The Importance of Curiosity

Teaching should satisfy the curiosity of the children and stoke the curiosity of the teacher. – Sarah Riley

Last week I attended a professional development workshop that had us defining some of our values as teachers. I had done this activity a few years ago because I feel that it is important to know what you value in your life and in your classroom, because it defines what you do, how you act, and… well, it defines pretty much all aspects of your classroom. If you haven’t sat down and defined your own values, I recommend that you do so. It helps so much when it comes to planning, goal-setting, and other aspects of your teaching.

Anyway, because I had already done this activity it was easy for me to write down the three values that were required of us during this activity. Since I finished before most people, I wrote down little sentences to highlight why I find these values to be important. In case you were wondering, curiosity, independence, and exploration were the three values that I wrote down. And the quote above is what I wrote down under the value of curiosity.

I have found that curiosity is a driving force – maybe the driving force – of everything I do in the classroom. I plan around the things that the students show curiosity about, and I learn so much about those things because I have to find resources and plan activities to help them learn about those things. I find myself curious about the things that the children do, how they learn, how they interact with each other, where they need me to take the direction of their learning. There is so much to be curious about in the classroom, and so many ways to satisfy these curiosities.

Reflecting on this quote at this time, I think that I would change it a little bit: I think I would say “Learning should satisfy the curiosity of the student and the teacher, and stoke their curiosities in order that they can learn even more.” When you learn about something, it doesn’t satisfy that desire to learn. Usually when I learn something, it brings about even more questions about even more things that I want to learn about. This is what I mean about stoking that curiosity; it is satisfied about one thing, but it keeps going when it comes to something related or even something totally different.

I heard a great quote on a podcast today (which was quoted from a different podcast that I don’t think I’ve heard yet): the opposite of depression is curiosity. I’m not sure I completely agree with it, but it does make quite a bit of sense. When you are curious, you are striving to figure something out or learn something; you have a goal and a purpose. When you are depressed you don’t have any of those things. No goal, no purpose, no anything. When we are teaching, we should have a goal in mind, something that we are striving for. Interested in how to foster productive relationships in the classroom? Develop a curiosity for how children resolve conflicts, how they learn empathy, and how to teach these skills to them. This is the essence of curiosity in the classroom, and curiosity leads to learning.

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What Am I Doing Here?

So a few months ago I told you that I was not going to be posting on this blog anymore; I was moving to a new website named after my company, Project: Preschool. My intent was to export this blog to that website and keep things going there, but somehow it never felt right. I never got that done. I got a few things moved over, but not the entire blog. After much introspection, I decided to continue my blogging efforts here. After all, I have my entire blog history on this site. This is where I started. This is where I can see how I have changed my thinking in the many years since I started.

So what caused all of this? What am I really doing here? Well, being in introspective person that I am, I really started examining where I was going and what I was doing. I haven’t been happy in the classroom in quite a while, which is a shame because that is where my passion has always been. I have been pounding away at the professional development business with a little bit of success, but I’m not sure what kind of gains I have been making with anything because the business is still very new. And exhausting. I mean really, when we get right down to it, starting a new business is one of the most stressful and exhausting things you can do, especially if you have a full-time job as well. And I realized that somehow my priorities had gotten mixed up. Somehow the business became more important than the classroom. I think I know how it happened: when you are an assistant teacher in a classroom, you don’t have quite as much responsibility for the direction of the class or how the classroom is going to look or anything like that. That is where I started with this new job and because I didn’t have the added responsibility of being in charge of the classroom I put the business at priority number one. Of course, it had been a big priority before that, when I was so stressed out at my other job. Anything to get out of there, right? At least, that is how I felt. I wanted to grow the business so that I could stop working for other people and be my own boss. And that is great, if that is what you want to do. But in the middle of all this stress I lost sight of the classroom, which was where my passion started. Heck, that is where my passion is – I just didn’t realize it for all of the stress. The business was always supposed to grow organically from what I was doing in the classroom. The classroom was always supposed to come first. It didn’t end up that way. It ended up with me being completely stressed out about slideshows and presentations and did these people like what I was doing and what am I going to do to market this thing and what product am I going to produce next and how fast can I get it put together.

