Walking Questions

At Coastside Leadership Academy, we start our day with an hour of movement and mindfulness. Each morning looks a little different depending on where we are hiking, but giving our students a brain warm up while their bodies are moving is a practice that has stuck. Before we start hiking we pair students up and give them “walking questions” to discuss with their partner. The walking questions help us to introduce the lesson for the day, spark curiosity, and create community.

We are intentional about every step in creating walking questions for the day from the questions themselves to the student pairings. Our walking questions are broad conversation starters and students do not need to have any background knowledge to participate in talking about the subject. The questions encourage our students to start thinking about a certain topic for the day and we see where their interest goes from there to co-create the curriculum with them. 

Here are some examples of walking questions we used during our lesson on communication. 

  • Who in your life, or media, do you consider to be a good communicator?
  • What do you like about their communication style?
  • Why and when do we need good communication?
  • What are other types of non-verbal communication?
  • What role do facial expressions, gestures and pauses play in communication?
Hiking and Talking

When creating partners for the daily walking questions we take a few factors into account. We like to pair up students who may not know each other well to help with bonding within our community. We also consider any prior knowledge we know the students have about a subject and try our best to make the pairs evenly matched with background experience. Our walking question pairs are often the partners we use for the rest of the day when collaborating, and we want all students to feel included in the conversation with their partner. We have found that if a student does not have something to add to the conversation it is easier for them to be vulnerable and say “I don’t know” while walking side by side with their peers instead of sitting face to face. The combination of body movement and standing shoulder to shoulder makes students feel safer and not put on the spot if a subject is new to them. 

After our hike, and we have arrived at our destination, we sit down and discuss the walking questions as a group. We listen to everyone’s perspectives or experiences and learn from each other. Our walking questions have led to serious conversations about consent and antiracism, and also light hearted ones where students share funny stories from their weekends. 

This week we had two students request the topic of women’s rights. We jumped at the idea, and it worked out perfectly for International Women’s Day on Wednesday. Here are our International Women’s Day walking questions

  • What do you know about the suffragettes? 
  • What do you know about the wage gap?
  • What is Title IX? 
  • What contributions have women of color made when it comes to equity in the workplace?
  • What is the difference between gender equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment?
  • How did COVID affect women in the workplace?

Walking questions have become a staple in our daily routine and our students look forward to it. All students appreciate structure. Walking questions give a 30 minute walk purpose and structure in addition to the exercise and enjoyment of nature. For students who might be shy or nervous in social settings, giving them prompts makes walking and talking to their peers easier. We use walking questions in an educational setting, but I encourage other leaders like coaches and managers to try this practice as well. It takes a little bit of planning from the leader, but when the body starts moving, and the brain is warmed up, magic can happen from these meaningful conversations.

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