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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Forming Relationships With Children

In my last two posts (here and here) I have been contemplating forming relationships with children and why it is important. Today I want to talk about how to form those relationships with children.

It all started when I went crazy with planning activities for children on the night after my first day at my new job. I felt crazy doing it, and when I talked to the director about my wild night of planning, she told me that I need to slow down and concentrate on forming relationships with the children. As I began to reflect on why relationships are important, I realized that relationships are formed through doing things with others.

Think about it. When we want to begin a new relationship with someone, we begin doing things with them. We try eating out together to discover what we have in common when it comes to our tastes for food. We do other activities together to discover what we have in common as far as our interests go. And we talk to each other. A lot.

As I was thinking about the processes that we go through to begin new relationships, I realized that I wasn’t too far off the mark. Sure, I didn’t know  what the children are interested in, but I was creating a foundation for finding out. I was making a plan for activities that we could do together to find out more about each other. I didn’t put any of the plan in motion, but I have had several opportunities to find out what some of the children like, and have been able to base the beginning of a relationship on that. For example, gardening is a big part of the school community where I work now, and I have found out which children are interested in gardening and which aren’t. I have even done some gardening with some of them. I have dug up grub worms with some of the children, and we learned more about the life cycle of a Japanese beetle through this activity. Some of the children are wildly interested in airplanes, so we have done a couple of small activities having to do with airplanes. The lead teacher has given me the go-ahead to try to plan a transportation project for the beginning of the year. I have found that a few of the boys are passionate about superheroes, and have already seen some of the negative effects of that passion.

The children and I have even worked on communication. I have talked to the children a lot about their interests, their families, and school life. But we have all practiced communication that helps to heal broken relationships and repair damage done by our actions. These are important lessons that all children should learn, because the skills needed to communicate through relationship issues is a life skill that all people need. Letting people know when what they are doing hurts in some way, and being able to empathize, apologize, and make the situation better is important to every relationship that we have in our life. As teachers, it is important that we are not only teaching these skills to children, but using them ourselves throughout the day as we interact with them. Through these interactions trust is built and relationships grow. Children come to see teachers as not just a disciplinarian or someone who is there to teach them things, but as someone they can talk to and share ideas with, who will take their ideas seriously and help them grow those ideas into something meaningful and fun.

That is what the teacher-student relationship is all about.

Imagine the Possibilities

This is the fifth in a twelve-part series based on an article by Michael Michalko, entitled “Twelve Things You Were Not Taught In School About Creative Thinking.” By clicking on these links, you can view the first, second, third, and fourth posts.

Possibilities are everywhere, and your mind is capable of coming up with a lot of ideas and possibilities. Michalko urges us not to discard any idea on the basis that it might be too far out there to achieve: “When trying to get ideas, do not censor them or evaluate them as they occur. Nothing kills creativity faster than self-censorship of ideas while generating them. Think of all your ideas as possibilities and generate as many as you can before you decide which ones to select.”

In my classroom, I have come up with a million ideas. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if…” is how the idea usually starts, and then I brainstorm ways to make it happen. Some of my ideas are way out there and some of them are more low-key, but I always take each one into consideration – especially since I know that any idea can be altered if it has aspects of it that may not work. I have been grateful for the co-teachers that I have had that have been the voice of reason from time to time, and I have learned a lot from ideas that I have implemented that had unintended consequences that I could learn from. Creativity and learning is a process, and censoring ourselves in the middle of that process may mean that we don’t learn as much about what could be as we could have. And it may mean that our children miss out, as well.

We need to pass the skill of brainstorming ideas on to our children in the classroom, too. We need to let them know that it is okay to have some wild and crazy ideas, because through those ideas come the gems that mark real creativity and innovation. We need to respect them enough that we don’t censor their ideas, and teach them how to turn those ideas into methods and ideas that work. This is problem-solving at its best, and the businesses of today are looking for people that know how to problem-solve in these creative ways.

So go out there and imagine the possibilities!

 

Best Year Ever!

For a lot of teachers out there, the school year is just beginning. I work in corporate care, so my school year never ends. But in honor of those teachers who are going back to school, I want to post this article I found on Edutopia this week. The article is about having your best teaching year ever, and it has some great advice about how to make that happen. I have applied these principles in years past and have had several great years. I want to see this school year be my best year ever as I venture into a new classroom and a new journey! Who’s with me?!

Teachers: Preparing for Your Best Year Ever by Elena Aguilar

Building Positive Relationships: Motivation in the Classroom

Do the children in your classroom motivate you? They should. They are full of wonderful ideas, and are curious about everything around them. I look at the children in my classroom and my brain buzzes all day long with ideas of different activities that we can do based on what they are already doing. Sometimes our day goes in an entirely different direction than I had planned on. Actually, that is probably most days.

