitude; knowing what data are needed and developing questioning strategies to generate information.

I said it several times during the interview process for my new job (I start Monday!), and I stand by it: I will be asking a lot of questions this year.  Not only in terms of getting acquainted with a new professional role, but also (and perhaps more importantly) in working with teachers to solve problems and improve practice (mine as well as theirs).  Having one person who knows all the answers is great, but sometimes knowing what you don’t know and knowing the right questions to ask can be even more beneficial to the learning of everyone involved in the problem-solving process.

Some of the best discussions I’ve ever had with my supervisors did not involve them telling me information, but rather, them asking questions to get me thinking about my professional practice: the choices I make in the classroom or as a psychologist/case manager.  These, more than any other interactions, helped me to grow, or at least become a more reflective practitioner, so I hope to do the same for the teachers with whom I will be working this year.  Conducting interviews for the qualitative research component of my dissertation research helped me to hone the questioning skills I developed as a high school English teacher all those years ago, so I think I have a good base upon which to build.  And speaking of building upon previous practice…

Applying past knowledge to prior situations: Use what you learn!  Accessing prior knowledge; transferring knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned.

You know what they say about those who don’t study history?  The same applies to those who don’t learn from their own experiences, both positive and negative.  Just like I will be drawing upon a very specific skill set as I described above, I will surely also be able to apply many of the organizational, managerial, and leadership skills I learned as a school psychologist to my new role.  The precise wording escapes me, but I remember learning as a fledgling school psychology grad student that the ability to isolate and identify patterns or commonalities across diverse settings is indicative of advanced problem-solving skills, if not overall intelligence, and that has stuck with me through the years.

Being able to look at situations and say, “Hey, this is kinda like that one time I/we/they…” aids in your ability to act (reactively or proactively) and, when necessary, solve problems more efficiently and, presumably, more effectively.  I’ve never been an administrator before, but I have acted in leadership positions and taught adult learners in both formal and informal settings, so I think I have a nice “toolbox” from which to draw as I look forward to this new chapter in my career.


Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).   It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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