Conversation Starters: Some Key Questions

The Coalition has used this technique in beginning the conversation at schools in the exploratory stages. In groups of around five people, consider a few of the following questions. (Warning: Pick only one set of these questions; to “cover” all of them will only lead to superficial conversations.) For each one, come up with three answers to share with the larger group, and then let the whole group “cook down” the list to no more than five items the whole group can stand behind.


  • What do we want students to know and be able to do when they leave our school? What would our school be proud to list on our diploma?
  • What are people like whom we really admire? What do they do? If schools were trying to help shape these characteristics, skills, and habits, what kinds of practices and structures would they have to set up?


  • What is the most powerful learning experience you have ever had? Tell the stories, then talk about the characteristics and conditions that made learning possible.
  • Where in our school are powerful learning experiences already going on? What are the teaching strategies or other strategies that are allowing it to happen? How could we make these conditions possible throughout the whole school? What might keep it from happening?


  • Which of the Nine Common Principles would be easiest to adapt in our school? Which would be the most difficult? Why?
  • What would be uncomfortable for you personally about starting to work with the Nine Common Principles? What comfortable? (Don’t need to ask why.)
  • If you were going to visit a school where that difficult principle was in practice, what would you see kids doing? What would teachers and adults in the building be doing?
  • If you were going to put that principle into practice in your school, what would you need to make it happen? From whom do you need these things? Make a list for yourself personally, and one for the staff as a whole.