STRESS!

I hated my job in the classroom. I’m not sure how much I liked the business. Don’t get me wrong; I love doing the workshops. It is all of the work that I have to do to get the workshops and after the workshops that I don’t particularly care for. And I started thinking about what was going on. Why did I hate the classroom? I used to love the classroom! I used to get up every morning fired up to go to work and play with the kids and explore things and do things and I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to work and play and explore. And I did. And I loved it.

What happened?

I lost sight of what was important. I lost sight of my love. My love for the theories of education and creativity and curiosity were replace by books about how to grow a business. If you are like me, those books aren’t nearly as interesting as the theories of education and creativity and curiosity. I just got rid of a huge pile of those business books this weekend in an attempt to get back to what is important.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the business at this point. I love doing the workshops and I don’t see me stopping at this point, but I don’t see the workshops happening the way that they have been. I don’t see the marketing happening the way that it has been. I see me getting back to what is important to me: the classroom. And I hope that you will stay with me on this journey as I continue to push forward into the things that are truly important.

Connecting With Myself

For eight years I have chased down all of the knowledge that I could about my chosen field: early childhood education. I have an impressive library of education themed books, some of which I haven’t even cracked open yet. I also have a huge Amazon wish list of even more books that I would like to own. To me, knowledge makes the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher. I have used my classroom as a way to try out ideas and find out what works and what doesn’t, and I have counted myself lucky that I have worked in environments that celebrated that rather than tried to stifle it. And I have used this blog as a place to chronicle the journey as I have gone through many different phases in my teaching career.

Through most of these years the pace I had set for myself was frantic: I was constantly stressed out and worried about doing well, learning enough. I even used my vacation a few years ago to go to a conference. I wouldn’t trade the experience of that conference for anything in the world, but as I sit here today and look at all of that hectic energy I have to ask myself, “How did I do all of that? And more importantly, why?” Because just in the past month my demeanor has become a lot calmer. I still have all of the books, and the desire for knowledge is still strong. But the frantic pace is gone. The desire for the frantic pace is gone. At least for now.

I remember when school would let out for the semester and I would try to dive back into the independent research that I had been doing. It never worked. It seemed like my mind needed a little bit of down-time from the craziness that was school before it could focus on anything else. I learned to take that time to catch up on some shows that I hadn’t seen in a while, or catch up on my house cleaning, or play some video games that I hadn’t had time for. After a month or so my brain would be ready to tackle the books and the theories and the blogging and the frantic out-of-school activities that I had for myself.

I haven’t been in school since May, and I left the job that was causing me all sorts of stress in September. In October I took the first real vacation that I’ve had in years – I didn’t do any work at all during that vacation. I had planned to do some work, but all I really needed was the down time. My long Thanksgiving weekend was spent playing some mindless singing monster game that my daughter wanted me to get into with her, along with some other video games. I read some books, but not the technical, early childhood based books that I have glutted myself on for so long. I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with myself. Teaching can leave you feeling so stressed out because you are constantly taking care of others. There have been some days when I have threatened to change my name because I have been so tired of hearing it when children need something from me! I have tried to reconnect with me and feel myself here. For so long I have felt like just a brain – that may sound funny, but when your primary purpose is to educate yourself and gain knowledge, it can feel like the only part of you that matters is your brain. You forget that you are a person and you have other needs and wants and hopes and dreams that may exist outside of the classroom or the books on your bookshelf.

I thought that when I got my degree things would change. I thought I would have a little more credibility in the field and be taken seriously as a teacher. I was wrong. The degree has turned out to be just another piece of paper, and that fact has made it hard for me to justify going back to school to get a higher degree. Especially since I have all of this knowledge built up from all of my own work that I have been doing. Credibility comes from action, not from a piece of paper. When I take myself seriously, I am taken seriously as a teacher. I have to recognize that the education that I received is for myself and not for everyone around me. And I will continue to educate myself, but because I am recognizing that my education is for me and not for everyone else I can choose what I want to educate myself about. I can take charge of my own education.

