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.

Building Positive Relationships: The Three Areas of Classroom Management

The other morning I was going through a brainstorming session, wondering what to write about next. I have been doing a lot of writing about observation lately, and because I use observation for so many different aspects of the classroom I began to think about it in terms of classroom management. And then I began to think about the big picture of classroom management.

Let me first just say that I hate the term “classroom management”. I only use it because that is the going term these days within the education community for how to get the class to accomplish what you want to accomplish with the least amount of behavior problems possible. I prefer the term “Building Positive Relationships” because that is what I do. I don’t necessarily manage. I hate feeling like I am “managing” the classroom. The children don’t seem to appreciate it that much either.

So what do I do? Well, a few years ago I realized that there are several elements that are involved in dictating a child’s behavior. These elements work together to define the atmosphere of the classroom, which helps define the behavior of the children in it.

1. The Teacher

The teacher is probably the biggest factor influencing the behavior in the classroom. The way that the teacher reacts to behavior, how she/he conducts lessons, and how she/he interacts with the children sets the tone of the classroom. If the teacher is very overbearing and likes to micro-manage children, this will affect the mood and tone much differently than if she/he is more easy-going and flexible in the classroom.

How the teacher views children is usually evident by how they handle these different aspects of the classroom. In workshops and in talking to colleagues, I strongly encourage teachers to take a step back and really think about how they view individual children, as well as their class as a group. The attitudes that we feel about the children manifest themselves in our actions and reactions in the classroom, and impact the tone and mood of the class.

2. The Child

We all know that children come into the classroom with their own temperaments, their own baggage, and their own way of wanting to do things. Kids are kids. Kids like to move around, question everything, and experiment with life. These are things that we need to remember when we think about behavior in the classroom. I am actually working on a workshop right now that talks about the nature of children and how we view them. Want to see what I have so far?

RESPECT

 

It really is another post for another time, but it outlines different aspect of not just children, but people. All people have these different needs or qualities about them, and we need to remember that children have them, too. These different needs and qualities enter the classroom with the child, and every child has differences in the degree and kind of these needs and qualities. The mix that results is different in every classroom, and teachers need to be aware and structure the environment and atmosphere accordingly.

3. The Environment

I mentioned in a previous post that I do not view the classroom environment as a static entity. This does not mean that I move desks or tables around once a week – although that does help. The exploratory items in the classroom – from the manipulatives to the art selections to the blocks are ever changing and evolving to fit the interests and needs of the children in the classroom. This helps keep the calm as children explore new things (although the first few minutes of excitement over new items is kind of crazy) and keeps the children engaged. Playing or working with the same items over and over again in the same ways can get boring – we all know that – so we should change things up in the classroom, or provide new ways to experiment with old items.

These three areas can always be broken down into smaller elements, such as how the different areas of the classroom can be arranged so as to stimulate curiosity and excitement, or how to react when a child does X, Y, or Z. This post is intended to be an outline to get teachers thinking about the big picture and how it all works together. Sometimes I think that it is important to step back and remember the big pictures in the classroom, and reflect on our place in that big picture.

Curiosity and Further Learning

I have been reading the book Socratic Circles by Matt Copeland, in preparation for workshops through Project: Preschool. I came across this quote, which made me think:

Unintentionally, we teach students at an early age that having questions suggests a lack of understanding, rather than suggesting that having questions reveals a curiosity for further learning. (Copeland, 50)

This quote makes me think about this attitude that we have: deep knowledge about a particular subject can only be achieved by specialists, and specialists are the only ones that can speak to or about a particular subject. Deep knowledge about a subject usually comes about by an intense curiosity to learn more about the subject, whether or not one is in school to receive that knowledge. If students are not taught to question what they hear or read, do not learn to seek information from other sources, or do not learn how to make connections between sources, they will not expand in their knowledge about anything.

As teachers, our job is not to condemn questions or stigmatize them, but to use them as a jumping off point to teach about how to dive into a topic and really explore it.

How did this quote make you feel? Post thoughts in the comments – I love to hear from readers!

A Different Atmosphere

I started a new job at a new center this past week. It has been a very interesting experience, one that has required me to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth closed as I take in what has proven to be an entirely different atmosphere from where I came from. And everything that I have witnessed has been the antithesis of what I have been trying to learn and discuss on this blog.

So after the first day I was questioning my sanity as it related to why I wanted to switch jobs in the first place. After the second day I had pretty much convinced myself that I was insane. And then the third day came.

I had worked very hard at the end of the second day to convince myself that I could at least try to make a difference. I could bring what little influence I have into that center and grow and evolve just like I did in the last center. I can continue my education (I have just recently started going back to school as well) so that, when the time comes, I can become a consultant or something so that I can help centers who have this atmosphere gain the knowledge and support they need to develop a new and better atmosphere, one where the children and teachers are learning and growing and experiencing life together in a loving, caring way. I spent half of the third day with my mind fighting with itself, telling me that there is no way I will last in this place, there is no way I can make a change, trying to come up with little ways that I can make a change.

I will be working with older children in summer camp this year, something that excites me to no end because older children have thought processes that are different from younger children, so the experiences that you can bring to them can be more complex in nature. I am actually looking forward to piquing their curiosity about the world around them and encouraging them to experiment and come up with ways to learn more about the world and how it works. Because right now those kids are bored. They come from school every day and spend their time as any other bored child does: looking for ways to break their boredom. And since there isn’t much offered to them to experiment with or learn from, they spend their time experimenting with how their actions are going to affect their friends. In other words, there is a lot of animosity and negative energy in the classroom right now.

So during the third day I was fighting with myself, and I came upon an unexpected ally in my quest: the current teacher in the classroom, and the one I will be helping. I’m not sure what has happened in the classroom to turn it into what it is now (because apparently it hasn’t always been that way) but I know that they lost a teacher a month ago, and apparently she was “really nice,” according to the children in the class. So the teacher and I talked a little, and we have similar views as to the purpose of daycare for this age group (which is not to have them sitting around being bored; they have done that all day). But there is more to it than that, and it will take work and more talks to achieve the results that we need to. I think that this week we are going to start with a few science experiments. That should get the kids thinking and and experimenting and working together. There are also some classroom structures that I am going to implement, such as a schedule and jobs for everyone. That should help too.

I think that my biggest problem is going to be realizing that nothing in this classroom is going to change overnight. But with hard work and consistency this classroom can become just as smooth and fun as my last classroom was.

Of course, if anyone who comes across this post would like to suggest anything to help, I would really be open to advice. I have worked with this age a little bit, but not a lot, and it is an entirely different ball game from working with three-year-olds!