Asking Great Questions

We have a huge respect and regard for our children’s teachers. They have been doing an amazing job during this most challenging of years.

At the present time, Lucy has been going to school as Special Schools have remained open, while Conor is doing his learning at home.

One of the daily highlights of our routine is seeing Mr. Russell’s question. After we drop Lucy off to school, we come in and switch on the computer. Each day Mr. Russell, Conor’s teacher, posts on Google Classroom a daily welcome post outlining the work he wants the class to carry out. There are videos to watch with lessons on them about the tasks and worksheets to be completed and, helpfully, there are answers for parents as well!

Each day at the bottom of his welcome post Mr. Russell puts up a daily question and we think they are fabulous. They are questions that stimulate the imagination and get you thinking. They are fun and generate great engagement and it’s a really good way to kick off the day. Recent examples are questions like, “If you could have any superpower, what would you choose and why?” “If you had the option to travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you like to go and why?” “Who is the person who inspires you most and why?” “What would you like to do on an ideal day out?” It’s marvellous to see the class interact and engage with these questions in the comments, but the question usually sparks an interesting discussion between ourselves. 

Earlier this week I took part in a Zoom call with Lucy’s teacher in the multisensory department in Torbank. Each year they produce what is called an IEP (Individual Education Programme). It’s an amazing document prepared with a multi-disciplinary approach between teachers, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. They try to figure out targets Lucy might achieve over the course of a term, whether they are to do with communication, using motor skills or working out cause and effect. They use Art and Music and massage and a whole range of technologies to help each child realise these goals and targets. I am always humbled and amazed at how resourceful and creative Rachael and the magnificent team of classroom assistants Emma, Brenda, Natalie and Dorinda are in helping our children achieve these goals. Milestones in the lives of children with special needs are complex and take enormous patience and perseverance, but these fabulous people work tirelessly to make them happen, to help our children flourish and become the best version of themselves they can become. Achievements are celebrated and there are a lot of giggles and laughter from what we can see.

Much of the progress stems again from great questions. In different modules Lucy works on the staff will send home questions asking us about music she likes, smells and textures that appeal to her. They will use messy play and photographs and switches and lights to instil systems of rewards for achievements and progress. Questions like, “Can you tell us where Lucy likes to go, what makes her happy, are there toys she responds to more than others or are there environments she feels uncomfortable in?”

Great questions that help our children to not only give answers but discover new things.

When I was first ordained, I used to visit a nun for spiritual direction. She was a very wise lady who used to help me to think about my spiritual life and process many of the situations I was dealing with. She had a way of asking very searching and insightful questions and, on one occasion, I remember visiting her after a very busy day. She asked me to tell her all the things I had done, so I listed off about 20 things I had packed into that particular day. She could see I was tired and commented on all the activities I had been involved in. I think I expected to be congratulated on how much I had accomplished but, instead, she asked another question, “Can you tell me,” she asked, “how many of those things that you did today gave you life?” Wow! What a question. I could only honestly say that only 3 of the 20 things had given me life. Her simple advice for ministry was that I should try to do more of the things that gave me life and learn to delegate things to people who were gifted in areas that I wasn’t.

Perhaps the master in asking great questions was Jesus of Nazareth. He had ways of asking questions all about people’s spiritual life. He could sense internal dissatisfaction and helped people to identify it within themselves. He often threw questions designed to trap him back on those who were trying to set those traps. He often asked simple questions inviting people to tell their stories or share their experiences, like when he appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus after He had risen from the dead. He asked people searching questions about himself helping them to see that He was, in fact, the son of God. Questions like, “Who do you say I am?” He asked them about their hopes and their fears and, ultimately, pointed them to Himself as the one who could relieve those fears and fulfil those hopes.

Today I salute our children’s fabulous teachers who have been working so hard to bring reassurance and stimulate learning in all sorts of creative ways. I love the way their questions always lead on in a gentle way to learning and progress. I am grateful, too, for those who hold me accountable and ask me important questions to keep me growing and I see in Jesus the one who can ask the questions that can unlock and bring life to my soul.

We ask you to hold in prayer the family of Frank Savage who was laid to rest yesterday. May they know God’s comfort in their sad loss.

Next week the blog will be taking a little break, but look forward to speaking again soon.

Don’t forget to tune into our Lent service next Thursday when we look at some tips for mental health during lockdown. It will be available on the St. Finnian’s Youtube channel and website at 7.30 pm.

Much love to everyone,

Jono.