Nurturing Teachers’ Curiosity

An ASCD Education Update article by Kathy Checkley called Wonder Years* explored how to nurture students’ natural curiosity; “wondering” creating learning. As I pondered Checkley’s thoughts and suggestions for increasing student curiosity to extend student learning, I realized that in many ways the work of instructional leaders is to promote teacher curiosity to generate teacher learning and thus student learning.

Here are some statements from the article and my thoughts:

“When students own their questions and the answers they find, they become deeply engaged, excited, and confident about their ability to learn”

Instructional coaches should often be engaged in assisting teachers in identifying questions …what successes teachers want to reach with students and wondering about what changes they might make as teachers to reach those learning goals. In an earlier blog I wrote, “Data produces questions not answers. A data wall should become a Questions Wall.”

“When we seek answers to questions we think are interesting, we are better equipped to learn and retain that information.”

Professional learning that is driven by teachers’ desire to learn and change to reach a goal the teachers have set will trump professional development decisions (offerings) decided upon by school leaders alone. A favorite question of mine is, “What do the students need us to learn?” Here are two examples of questions I prepared to lead staff discussions that should uncover teachers’ goals for students and thus themselves:

  • If we are committed to students developing skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication (4Cs), what processes would be necessary to document that development in a graduation capstone project or portfolio? What impact would the plan for documentation have on teaching and learning?
  • How can our investment in one-to-one technology best impact student academic and 4Cs achievement? How does 1 to 1 technology impact instructional planning for learning?

“Allow students to grapple with ideas and skills before providing an explanation….. create cognitive dissonance that spurs students on.”

When PD is approached as isolated activities planned into the school calendar, there is no time for “grappling.”  Teachers frequently find themselves attending a “presentation”. Too often, I find that instructional coaches are assigned to provide PD presentations to building staffs as a way for the district curriculum office to assure everyone was provided with the same information. With limited time available engaging teachers in inquiry is often skipped. Repetition of this experience leads to teachers attending PD rather than engaging.

“Help students develop good questioning techniques.”  Marilyn Price-Mitchell writing in Edutopia , Curiosity: The Force Within a Hungry Mind,  makes the same recommendation: “Teach students how to ask quality questions.”

 Instructional leaders need to be helping teachers enhance their questioning skills. While teachers’ questions play a major role in generating their students’ curiosity, the same is true in the questions they ask themselves and colleagues in PLCs.

What do you think are two or three most important things for us to consider when planning a unit with a desire for higher student engagement?

How much responsibility should we take as teachers for gaining student engagement ? Why?

What ideas do we have for experimenting with learning tasks to gain deeper engagement?

Price-Mitchell also suggests encouraging students to be skeptics and for teachers to model curiosity. “A skeptic requires additional evidence before accepting someone’s claims as true. He or she is willing to challenge the status quo with open-minded, deep questioning.”

 Instructional leaders can see PLC time as a great spot to model curiosity and skepticism. Looking at data is certainly a place to question the first conclusions that are being drawn and to ponder what teacher behaviors we want to maintain or alter. I recently sat with a principal who was studying her schoolwide reading data wall. Looking across the chart, the number of students scoring at the advanced level dropped as you moved from grades 3 to 4 to 5. What meaning could be drawn? What questions might we ask? How might we explore the meaning?  Does any of that information lead us to consider changes in our educator behavior? Her biggest question as principal is, “How do I get my teachers engaged in this exploration?”

* The Wonder Years, Kathy Checkley, ASCD Education Update, January 2016, (pages 1,4,5)

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One Response to “ Nurturing Teachers’ Curiosity ”

  1. John Says:

    If you begin coaching sessions asking questions like, “Why did you choose this technique?” and the teacher did not consider other techniques, he is likely to start asking himself that question, in order to be prepared for the next round. The types of questions a coach asks in a session with a teacher become the types of questions that teacher asks himself.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 35 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…