Featuring NYC Educator Phil Linder from The Business of Sports School
Connecting with modern young learners can be quite a challenge. The pull of technology, the allure of instant gratification, and a world bursting with information can make it challenging to keep students engaged in discussions — much less about a topic as abstract as their future. Often, nebulous questions like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” lead to awkward silence, avoidance, or answers that aren’t backed by any substantial exploration or knowledge.
The thing is, we can’t ask those kinds of questions of young people without helping them first discover who they are, explore what’s possible, and build the skills they need to get there. That said, when done right big questions can be a powerful tool for breaking through barriers and getting teens to open up to thinking about and exploring what’s possible. You just have to ask the right kinds of questions, and create an environment where uncertainty is more than OK. The key is not to ask questions with the intention of your students having the right answers, but rather by enticing them to safely and excitedly wonder. Here's how:
A NYC TEACHER USES CONVERSATION TO UNLOCK POTENTIAL
At the heart of this innovative, community-building approach is NYC Educator Phil Linder from The Business of Sports School. Linder is a shining example of how to leverage the My Unique Genius Catalyst Curriculum Discussion Questions to foster a learning environment that encourages students to explore their own path to success. He's a true advocate for the transformative potential of using conversation and big questions.
BREAKING DOWN BIG QUESTIONS
One of the standout aspects of these questions is that they are not your run-of-the-mill queries with set answers. They are designed to pique students' interests and get them comfortable with thinking, debating, and exploring the world around them. Linder attests to the transformative power of these questions, noting that they lead to ongoing discussions and authentic real-world connections. "Each day, I eagerly anticipate the discussions these questions will spark with my students. It's incredibly rewarding to witness them grow, gain confidence, and become more future-ready with each interaction," he says. "They’re learning how to lean into uncertainty, how to think about things that are uncomfortable and unknown, and realizing that their peers are in same place."
The big questions are framed to encourage students to think about how their coursework connects to their own human experience, providing a pathway toward deeper learning. Young people are often hesitant to discuss their future because of uncertainty and overwhelm, but big questions can open the door to self-exploration and a more open classroom culture.
QUESTIONS THAT BUILD A BRIDGE TO FUTURE READINESS
These discussion questions serve as catalysts for passionate debates and introspective conversations among students. Linder recently posed questions like:
What job or work would you do for free?
If you could spend a day with your younger self, what activities would you engage in to relive that sense of wonder and curiosity?
The response was electric. Students became deeply engaged, eagerly sharing their thoughts and experiences. One of Linder's favorite questions is, "What would life be like if you didn't fear failure?" He says it prompted students to consider the impact of fear on their life choices — from sharing their talents with friends to trying something new. Similarly, when Linder asked, "Do you feel like you run your day or your day runs you?" Students vividly opened up about their sense of control over their lives and their time-management skills.
BUILDING FUTURE-READY TEENS
Linder emphasizes that using these questions has become a classroom ritual for him and his students, who now look forward to the big questions. “They come in ready for me to hit 'em with a big question. They’re eager to open up and that makes digging into their future way more doable. We’ve laid the groundwork in conversation. We’re created a community understanding that many of their peers feel similar things. It’s all very real. And they’re that much more ready to tackle the work of figuring our their future when it feels real and less scary.”
In a classroom where these questions are regularly asked, students thrive. They not only participate actively but also carry the discussions beyond the classroom. The lively exchange of ideas not only ignites their interest but also builds essential next gen skills, such as critical thinking and effective communication.
POWER MOVES FOR CREATING A SAFE SPACE FOR BIG QUESTIONS
Linder understands the importance of providing a safe space for students to express their thoughts and fears about the future. By asking these questions, he creates an environment where students learn to feel comfortable sharing their dreams, discussing their challenges, and exploring their potential. This not only boosts their self-confidence, but also equips them with the skills they need to be future-ready. Some pro tips:
There’s no right answer. Teen students are just forming their beliefs, opinions, values, and dreams. They could change week to week. That’s OK. Let 'em get messy.
It’s OK to be silly and have fun with it. You’re talking about life. Infuse humor, relatability, and realness. Share your stories too!
Help teens listen, comment, relate, and converse. They are literally learning how to communicate. Help them lead discussions, so you can take a back seat.
Help them unpack their responses. Be ready with follow-up questions, help them dig into what they mean and the bigger implications of their ideas.
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