But enough about education and school. This post is about connecting with myself and recognizing that I am more than just the brain that I have been filling with knowledge. It is time for me to reconnect with myself first of all, and all of the things out there that I want to learn about. There is an entire world out there to explore, and only one life to explore it in.

In my last post I talked a lot about values and defining what your values are. The last time I sat down and defined my values it was for my classroom. I defined my purpose as Exploring Natural Curiosity, but that purpose wasn’t for me; it was for the children that I had in the class. I am naturally curious about a lot of things, and I think that we all are. Throughout our lives we tend to say, “I want to do x, y, and z,” but then we never actually go out and do it. We get caught up in jobs and life and that dream passes us by. And then we grow old and wish that we had done those things that we said that we wanted to do. It is time to reconnect with our selves and the passion that lives within us for life.

Being Thankful

I have so much to be thankful for this year that I feel that I need to take the time to properly acknowledge those things. So I am going to use this post to do that!

1. I am thankful for my family. They have been so supportive through everything that I have done, from school to my business. Even through the crazy times, when I was completely stressed and over-worked, my family stood by me and supported me through it all.

2. I am thankful for my wonderful fiancé. Even though he is an integral part of #1, I feel that he deserves his own section of this post. He has made me happier than I have ever been in my life. His love and acceptance of me astounds me every day, and because of that love and acceptance I feel that I can accomplish anything.

3. I am thankful that I teach in a school that values the voice of the teachers. I feel that I have an integral role to play in my classroom now, and the autonomy to make decisions about how the classroom can best benefit the children.

4. I am thankful that the school that I teach at feels like home. The staff feels like family, and everyone is treated with respect. There is an emphasis on collaboration rather than competition, and everyone seems to truly want success for everyone in the center.

5. I am thankful that I have had the resources available to be the best teacher that I can be.

6. Of course, I am thankful for my readers! You take time to stop by and read my posts, and for that I am grateful. I am glad that you get enjoyment out of reading what I write, and I hope that it is beneficial to you somehow.

Of course, there is much more that I am thankful for, but right now I am mostly focused on the fact that my work environment is so much more different and exciting than it was a few months ago. I am happy in my job once again, and just a few weeks ago I was worried that I was so burnt out that I would never be happy teaching again. Luckily that is not the case, and as we celebrate the holidays I am increasingly thankful that I have been able to work in a place that makes me feel the joy that I have for teaching again.

So what are you thankful for this year?

Reconnecting With Yourself

Teachers have a knack for putting the needs of others before their own. Children cry out for attention, and very young children have constant needs for teachers to meet. Teachers must also meet the needs of the program that they work for. Demands on teachers are constant, and it is all too easy for teachers to focus on the needs of the others around them to the detriment of themselves.

I struggle every day with keeping a feeling of authenticity in my classroom. Being an authentic teacher can mean many different things to different teachers, but to me being authentic means teaching from the heart, from the wellspring of passion that lives inside you and comes out in the classroom. Teachers do what they do because they are passionate about teaching, but a lot of teachers have lost touch with the passion that they had when they first started teaching. Meeting the demands of everyone around them at the expense of their own needs can quickly push teaches towards burnout. Some teachers find themselves stuck in a rut when it comes to their teaching, preventing the same information year after year until the material feels old and uninspired. Some teachers just feel so drained from the energy that it takes to meet the demands of others that they have nothing left to create new and inspiring material for the class. These feelings directly affect the relationships with the children that they teach.

Are your classroom relationships run down because of a general lack of magic and fire throughout the day? How do you get that fire back and re-ignite the passion and joy that you have for teaching?

The key is to take a step back and reconnect with yourself and with the passion that had you excited to teach . You have to reconnect with the passionate, purposeful teacher that you were and rediscover the reasons why you wanted to teach in the first place. Take a moment and write down any thoughts that you have about the reasons why you started teaching.