On the other side of the coin is the child. When the teacher brings their creativity and motivation to what the child is doing, it motivates the child to do more and explore more. It pushes them to new limits. Just as Dan Pink talked about in his TEDTalk, it brings mastery and purpose into the classroom: mastery because children work toward understanding of different concepts related to their lives and interests, and purpose because the teacher gives their exploration more relevance and purpose with their involvement. The type of motivation that is at play between the teacher and the child is cyclical in nature, with the teacher feeding off of the motivation of the child and vice versa.

One of the things that I especially liked about the Sir Ken Robinson talk about Changing Education is pointing out that, when you strip education down to its bare bones it is nothing more than the relationship and interaction between a student and a teacher. When these two motivate each other and feed off of each other, magical things happen in the classroom and a mutual respect is built up between the two. As the teacher sees just what the child is capable of and the child sees that the teacher cares about their ideas and helps them expand on those ideas, a partnership in learning is formed. Children begin to learn about how to learn, and teachers learn to appreciate the little things that go on in the classroom – the things that can motivate them.

Classroom motivation isn’t just about motivating the students. As teachers, we sometimes need a little motivation ourselves. Taking a moment to observe the children and what they are doing or talking about can be just the reminder about why we are motivated to teach that we need.

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!

The Truly Creative Individual

I recently began reading Why Fly? A Philosophy of Creativity” by E. Paul Torrance. I had originally set out with the goal of reviewing the book, but since it is comprised of a collection of essays that span the course of several years, I believe that the best course of action will be to pull relevant material from it. I may do a general review after I finish it.

I came across this quote last night during my reading, and it struck me because I saw myself so perfectly in it. I have to share it to see if anyone else is struck the same way:

Because they can’t stop thinking, [creative] teachers don’t stop working with a forty hour week. The supervisor who cannot tolerate an independent spirit will find it difficult to direct or rigidly channel the energies of the creative teacher, who becomes completely absorbed in his or her work and sometimes equates supervision with interference. Anyone who tries to suggest a change in the work or a creative person just as she is finishing a job may be inviting an explosion. The work at that point is as much a part of the worker as her vital organs…

The truly creative teacher does not work for status or power; he has no desire to be principal or superintendent. He works in order to live with himself: the freedom to create is his greatest reward. Occasionally, he may prefer to work alone; he may insist on setting his own pace. The mind needs an incubation period of seeming inactivity to hatch ideas. Since creativity involves divergent thinking, we can expect the creative teacher to express ideas that differ from our own and from some of education’s time-honored practices. Furthermore, since he cares nought for power, he is unlikely to change his thinking in order to curry favor with his superiors. He may be difficult to hold to routine and become restless under conventional restraint. We works best when dealing with difficult, challenging problems or when engrossed in a project that is his “baby.” There will be times when he will defy precedent. He may try a new idea without official permission.

Does anyone else see themselves in this description? I had chalked a lot of these characteristics up as character flaws. Who knew that they were indicative of a creative spirit? Torrance would know; he has been studying creativity for years.

creative individual

Building Positive Relationships: How Being A Facilitator Changes Relationships

Building-PositiveI feel like I have been beating the concept of facilitator vs. teacher to death, but the practice of learning with children instead of teaching to them has so many positive benefits, one being an increase in creative thought, that I can’t let it go quite yet. Writing about this topic has had me picking up books that I haven’t read in a while. And the idea of a facilitator has ramifications for more than just education. The website that I quoted from in the last Reframing post was directed toward business leaders, meaning that businesses can benefit from this approach as well.

The website itself discusses the reasons that businesses can benefit from this approach:

Facilitation offers everyone in the group the chance to express their ideas and to feel as if they are part of a team. Since the group arrives at a mutual conclusion, it’s easier for individual members to carry out the group’s goals and to feel less inclined to work on individual agendas. A facilitator helps individuals build on their skills and learn new ones. Facilitation serves as a positive way to resolve conflicts and clarify misunderstandings among a diverse group of individuals.

In Developing Constructivist Early Childhood Curriculum, the authors define a key principle of constructivist education as that which creates a “cooperative sociomoral atmosphere in which mutual respect is continually practiced.” (36)

Being a facilitator in a classroom instead of a teacher changes the nature of relationships because children and teachers work together to solve many different types of problems, including social and moral issues. They are not pitted against each other in a struggle of power, but work together to keep the classroom safe and productive.

How does this happen? When have you ever seen teachers and students work together? It has been rare that I have seen it, but I know that it exists. And I know that a classroom that runs this way is more respectful of the needs of every member of the class, because the teacher is respectful of every member of the class. A class that runs this way evolves into a close-knit family, one in which each member can positively contribute – and they know it.