At various points in my life, I come to a place where I am simply full of questions.
Am I being effective and efficient in my work? Am I on the right path? Am I being true to myself? Am I communicating the message I wish to portray? Do I really like these shoes?
Sometimes, the questions lead me to very real and authentic answers, and sometimes they simply lead me to no answer at all. But, there are those moments when these questions lead me to deeper inquiries of my being, and this is where the good stuff happens! I like to call these questions my life’s essential questions.
The Essential Question
For many educators, the use of essential questions have changed the dynamic of their classrooms and turned them into labs of learning. These questions are usually posed at the beginning of a learning unit, and guides the students in their learning. It sort of acts as a guide or road map, to keep them focused on reaching the overall objectives and outcomes of the lessons. By using this method, students create and use their own questions in the learning process, identify with what’s important and interesting to them, and allows them to make inferences from the varied experiences in the classroom to reach an answer that comes full circle and makes sense to them. It leads to deeper inquiry and critical thinking and analysis.
I came across an article on scholastic.com that gave the criteria for composing a good essential question, and it amazed me how this method could be used in my personal growth:
“Researchers have identified many criteria for composing a good essential question, but I have found that meeting just three suffices: (1) The question should be interesting and compelling to your students right now! (2) It should invite them into the ongoing disciplinary debates and conversations that create knowledge in the first place. (3) It should require students to learn—and to use—the same understandings and strategies as the real experts in the field.”
What’s your essential question?
Three weeks ago, I put this method into practice. It wasn’t intentional, but I haphazardly stumbled upon a very real and essential inquiry that I had been dealing with for a very long time. It began with a problem. I was in a rut – stuck, stagnant, afraid, angry and unsure of what to do next or even feel about my current posture or state of being. I began to realize that there was so little time in my life for the really important things that mattered to me: praying and centering my spirit, raising Nia, writing and reading, nurturing my ideas, and helping others. I felt like I was always racing, everyday and every hour of my life. I literally felt like I had to fight for every second. I had to sacrifice for every minute. My life began to look nothing like who I truly am or who God wills me to be.
It was then that I began to ask myself a myriad of questions: How do I stop, and change things? How do I make time and space for those things that are truly important to me? What do I need to let go off? What do I need to say “no” to? What do I need to practice? Where do I need to be? What information do I need to seek?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was moving closer to developing and actualizing a central question for myself. I began to make affirmatives, and verbalized what I wanted despite where the questions would lead me. The answers went something like this: I want a “do-over.” (don’t we all?) I want to create a more positive and beautiful environment. I want to revive my living space. I want to let go of some responsibilities that are holding me captive. I want to let go of unhealthy habits that I have allowed to grab hold of my life. And it begins now.
I have to say that my essential question didn’t fall out of the sky after this. I really had to sit with these questions and the affirmation I placed before. What did it all mean, and what was it leading me to see? Finally, after reading one day, it came to me:
How can I be my best self for Nia, so she can can in turn mimic the practices that will enable her to be her best self as a girl, young lady and soon woman of color?
How can I be my best self for God, my Father, so I can align with the purpose and will He has for me? I know and believe that God is truly for me, so being my best self for Him translates into being – ultimately – my best self for myself.
Then I remembered K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid). My essential question was there: How can I be my best self? So I can tell you today, that right now, I am journeying to find these answers. The experiences I have directly reflect the things I choose to do. The people I surround myself with are exercises in answering this essential question and the inquiries I have set before myself. (Whew, that statement even blew my mind after I read it. “The people I surround myself with are exercises…” That will definitely be a post later…I can guarentee it.)
Remember this, developing your essential questions can (don’t have to…no guru here) evolve from this:
- It begins with a problem. It’s okay to begin here. This is where most scientists derive life-changing medicines, or entrepreneurs develop sustaining businesses.
- Let the questions flow. Allow your mind to create and explore inquiry. Write them down as a reference point. As your teacher once told you, “There are no bad questions. Only the ones that you don’t ask.” These are going to be your seeds for inquiry and learning.
- Verbalize your takeaway. Despite where the questions may lead, what do you hope to accomplish? Where do you hope to go? What do you hope you will walk away with from this? It can be one thing or it can be many. This is your question, and your experience.
- Keep it simple. What question encompasses the feelings, factors and things you’re questioning and what you desire?
What essential question can you place at the forefront of your life, right now, that could lead you to clarity, deeper learning and self-knowledge? I would love to hear them!