Teaching Advice-Seeking in Schools

April 9, 2013

Last week I gave a talk for an audience of Health Innovators Fellows at the QIT Center in Pittsburgh. As is my custom, I pointed out that people are not in the habit of advice seeking because neither parents nor schools train them to do so. The key question, which should become ingrained, is to ask oneself, when faced with a problem or issue, “Do I have the knowledge and experience to deal with this myself, and if not, who does and could help?” I asked the audience if any of their parents had taught them this, and no one raised a hand, which is almost always the case.

Then one participant asked how this could be taught in elementary schools or high schools, for example in connection with homework. My reply was that making changes to the go-it-alone tradition of homework is tricky, but there are many things that go on in schools besides homework, which present teaching opportunities.

Students form clubs, invite outside speakers (even commencement speakers), they plan field trips, and other joint projects, supervised by a teacher. Each of these activities presents an opportunity to teach the skill. For example, say that students are taking over publication of a school “newspaper” and have little experience with this. Rather than have the teacher be their sole guide, the students could be encouraged to interview the previous managers, asking them what worked, what didn’t, and what advice they have for the new managers. Students forming a club could be encouraged to pay a visit to the most successful club at the school, finding out what are best practices in running a successful club. All of these present opportunities to encourage and teach the skill of advice seeking in schools, without disturbing the traditional grading system.