First, I have to introduce you to Kathy Sussman. Kathy is dynamic, full of life, and a foodie! She is a deaf and hard of hearing teacher, former director of the Weingarten Children’s Center, and past president of Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Better yet, she’s my friend and mentor.
I had the pleasure of visiting her school a handful of times. There was love and appreciation everywhere you turned. Children shared experiences, read books, and sang. Kathy opened her doors and guided me on a journey I will never forget. She taught me so much early in my career. For that, I will always be grateful.
Kathy asked me lots of questions. She challenged me in ways that helped me to grow and see things in new ways. Kathy empowered me. She gave me encouragement and strength when I was discouraged or unsure of what to do next. To this day, 15 years later, I still have on my desk a gift from Kathy - a red squishy star that says, “What you do matters.” Whenever I needed to make a big decision, think through a situation, or needed a pick me up, just looking at the star would reassure me that whatever decision I made would be the right one because what I did mattered!
Kathy never asked questions where the response would be one or two words like yes or no. Instead, she always made you think. Her favorite question to ask was, “What do you see”? She would want to know the color, environment, and everything else in-between. She would want to know how it made you feel or what do you think it smelled like. When you would ask a question back, rest assured that her response would be one that made you think even more.
I don’t know how she did it to this day, but what I know is that she was not teaching me to talk but to listen and reflect, to be open to growing, and be the best version of myself. She was smoothing my rough spots with gentle laps of water.
I am sharing this with you because I have not seen or spoken to Kathy in many years, but she came to mind recently when I was walking along the shores of Lake Michigan with my husband. I thought of Kathy’s question as I approached the coast and saw the image posted above “What do you see”?
So, what did I see? The first thing I noticed actually was the smell. I did not smell the saltwater I was used to from South Carolina. I smelled fresh, crisp air. I saw the vast lake and heard the waves breaking land. The next thing I noticed was there were rocks instead of seashells. Unlike South Carolina beaches, where we can pick up shells and take them home, the state park laws require that you leave everything the way you found it. When I picked up a rock to admire the color or the shape, my husband would gently remind me that I had to put it back because he knew that I wanted to take some home with me.
I asked my husband what he saw when he looked around. He said the lake and stones. He went on to describe the rocks some more with my subtle nudge. He mentioned the different colors, shapes, and sizes. We discussed how rocks were made of minerals and how the environment shaped them and brought them to shore. (Yes, we are nerds. I had a rock collection as a child, and did I mention that my husband’s first career was as a geologist?).
As we walked, I saw nature and nurture and that regardless of our substance, color, where we grew up, and the type of home we lived, we could all be different and amazing together. I better understood the need for patience. Time allows the rough spots to be smoothed out.
No matter where we are, how old we are, or our educational level, there are teachable moments in all that we do. We are all learners with how we approach each day or our ability to be open to new ways of doing things, like how we ask questions.
Kathy was my teacher, though she never graded me or sent notes home to my parents. Thank you, Kathy, for the best gift anyone could give – that no matter your age or what you do, you can still learn and do better. Our patients, clients, and students count on us to be the best we can be when we are working with them.
When you have a moment, ask yourself, “What do you see?”. You’ll be amazed at a different perspective that you probably never thought of in that situation. When you go to ask a question next time, determine why you are asking it. What do you hope to learn by asking the question? Is there a better way to ask the question to obtain the information you desire? Is there a better way to ask the question that doesn't present any bias or judgment?
Here are some examples:
|Avoid||Try this instead|
|Is this child smart?||How is this child smart?|
|Can this person walk again?||What do we need to do to help this person walk and move around?|
|Will she read?||How will we teach her to read?|
|I got it.||Tell me more.|
In the comments section, we would love for you to share how you were able to
- get a person to tell you more, share their thoughts and experiences
- become a better listener
- probe to better understand and learn from that person's perspective.
What is the question you ask to learn more and to understand that person's viewpoint and perspective? Kathy and I would be delighted to hear your wisdom.
Connect, Communicate, and Collaborate. That is the 3C way.
Artist unknown. Picture of the face made with rocks on the shore of Lake Michigan, April 2021.
Bradham, T. Picture of Lake Michigan shoreline. April 2021.
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