Book Review: Teaching that Changes Lives

If we would have new knowledge, we must get a whole world of new questions.

~ Susanne K. Langer

The world’s citizens need to think and act differently. In many ways, this begins with our education system. In a recent blog by Grant Lichtman, entitled “The Problem is Not Climate Change; the Problem is Irrational Thinking” he outlines the necessity of changing the way we think. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend that you do. Furthermore,  in a recent Economist article entitled “Brain Gains”, the author describes how, “Too many [students] do not reach their potential. In poor countries only a quarter of secondary school children acquire at least a basic knowledge… Even in the mostly rich countries of the OECD about 30% of teenagers fail to reach proficiency in at least one of [maths, reading and science].” (The Economist, 07/22/17) The deck is being stacked against our traditional approaches in education. There is a growing body of researchers and practitioners who are demonstrating that educators and students benefit from a new approach. From Grant Lichtman’s Blog  to changes across admissions procedures (I first wrote about this HERE), and practices in major institutions, such as the University of Vermont’s Medical School: “It turns out that the lectures are not really good at engaging the learners in doing something. And I think that’s the most important part of learning. We’re finding out a lot from the neuroscience of learning that the brain needs to accumulate the information, but then also organize it and make sense of it and create an internal story that makes the knowledge make sense.”

But how are we to make the shifts necessary to meet the challenge of preparing students for the world, while engaging their gifts, their strengths, and areas of growth. How are we to support and challenge them appropriately? One answer that is gaining traction around the world is using an inquiry approach.

Teaching that Changes Lives is the third book by Dr. Marilee Adams . This book builds on her previous work by articulating and exploring 12 tools to build mindsets in teachers and students that will help ignite learning and engagement in classes through an inquiry approach. Her approach is tell the story through a young teacher named Emma who struggles with classroom management and burnout. The story begins with Emma reconsidering teaching as a profession at all; however, after a chance reintroduction to her own Gr. 6 teacher, Sophie – now professor at a prestigious college – the two work together to explore these 12 tools. The book centers around Marilee Adams core approach: it all begins with the right questions – or as the title of her previous book puts it: “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life”.

You would be interested in reading this if:
1. You want to deepen your approach to crafting and implementing an inquiry approach in your classroom
2. You want to explore how to reframe the role of being a teacher in a classroom (i.e. how to move away from being at the front of the classroom, and working more alongside your students)
3. You want to explore new approaches in your classroom – this book provides twelve of them!
4. You wanted to explore how questions can reframe elements of your role in your school

I read this book with a lens to a new project I have starting in the new academic year: reframing leadership. In this way, I saw many connections with Susan Cain’s work in Quiet. Both books encourage their readers to look deeply into the lives and needs of their students. To, as Marilee Adams puts it:

From a calmer and more neutral position, of even allowing ourselves to be comfortable with not knowing, we can now ask genuine questions like, what’s actually happening here? What assumptions am I making? What’s really going on with my students? How can I feel more connectedness with them? (pg. 97)

As in the work of Susan Cain, we have these biases towards the extroverted children, and we make assumptions about them, just as we do the quieter ones. It is our responsibility to move beyond those assumptions and unpack – ideally, with the students themselves.

In Quiet, Susan Cain outlines that leadership is more about understanding than forcing your opinions on others. She highlights that being an introvert or extrovert carries with it their own values and strengths, and that by learning to work together we achieve more with both qualities in an organization.

Likewise, Marilee Adams refers time and again to “Listening with Learning Ears”. She describes this approach as a way to establish a learner climate, and to do so, it requires an approach of curiosity:

1) Identify the questions that we are listening with already: are we asking questions like “What’s wrong with what this person is saying?” (judger approach), or “What is brilliant about what I am hearing from this person?” (learner approach)
2) What does it look like to be a generous listener? This is identifying what the physical approach to listening is: eye contact, affectation, nodding, etc…
3) Practice listening to yourself with learner questions in your mind:
– What do I want for myself and others?
– What can I learn from this situation?
– Am I being responsible?

To support the reader, she provides a tool called a Choice Map (available at

As well, throughout the book she uses the story of Emma to show how these questions can benefit both students and teachers. I believe that these questions are powerful ones for ourselves and our emerging student leaders. In “Teaching that Changes Lives” there are 11 other tools that are outlined. But is the listening that lies at the heart of inquiry, and at the heart of what educators need to shift their role.

So moving forward in my role mentoring student leaders, I am hoping to use this book to:
1) Provide opportunities for all of our students to cultivate and grow skills of generous listening. This will include leveraging our great teachers who are already practicing it in their harkness approach; deliberately building out a leadership toolkit that will include listening skills; and, working with leaders on their metacognitive skills.
2) Shift our approach to how we communicate, honour and recognize leadership. This will include examining our current leadership structures, how we honour quieter students formally, and developing language to support emerging leaders that are introverted.

For more information on these questions, and for great additional resources, go to

Also, from there was this great post as well: 




1 thought on “Book Review: Teaching that Changes Lives

  1. Thank you for this Garth, it’s clearly worth a read! Yes! ‘Quiet’ is powerful in so many ways – and not the least of which is how it isolates our biases and judgements and the extent to which, unless we are determined to do so, we really don’t know. I’m reminded of Todd Rose’s ‘The End of Average’ (which of course you also reviewed!) and his assertion that we only really know our students to the extent that they interact and react to the exact environment we create. Truly knowing is a much more complicated, involved and (I believe) noble endeavour. I have found that the mere word “listening” is a powerful one to place at the centre of a learning environment. I think it’s pretty clear that our world is desperate to be heard and surely that is where all great inquiry begins.

    Can’t wait to find some time to spend with “Teaching That Changes Lives” and I look forward to following your re-imagined approach to fostering student leadership.

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