Now that you have reconnected with that part of yourself that wanted to be a teacher, it is time to reconnect with that part of yourself that truly loves to teach. You need to define what makes teaching meaningful to you and what part of teaching you enjoy the most. Write down your thoughts and really connect with that part of yourself that is passionate about teaching.

Next you need to think back and remember some of the activities and projects that really got you excited. Some projects that excite you may even be those that you have seen but feel like you can’t accomplish. What kind of projects get you excited? Be specific, and use lots of descriptive words to define the projects.

Finally, think back to the days when you couldn’t wait to get out if the bed and teach. What was it that had you so excited and eager to be in the classroom back in those days?

Hopefully the answers that you have given to these questions have built up a spark, a reconnecting with that passion to teach that is inside you. In later posts we are going to build on this spark and use it to build a foundation for passionate, authentic teaching. Whenever I begin to feel burnt out or stressed about my teaching, I always return to this exercise because it is truly inspiring to reconnect with that passionate part of myself and remember what it is about teaching that I am so passionate about.

Rediscovering My Passion

One thing that I’ve learned from years of teaching is, when stress and burn out hit it is time to slow down. In some cases it is time to stop. Like now. Now would be the time for me to stop and take a good hard look at what I’m doing. What am I doing? I switched jobs because the stress was killing me. Now I am in a low-stress teaching job, one that has been much more enjoyable than where I came from. I have been trying to write a book, but I’m not getting much enjoyment out of that right now. Am I doing what I want to be doing?

The answer is no. I am not doing what I want to be doing. I want to be connecting more. I want to get back to my passions of creativity and curiosity. I enjoyed blogging and writing about creativity and reading and studying about it also. The stuff that I have been blogging about has been great and it is important in the classroom, but everything that I have been blogging about is applicable to the one goal that I have always had in the classroom: to inspire creativity in my students. The problem that I have had is that I have overlooked this goal and focused on the nuts and bolts. I am not a nuts and bolts kind of person, and the approach that I decided to take on these blog posts has been driving me crazy. It is time for me to take a step back, stop, and tie all of this back to my main love, creativity. I love watching students be creative. I love encouraging them to find creative solutions to problems and to be innovative. I love providing them with materials and watching what they do with them in their own creative ways. I love talking to them about a new topic and finding out all of the creative things that they think about the topic, and then going out and learning more about the topic with them. I love it, and it is time for me to recognize that this is where my passion is. It is time for me to take that into consideration no matter what I am writing or doing. No matter what I write, it has to be me, and there is nothing more me than my ultimate passion.

My Yoga Journey

About a year ago I was in school, working full time in a stressful environment, and trying to keep my house in order. To say that I was completely stressed out was an understatement. I was stressed out, burnt out, and working hard just to keep my head above water. I needed some way to decompress.

When school ended for the semester I began to explore options for stress relief. I’ve tried to do yoga on and off throughout the years, but I’ve been intimidated by the skinny people doing poses designed for the mega-flexible. I wasn’t sure if I could get past that enough to try to do much yoga, but I was willing to give it a shot. I invested in a beginner’s yoga DVD and began my journey. I was glad I did. It didn’t take me long to realize that yoga is about letting go of where you want to be and accepting where you are, no matter where that is. So I learned that flexibility doesn’t matter so much as tuning in to myself.

That has been my big take-away from yoga: tuning in to myself. Yoga is about so much more than the poses. It is about connecting with yourself, whether it is the good parts or the bad, and accepting all of those pieces of yourself. Sure, there are parts of ourselves that we would all like to work on, and yoga doesn’t tell us that we can’t work on those pieces. It does tell me that I am okay despite those pieces, and it helps me focus on working on what needs to be worked on.

I needed that lesson because I was giving so much of myself away. I gave pieces of myself away in my job and in my school work. I gave pieces of myself away to my family and my small business. I kept giving pieces of myself away every day, and I did not stop to reconnect with that part of myself that needs to feel loved and accepted, that part of me that is so passionate about what I do and why I do it. Yoga is an important part of my life now because it helps me reconnect.

