A Curious Teacher - Part One

Not so long ago, I was given a copy of A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life written by Brian Grazer. Now, admittedly this book was not written for educators or with the intent of being considered an education text. However, as I read the book, I couldn’t help but see so many parallels to teaching as well as potential implications for the way we work with children. The very premise of the book is the role curiosity plays in our lives and how simply acknowledging it as an important element of one’s self can lead to a richer and more full life. Specifically, I think Grazer makes a few points in which I think can influence the work of educators. I wish to delve into these ideas here as well as in what I anticipate will be future posts on the topic of curiosity in schools. 

Through Grazer’s life he found curiosity to be a key competent to success and happiness. He describes it in many ways and recognizes it can look different from individual to individual. However, he used his own curiosity to find ways to have what he called curiosity conversations with many people throughout his life. From Fidel Castro and Ron Howard to 50 Cent and Howard Zinn, Grazer has sat down and talked with some of the most influential, powerful, successful and interesting people in the world. His curiosity drove him to seek these individuals out to see what made them “tick” but also to gain insight into the role curiosity plays in our world and how it can manifest in many different ways. 

Again, A Curious Mind is not an education text nor do I think Grazer’s attempt was to influence educators specifically. However, he does take a direct shot at the lack of curiosity in our schools when he shares the following thoughts:

“The classroom should be a vineyard of questions, a place to cultivate them, to learn both how to ask them and how to chase down the answers. Some classrooms are. But in fact, curiosity is often treated with the same regard in school as it was in the Garden of Eden. Especially with the recent proliferation of standardized testing, questions can derail the lockstep framework of the day’s lesson plan; sometimes teachers don’t know the answers themselves. It’s exactly the opposite of what you would hope, but authentic curiosity in a typical seventh-grade classroom isn’t cultivated - because it’s inconvenient and disruptive to the orderly running of the class” (Grazer, 2015).

I reread this section many times and reflected on my experience as both a teacher and a parent. How many times did I push a kid’s question aside because I needed to “get through” the content or the lesson of the day? What have I done to discourage questions born out of curiosity because I didn’t have the time or the knowledge to answer them? Worse still is how my classroom has at times been a place that discourages questions due to the environment or instructional pacing. My own children have come home full of questions that have gone unanswered in their own classrooms. While I don’t blame their teachers, I do wonder if rigid curriculum maps and testing prep regimens are pushing curiosity out and further standardization in. 

There is certainly movement to get kids to use curiosity and guide their learning utilizing that curiosity. This has come in the form of Innovation Days and Genius Hours. Yet, are those enough? Can we say that a child can only be a genius or innovative during one day or one set period of time a week? Maybe we don’t want innovators or geniuses but rather children and adults who are curious and constantly asking questions to make sense of the world around them. Children at young ages are incessantly curious and yet something happens and that feeling erodes over time. Maybe it’s maturity or maybe it is something unintentionally or intentionally done in our schools. How can we foster curiosity in our students so they seek knowledge and understanding rather than simply grades and scores?

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