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4 Questions to Guide Reflection

Instructional coaches guide reflection in many situations. We help teachers analyze their instruction, student data, student learning progressions and behaviors, as well as school-wide progress to name a few. It can be time consuming to generate questions for each situation.

In my work with school leaders, instructional coaches and teachers I have been using 4 simple – yet powerful questions – to guide reflection. I was first introduced to these questions years ago by Dr. Emily Calhoun, author of Using Data To Assess Your Reading Program. The 4 questions have become a staple in my coaching tool kit. Let’s take a look at the questions and then possible uses.

The 4 Questions

These 4 questions seem simple at first glance. Through years of use I have witnessed they have unlocked many powerful reflective conversations both with individual teachers and school staffs as a whole. The key has been using them consistently so all take ownership of them and transfer to their own situations over time.

The original set of questions from Dr. Emily Calhoun are as follows. (IA Department of Education Every Child Reads, 1994):

  1. What do you notice when you look at these data? (This question is just about the facts, not opinions. List as many things you notice about the data.)
  2. What additional questions do these data generate? (This question allows for questions to be asked. Be careful that questions are about the data and not external factors.)
  3. What do these data indicate students need to work on? Based on these data, what can we infer teachers need to work on? (This question does have two parts. In some instances one or both can be used.)
  4. What do the results and their implications mean for your school, district, or regional improvement plans? (This question implies ACTION. In using these questions with an individual reframe to ask what do the results and their implications mean for you.)

These 4 questions were originally used to analyze student data and teacher implementation data. By having a constant set of questions, time could be spent on the analysis, rather than continually coming up with a new set of questions. As I worked with teachers and school leaders they began to internalize the questions and used them across various circumstances.

Using the 4 Questions

As coaches we often work with teachers individually or reflect on our own practices as a coach. These same 4 questions can be used. In my practice as a virtual coach, the use of video is key. In this case the video is the data. I use a web and app based tool called SIBME. When coaching teachers, the teacher video tapes a lesson. When coaching an instructional coach, the coaches typically video tapes a coaching conversations (but that can change based on the coach’s goal). These videos are then shared with me through a SIBME private huddle.

Once the video is uploaded I ask the teacher or coach to reflect on the data (the video) themselves by indicating what they noticed (question 1) and what questions they have (question 2). SIBME allows for time stamped responses right within the video so we both know the exact location being referenced in the recording. After the teacher or coach has had time for the initial reflection, I add what I noticed and generate a few questions.

The responses to these two questions are the perfect way to reflect prior to meeting virtually. During our coaching sessions we briefly review thoughts around questions 1 and 2 and then move into making meaning from the data (question 3) and implications/actions (question 4).

The questions are the guide to powerful reflection and goal setting during our virtual sessions. The questions save me time as well as provide the teacher or coach an experience with the questions so that they can uses in their own settings.

A similar process can be used as you work with teachers in face-to-face opportunities or with the use of video. The 4 questions can be a guide to your conversations. You can adapt the wording to fit your own situation in order to bring clarity.

Give these 4 Questions a Try Right Now

Summer is the perfect time to practice new skills. I encourage you to use these questions as you reflect on your past school year and get ready for the new year ahead. You could also reframe to use at a personal level. The more you see how the questions impact your analysis, the better situated you will be to use the questions during the next school year.

Here is a possible reframe for a school leader, instructional coach or teacher.

  1. What did you notice as you worked with teachers and or students during the last school year?
  2. What additional questions do you have when it comes to working with teachers or students?
  3. What do these data indicate you need may need to focus on this year as you work with teacher or students?
  4. What do the results and their implications mean for your school, district, or regional improvement plans?

Take your time with questions 1 and 2. The more things you noticed and the more questions you have will help shape your plans.

The Uses are Endless

I’ve used these 4 questions in a wide variety of settings. Here is a running list of possibilities:

  • Student data analysis
  • Student work analysis
  • Student progress monitoring data analysis
  • School wide data analysis
  • PLC guiding questions
  • Teacher current reality data
  • Debriefing after a lesson (teacher)
  • Debriefing after a coaching conversations (instructional coach)
  • Student conferencing
  • Student problem solving
  • What would you add?

Give these questions a try in your own day-to-day life to feel the impact. The more you can see how coaching ideas really work in your life, the better suited you are to use them in your own work related roles. They could be used at the end of this month to analyze goals you have for yourself – health, family, budgets, etc… Do you have a big decision coming up? The questions could be used to help you lay out the facts, ask questions, determine need and make your final decision.

I’d love to hear about your experience with these questions!

Let’s Work Together

Are you thinking ahead to professional learning opportunities during the 2019-2020 school year? I’d love to join you in your learning journey. I am now available full time for onsite and virtual training as well as onsite and virtual coaching!

My goal for you to SHINE as an instructional coach or school leader wearing a coaching hat. Coaching is challenging work – one that relies building your skills, putting your new learning into practice and developing the confidence to make an impact with teachers and students.S.H.I.N.E. Coaching (more on this acronym coming soon) gives you that ENERGY to MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Let’s set up a time to customize a training or coaching package to FIT YOUR UNIQUE NEEDS! Email me at to get started.

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