Writing this post became important to me a few weeks ago because I realized that, even though I was doing yoga to reconnect with myself, I wasn’t truly reconnecting with my passion to teach. My passion for teaching has been driving me for many years, and through the burnout and the stress I have lost my connection to that. Add to that the stress and uncertainty of changing jobs, and through changing jobs the loss of certainty of the direction of the company. I love my company and I love teaching, and I don’t want to lose those things simply because I haven’t slowed down enough to reconnect with that passion inside of me. It is time for me to reconnect, to slow down. All of my previous recent posts have been written in hopes of publishing a book. I believe in every word that I have published here, but in some ways I feel like I am concentrating on the forest and forgetting about the trees. The trees – the children and the relationships that we go back to day after day. The love and the curiosity and the creativity that is let loose every day in the classroom. Those are my passion, and while everything I am writing here is important, it is also important to not forget about these aspects of the classroom.

I have been struggling with writing about taking care of ourselves first, because as teachers we give so much of ourselves away. I have been trying to write about how to get that passion back once you hit burn-out, because that is what I am trying to do right now. Looking at the forest hasn’t helped. It is time to look at the trees.

Creative Thinking Is Work

This post is the second of a twelve part series based on a post about creativity by Michael Michalko.

I saw a very interesting video last night. In it, a boy named Jacob Barnett gave a TEDxTeens audience some insight into how to be creative. In his very young way (he is 14), he told the audience to stop learning and start thinking. Now, this is a boy who was put in special education when he was younger. His parents were told that he was autistic and would probably never talk. Since he had that diagnosis and was put in less restrictive learning environments, it gave him time to think about other issues. Now he is filling out college applications and having Princeton physics professors trying to disprove the work that he is not only doing, but publishing research papers on.

There is a disconnect between what learning is and what thinking is. This disconnect is caused by the nature of our education system. Jacob Barnett encourages teens and others to stop learning for twenty-four hours and start thinking about something that they are passionate about. He recognizes the motivators: the ability to autonomously think about something that you are internally motivated by because of passion. 

He told a room full of teenagers to stop leaning on others for their knowledge and start thinking for themselves.

Doing this is hard work, especially if you haven’t done it before. However, once you begin to allow yourself the time and  attention that it takes to immerse yourself in your passion, it spreads through you like some sort of disease – only much, much better. Your brain begins thinking and making connections, and it is an exhilarating feeling to know that your brain has the capacity to do that much, to make that many connections. It is addictive; I would rather spend any vacation time that I get working on the ideas that I put forth in this blog or researching other ideas to put forth or present than do anything else. Because of this addiction that I now have, I am working harder than I have ever worked in my life and am busier than I have ever been in my life.

Creative thinking is work. It is hard work.

I have created many things. Many workshops, many blog posts. Most of the workshops that I created before were not that great. Some of my blog posts aren’t that great either, but I keep typing away because it is what I am passionate about. I work hard every day to create a workshop that will be inspiring and will allow participants to learn in their own unique way. It takes a focus and a passion and a patience that I didn’t know that I had. But I do, and you probably do, too. Find your passion and the rest will come with it.

This same type of focus and passion are necessary for an effective creative classroom environment. I am constantly changing things in my classroom to find out what works and what doesn’t. I work hard to apply the concepts that I discuss here in the classroom environment to make sure that they work. I have to be patient, because sometimes results don’t come right away. I have to be flexible, because sometimes the children have a different agenda than I do. And I have to be focused; I can tell when I didn’t plan very well. The children can tell, too. There is not a moment in my classroom when I am not working. Even when the children are sleeping, I think about incidents that happened throughout the morning, what they mean, and how to extend learning because of them. I think about individual children and what I need to do to help them learn. I think about class projects that I want to do. I plan how I need to change materials around the classroom to help them learn different things. Teaching, like learning and thinking, is dynamic. It should always be working and evolving, never sitting still.

Creative thinking is work. I am working harder now than I ever have in my life, but I love every second of it.

