Nurturing Curiosity in Our Students and Our Teachers

By Sarah P. Hylton, M.Ed., SURN

We all want students who are inquisitive and engaged, and the 6th annual Joy of Children’s Literacy & Literature Conference on October 5 provided a multitude of ideas and strategies for creating classrooms that capitalize on students’ natural wonder, passion, and curiosity. Breakout sessions on using inquiry learning, teaching with images and dialectical journals, creating games and text sets, and engaging with poetry every day were bookended by keynote speakers Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Georgia Heard.

Pictured left to right: Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Denise Johnson; SURN Director, Dr. Amy Colley; and Keynote Speakers Georgia Heard and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

Pictured left to right: Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Denise Johnson; SURN Director, Dr. Amy Colley; and Keynote Speakers Georgia Heard and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

Smokey Daniels, author of The Curious Classroom, contends that our students are already curious; in fact, they come to us that way. Our task is to tap the power of their amazing and interesting questions by creating classrooms that honor this curiosity. Citing the research on curiosity, creativity, project-based learning, persistence, and genius hour, Daniels offers a “ladder” of ten key strategies for creating a culture of student-directed inquiry:

  1. Demonstrate your own curiosity
  2. Investigate ourselves and our classmates
  3. Capture and honor kids’ questions
  4. Begin the day with soft starts
  5. Check your news feed
  6. Hang out with an expert
  7. Pursue kids’ own questions with mini-inquiries
  8. Address curricular units with mini-inquiries
  9. Lean into a crisis
  10. Learn with partners and pioneers

Although Daniels’s ideas can certainly foster classrooms that engage primarily in inquiry learning, he encourages teachers to start with small commitments of time. Many of his ideas take fewer than fifteen minutes to implement, allowing teachers to start small and to continue as they see the positive results of engaging students in seeking answers to their own (and each other’s) questions.

Daniels also focuses on using images to spark student inquiry, reminding us that “text” can be interpreted broadly. He invites us to move beyond the narrow definition of text as printed words on a page and to understand that in addition to the written word, student wonder can be also be engaged by working with photographs, artwork, cartoons, diagrams, charts, and music.

If Daniels invites students to explore their curiosity by opening their minds, Georgia Heard invites them to do so by opening their hearts. Heard, author of Writing Toward Home, Awakening the Heart, Heart Maps and others, relayed her passion for helping students explore their innate sense of wonder through writing. Working from a simple heart drawn on the page, Heard urges students to explore those people, memories, places, and ideas about which they feel passionate by drawing and doodling images, supplemented by words and phrases for clarification or expansion, that resonate with them. The opportunity to slow down, to ponder their beliefs and ideas, and to commit them to paper creates the foundation upon which students build pieces of writing based on their own natural sense of wonder.

Although Daniels and Heard’s ideas center primarily on creating deeper student learning and engagement, savvy instructional leaders may well consider how to adapt Daniels and Heard’s ideas to promote a learning culture among their faculty.  Given that “today’s students urgently need to see as many thoughtful, curious, resourceful, and critical adults as they can” (Daniels, 2018, p. iii), it is incumbent upon school leaders to promote a school culture where faculty can develop their own curiosity and use it for school improvement. Design Thinking for School Leaders by Gallagher and Thordarson (2018) urges leaders to cultivate wonder intentionally by building empathy through curiosity, by routinely posing questions to all stakeholders, by honoring their creative ideas, and by designing opportunities to challenge the status quo.

Many of Daniels’s suggestions for how to honor and pursue students’ questions can easily be adapted to foster adult learning among faculty. Modeling curiosity, building relationships, honoring everyone’s ideas and questions, providing outside expertise, and engaging in research to satisfy our curiosity all promote a learning culture within our schools. Heard’s ideas, too, find a place in such leadership by inviting faculty to explore what they feel passionate about when it comes to students and teaching and learning.

Learning Leaders: Find Your Joy in Leisure Reading

By Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

The famous Charles Dickens quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” refers to both the French Revolution and my first year as a Ph.D. student at William and Mary. This year provided me with meaningful personal and professional growth that I never anticipated.  The first anxiety-filled day of each class was saturated with requirements, explanations of assignments, and seemingly impossible reading lists. I felt like I had been thrown into an extremely difficult culture that provided no time to become acclimated. Despite the initial impossibility of each class assignment list, each semester becomes easier to manage. In a word, Ph.D. means “sacrifice.” It demands late nights and less and less time with friends and family to survive. My initial frustration and self-doubt morphed into self-growth, and all the sacrifice was worth it at the end.

Summer is finally here, and I am no longer committed to a schedule that consumes my time with academia. What will I do with my free time? I will read; I will read for pleasure. This epiphany came to me when I realized I had read the entire May 2018 edition of Educational Leadership in one sitting. I was not compelled by guidelines of an assignment, therefore, I lost track of time while reading each article. Sure, I annotated sections that were thought-provoking, but it was what I chose to do. I became reacquainted with a familiar stranger. For the past nine months, required reading coupled with completing written and oral-speaking assignments temporarily halted my reading for pleasure. Now, I have the opportunity to resume this passion, and I am excited.

leisure

As administrators pleasure reading is often not a routine. We become bombarded with pouring ourselves into our students, staff, and community, and we tend to neglect feeding our appetite for personal and professional growth. Our blazing fire of motivation extinguishes as the school year progresses. However, a great way to rekindle our drive is to read. Reading helps to replenish and to stimulate, setting the stage for novelty and ingenuity. For example, as I read the latest edition of Educational Leadership titled, Bolstering the Teacher Pipeline, Herrmann’s article, Rethinking Teacher Recruitment, triggered in me a “wonder,” a “want,” and a “will.”

  • I wondered how might innovative practices, such as “schools offering internships through which younger college students could shadow teachers, work closely with K-12 students, and support enrichment activities” (p. 21), be implemented in more school divisions, with the hopes of attracting a wider range of candidates.
  • I wanted to learn more about hiring and retaining millennial teachers. Abrams’ article, What Matters to Millennial Teachers: A guide to inspiring, supporting, and retaining the newest generation of educators, provided 6 principles that all administrators would find helpful as they enter the recruiting season.
  • I will share the article, To Diversify the Teacher Workforce, Start Early, with peers in human resources and high school principals. This piece presented by Goings, Brandehoff, and Bianco discusses the power in grow-your-own model and 6 guiding principles to recruiting underrepresented community members into education.

Needless to say, reading something I chose to read for less than an hour resulted in an abundance of learning and pragmatic approaches to improvement. (By the way, I strongly recommend reading this month’s edition!)

The end is near for another school year. I am sure you are exhausted and in need of a well-deserved vacation. As part of self-care, I encourage you to read. Reading literature that piques your interest. If you are like me, you start books but never finish them due a long list of demands. However, this summer I have committed 30 minutes a day to reading. For some of us this time will be the only professional development we receive, so let’s do it! Practice what we encourage our students and staff to do. Reading is a magical portal.

May books always be with you.

On my shelf this summer:

  1. The Principal 50: Critical Leadership for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence

Author: Barati Kafele

  1. Closing the Attitude Gap

Author Barati Kafele