“Brown paper packages tied up with strings / These are a few of my favourite things…”
Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers, 1965
I put the gift bag in the centre of the table. While the handles were tied together with ribbon, you could still see variously-shaped packages, wrapped in innocuous brown paper, peeking out. Like five-year-olds about to play ‘pass the parcel’, the teachers turned towards the bag, eyes following my every move, eager to poke, prod and explore.
They were invited to pass the bag around and to choose an item that captured their imagination. As they unwrapped their parcel, they were full of questions: What’s in there? What have we got? What is it? How does this relate? Does this belong to her? Is it valuable? Can we eat them?
Sitting with questions confettied around them on sticky notes, a group of teachers became gripped with a narrative they had formed around one of the items. They were convinced it was an antique, that it must have been passed down to me, cherished, from grandmother to mother to me. That they must take care with it, lest it get lost or damaged. That it must have significant meaning: culturally, historically, sentimentally. They were dying to know the true story behind the item. They were hungry for knowledge.
As teachers, I think we are genuinely interested in generating and nurturing curiosity in our learners. We worry about squashing curiosity and the childlike wonder in our learners, particularly when they start school. We believe that curious learners are engaged, passionate, excited. But I’m not sure that we invest enough in our own curiosity as adults.
Many teachers are involved with inquiring into their practice. They use the teaching as inquiry cycle from the New Zealand Curriculum (2007), or perhaps the Spiral of Inquiry from Timperley, Kaser and Halbert (2014) to explore the needs of their learners, and what they can do to make a difference. These inquiry cycles are important and useful frameworks to guide professional learning. And they must start with a teacher’s own curiosity about what’s happening and why it might be happening.
Christopher Clark (1992) calls on teachers to “make the familiar strange”. He says that “this involves at least two steps: first, to believe that interesting, exciting, amazing things are happening all around us all the time; and second, to question the traditional ways, reasons and explanations that we usually take for granted” (p. 81). In other words, we should seek to see our world with fresh eyes, and to wonder about it. We need to be neotenous – retaining childlike dispositions into adulthood (Berger, 2014).
We may need to invest some time to nurture our neoteny. And looking outside of education may be useful – you never know what interesting and unusual potential connections you might make. So, go to the museum, the art gallery, the theatre. Spend some time in the bush, or walk around the block and challenge yourself to notice three things you haven’t before. Attend a public lecture, play a new game, listen to a TED talk or podcast.
We know from observing our own children and our students that curiosity drives a need to know; a desire to find out; that it can be the spark that can ignite a passion. To be curious is to be driven to learn. It opens doors and makes us eager to explore. Curiosity also sustains us through the messy pit of learning. It helps us to know that although we might not know yet, we are on the path to knowing more than we did previously. So pursue relentless curiosity. Question ferociously. Wonder and ponder and brood.
Where do you find inspiration within and without of the classroom? What do you do to nurture your own curiosity?
Curious to learn more?
Here are some links to curiosity for students:
- Four EDtalks on curiosity
- Encouraging curiosity is not enough, Tom Barrett (2014)
- Curiosity and inspiration, Steve Mouldey (2014)
Here are some links to curiosity and teaching as inquiry:
- Teaching as inquiry, Steve Mouldey (2018)
- 14 ways to top up your professional learning, Danielle Myburgh (2018)
- Focusing the future of education through inquiry, Sarah Whiting (2016)
And here are some references to relevant literature on curiosity:
- Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.
- Clark, C. M. (1992). Teachers as designers in self-directed professional development. In A. Hargreaves & M. G. Fullan (Eds.), Understanding teacher development (pp. 75-84). London: Cassell.
- Thomas, D. & Seely Brown, J. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington: CreateSpace.
- Timperley, H., Kaser, L., & Halbert, J. (2014). A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry. Melbourne: Centre for Strategic Education.
Philippa Nicoll Antipas
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