Academic Excellence at All Saints’: The Power of “Why?”

As often as possible, I step out of my office to spend time with the students. One morning, a few weeks ago, I wanted to visit the fourth grade. Just past the amphitheater, I stopped at a table of middle school students working on personal narratives. I chatted with them briefly but could tell they were engrossed in their peer editing, and I didn’t want to interrupt their feedback process. As I came upon the fourth-grade classrooms, I decided to visit Mrs. Thia Lutich’s room. 
When I stepped into the classroom, I instantly felt a shift. The busyness of the day faded, and I felt the calm of the work I was witnessing. I joined the group on the rug for “Readers’ Workshop.” The class was reading a chapter of a book together while sitting quietly in rows. As I listened, it was evident that there was an extraordinary level of engagement by the students. They were extremely excited about every paragraph, but they didn’t read ahead; they stayed with the group and asked questions about every little detail. One child asked, “I wonder why the author picked that word to describe that feeling?” I began to reflect on how Mrs. Lutich had helped a group of fourth-grade students become this engaged with a seemingly ordinary text (the book was a good one, and advanced for the grade, but it didn’t seem uniquely powerful). 
Then, before they started the next chapter, Mrs. Lutich asked a series of planned questions to the group: Why did the author end the last chapter that way? What do you think she is trying to tell us about the character? Why did she pick that passage as the hook for the next step in the story? After each question, almost every hand in the room shot into the air with excitement, eager to share. As they continued to read together, stopping every few sentences to analyze the author’s voice, intentions, and passions with a critical eye, the students maintained their enthusiasm for the story, and even more so, for every single element of the story. 

When I finally left the room, I continued to reflect on what was so captivating about this classroom. I have been in hundreds of classrooms as a teacher and an administrator, and the teachers have always asked questions. Mrs. Lutich did several things that made her classroom an exceptional learning environment. She asked the “Why?” questions, but it wasn’t just about asking the questions. She engaged the students with intentional questions that enabled them to think deeply about complex problems. Their answers weren’t just about facts; they were about analysis and application. Most importantly, she was learning with them—the group was doing it together.
There is something unique about how All Saints’ students engage in learning. When I asked Mrs. Lutich what drives her as a teacher, she responded, “The art of teaching. I get to focus on each child and figure out what they need. It is complex and interesting, and I get to use creativity.” 
All Saints’ is about academic excellence, and Mrs. Lutich’s lesson illustrates this. We challenge our students to think beyond the simple questions, beyond the content. We know each child and what they need, and most importantly—we encourage our students to engage in ways that challenge us as educators. The children are always part of the learning process, and in fact, they drive the process. Our students are leaders and thinkers.