Finding Your Own Passion

When I was young, I wanted to be a teacher. I had a desk that I set up in my room and pretended that I was teaching my dolls. When I got into high school, I wanted to be a psychologist. The way people think and how people learn has been a subject of great interest to me for most of my young adult and adult life.

When I was 18, I got married and then got pregnant. My dreams of studying psychology at the University of Chicago shattered as I worked at Chick-fil-A, first as counter help, then as a shift manager, and finally as a marketing director. I hated marketing. It was challenging, so it held my interest, but I had no idea what I was doing and I was learning as I went. When bringing in new customers is your job and you have no idea how to do it, things can get pretty frustrating pretty fast. Not to mention the fact that I was a shift manager and the marketing director at the same time – I had to do most of my marketing job at home, off the clock.

When I gave birth to my second child, I said good-bye to the fast food industry. I had begun thinking about going back to school and majoring in education. I got a job working in child care (admittedly, it was a job of convenience at the time), and quickly discovered that I loved it. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the job fit in nicely with my passions of education and psychology. Years – and hundreds of hours of research – later, I am realizing that I have landed in my passion and am doing everything I can to learn about the field and the psychology of learning, creativity, motivation, and other aspects of education.

Recalling the story of how I landed in my passion makes me realize that discovering and acting on your passion is sometimes not easy. I got lucky in that my job of convenience turned out to be the path to my true passion. Some people are not that lucky. Some people end up on a path simply because they are good at something. Sir Ken Robinson talks about a woman who started out as a concert pianist. She has dinner with a conductor one night, who points out to her that he can tell that she does not enjoy being a concert pianist. She realizes that her true passion is literature and she becomes a book editor. Other people that I know are doing what they are doing simply because the circumstances of their lives called for swift action – a job of convenience, like my initial job in child care.

I haven’t talked to too many people about what their passion is, if they are doing their passion, or if they are going to be involved in their passion in the future. It would probably lead to many interesting conversations. Maybe instead of talking about reading and reviewing a book that I already know I probably won’t finish, I should talk to people about their passions. I am looking forward to having the opportunity of doing that during the workshop, although I know that for some people the process of discovering their passion is a deep and personal one. When I went through the process of discovering my passion for the classroom, it took me a week of deep soul searching, and I haven’t shared the results of that process with anyone. My hope is that I can share my process with others and they can use it to discover what they are passionate about in the classroom, and it can inspire them as it inspired me. My hope is that it makes a difference.

Note: In the first draft of this post, I spent a great deal of time talking about book reviews, after I mentioned something about reviewing another book by Sir Ken Robinson about people finding their passion. Through the reflection that I did during the first draft, I realized that book reviewing is not for me – it definitely is not my passion. Therefore I will not be reviewing Ungifted by Scott Barry Kaufman. Although the first 250 pages of the book blew my mind (I loved it), I have come to the realization that I probably won’t finish the book. I hate to disappoint, but I do have to say that if you are interested in the psychology of intelligence, creativity, and motivation, it will definitely be a great read for you.

Creativity Fueled By Passion

Through the course of creating my workshop Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom I have pondered over the definition of creativity. Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value”. I wanted to incorporate the different aspects that I have seen and experienced that are inherent in the process of creativity, so I created this definition:

Creativity is an idea which, when combined with the proper energy, inspires action to develop something that has value.

Even though the word is not present in the definition, I believe passion to be the “proper energy”. In fact, if I were quoting my definition outside the context of a workshop, I would probably substitute “proper energy” for “passion”. However, this definition was created with an eye toward presentation, so that is how it stands.

Do you find yourself creative mostly in the realm of an area that you feel passionate about? I was contemplating this as I wrote my last post, because I watch people as they talk about different things. The things that they feel the most passionate about are usually the ones in which their eyes light up as they talk about it, and they have more knowledge about it because of their passion towards it. I am sure that, if I take a closer look at people’s passions and where they feel the most creative in their lives, there would be a strong correlation between the two. Sometimes I am prompted in my head to ask, “But why are you doing this when you are so passionate about that?” It really brings to mind the Holstee Manifesto: