Curiosity

Joy

This post is cross-posted on the slowchated blog. This week’s #slowchated will focus on JOY in education. To participate in this week-long one-question-per-day chat, you can jump in here –> #slowchated

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

~ Albert Einstein

Oh, Albert. Such a smart cookie you were. I would take Albert’s statement just a bit further in adding that the act of awakening joy in others brings joy to the awakener as well. It is utterly and beautifully cyclical. How lucky are we educators to have this honor? Helping a student find joy in learning, is one of the best feelings I know. IMG_1241

One thing that I know I forget far to often (my husband and children can vouch for this) is that it’s important to experience joy away from one’s job. For every ounce of joy I experience in the classroom comes an ounce (or more) of frustration (usually due to some layer of bureaucracy). Doing the things you love and spending time with people who bring you joy outside of your school provides a balance that is vital for preserving one’s career … and sanity. So …

… Q1: What brings you joy outside your classroom/school?

IMG_1245

How often do we make a conscious effort to focus on the joy of teaching and learning? How often do we remind ourselves that learning should bring the learner joy? How often do we design learning with joy in mind? It’s hard because of the demands of people and entities outside the classroom constantly clamoring for our attention. Despite those demands, the classroom should be a place of learning and joy. I would even go so far as to argue that in order for learning to take place, there must be some element of joy involved–or maybe more accurately, learning will be more likely to occur of there is joy in the process. This is not a scientific fact; it is merely based on 15 years of working in the trenches of public education. This brings us to …

… Q2: What brings you joy in the classroom or school where you work?

IMG_1275

[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.

~ Jim Henson

What do you share with your students? Are you a real person to them, or are you the person who they believe keeps a cot in the closet and lives at school? We need to humanize ourselves to our students. It’s part of the give-and-take of relationship-building. If you want to understand your students, you need to know them, and in order for them to trust you, you need to reveal who you are to them.

I’m not suggesting you need to share every detail of your life, but how about sharing that you raise chickens? or paint watercolor portraits of your friends’ pets? or that you climbed a mountain last summer? or that you cross stitch pop culture icons in your spare time? or that you collect dolphin figurines? or that you love to sit in a hammock and read book after book all summer long? or that your great-grandpa was an Arabian prince? or that your dog died and that it makes you sad? or that when you see a snake or a turtle in the middle of the rode that you stop and move it to the ditch so it doesn’t get run over? or that you are an alien from outer space just trying to fit in? (There was a teacher at my elementary school who told her kids this. She never ever denied it. In fact, part of me still wonders …)

Why not share those things with your students? Every teacher will have a different comfort level regarding what s/he does and does not share, but share something. When you share, your students will usually share in return or be one step closer to sharing. Dr. Gary Stager says that being an interesting adult is one of the best things we can do for our students. I agree with him and I strive to be a weirdo for my students every day!

This is the perfect intro to Q3: What are some ways we can share our personal joys (and passions) with our students? IMG_1278-1qa3znf What teachers do in the classroom can affect a child for life. That’s one of the reasons why our profession is so totally rad, but also so totally scary. When a student walks into my classroom, I set the tone in my instruction, in my reactions, and in my expression of learning. It’s not always easy! It’s easy for students (who often seem surprised to see us at the mall or in a grocery story) to forget that we are human too and humans have off or bad days, so I need to ask … Q4: When you are having a bad day, what can/do you do to set a positive tone in the classroom? HOMEWORK: Think of some images that represent joy to you & have them at the ready for tomorrow We are a visually driven culture, so let’s talk about Q5 (which is not really a question): Share some images of what joy looks like to you (inside or outside the classroom/school). Look at all this joy!

IMG_1280(1)Q6, the final question of the week asked: If you could send one message of joy to your students, what would it be?

You responded with …

How joyful!

My wish for all educators who read this is that you always remember how much fun and joyful learning can be and that you do what you can, when you can to ensure that your students have a joyful experience in a place that can set the tone for an entire year of their life and potentially for their whole entire lives!

Finding Purpose in Education (June 9)

My name is Moss Pike, and I teach Latin at the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. I’m excited to host a #slowchatED discussion on finding purpose within education the week of June 9, since it’s a topic I’ve become very invested over the course of this past year. Our school is on the verge of making some potentially big changes, based on a quite thorough “Workload Study” we recently completed with all of our students, and purpose has been one of the more salient talking points in the discussion. In thinking about how to design more engaging classroom experiences for my students and more engaging PD opportunities for faculty, as well as considering reworking our school mission, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about purpose, focusing on the question of why do we do what we do.

Alongside autonomy and mastery, purpose is one of Dan Pink’s three essential requirements for intrinsic motivation, which he outlines in his fantastic book Drive (cf. some of my thoughts on the book). Pink (2011:137) points out that we don’t often enough ask “Why?” in the workplace, and I think the same is true within the classroom and at schools in general. Now that we’re starting to understand the value of the so-called “non-cognitive” or “soft” skills like creativity and empathy that play a central role in engagement and happiness, it’s the perfect time to call more attention to purpose and think hard about this question, as we’re pushing change in our schools.

When I learned about Aaron Hurst‘s new book The Purpose Economy, I couldn’t wait to read it and see what he had to say on this idea. It’s an excellent book to add to the list of “books not about education that have everything to do about education,” and if anyone is looking for something to inspire deep thinking about important ideas, I highly suggest picking it up (cf my notes on it). In the book, Hurst (2014:18) makes it clear that his idea of purpose goes beyond service, thinking of it within the following framework:

“When I say purpose, I mean more than serving others and the planet. Service is certainly at the core, but in speaking with hundreds of professionals and reading thousands of essays, I’ve discovered that there are two other key sources of purpose people seek: a sense of community and the opportunity for self-expression and personal growth. In other words, they pursue personal, social and societal purpose.”

That said, the book (cf. also Hurst’s blog) have served as the inspiration for me to have a wider discussion on the topic, with the hope that we can bring together a number of diverse ideas on purpose and start to answer the question “Why?” for both ourselves and our greater communities. “Much like technology a few decades ago, purpose has now become a business imperative,” Hurst (2014:21) claims, and in my opinion, purpose should also be an educational imperative. If interested in discussing more on the book itself, by the way, share any thoughts or questions in our EduRead G+ community and/or use the hashtag #eduread14 on Twitter.

So to this end, we’ll discuss the questions below next week using the hashtag #slowchatED on Twitter, beginning with Q1 on Monday, June 9, followed by a new question each subsequent day of the week. All are welcome to participate throughout the week, whether it’s just for one question or for the duration of the discussion. As always, there are no wrong answers in a discussion like this, and I’m excited to see what ideas we can come up with together.

Suggested Reading

There’s no need to read The Purpose Economy for our #slowchatED discussion (though you certainly should at some point!), but it may be helpful to read through a couple good blog posts on the idea:

Questions

Q1 Why is purpose important? What does it do for us as community members?
Q2a Define what purpose means to you as an educator, sharing examples. What is your own personal purpose?
Q2b Define what purpose means to you as colleague, sharing examples. What is your societal and social purpose?
Q3 What are some myths or misconceptions about purpose? Why isn’t purpose often pursued?
Q4 How can we find, celebrate, and sustain our purpose as educators?
Q5 Why is finding purpose more important than ever for students? How do we help them find it?
Q6 Share a purpose project you intend to work on in the next academic year.

N.B.: This post is duplicated in my personal blog.

Week 7: “Curiosity: The Constant UNhappiness?”

The following is a reflection by Eric Démoré (@EricDemore) on Week 6 of #SlowChatEd and is cross-posted on his blog here.

Consider for a moment what brought you to be reading these words. Either:

1) You were asked you to do it. Someone (kindly) made you to click on the link that brought you here. You started reading this post because you felt you should. Or,

2) You asked yourself to do it. You were attracted by what this link promised and decided to open the door it presented to you.

And that, it seems, is what the art of curiosity — our topic for Week 6 of #SlowChatEd — is all about. It’s about following that innate desire to have a question answered. Wait: innate? Mr Barro, could you please clarify?

Questions reside indeed in the soul. So here’s the argument: the right questions are not always the ones handed to us. They’re not always in the textbook. They’re not always the ones on the whiteboard.

So, what then? Teachers can’t ask questions of their learners? Of course we can. But having acknowledged that we are no longer (never have been?) the sole purveyors of knowledge for our students, we find ourselves heeding a call to be more than experts.

We need to be models of curiosity. Lighters of sparks. Sherpas on our students’ quest to have their natural curiosity sated.

Our instinct is to engage the learner’s mind, and this is valid. But let’s not neglect the empirical doors to knowledge: the senses.

Not only might curiosity be a natural tendency, but its ‘sparks’ can come from the natural world, too. A classroom can be an ideal space for fostering inquiry; but so too can a park or an art gallery or a theatre or a neighbourhood. They alight the senses toward questions.

Thanks, @ecsaibel, for that pure bit of poetry. How about reading *that* on your son’s report card:

While Eric has demonstrated a cursory understanding of the periodic table this term, he has begun to exhibit a deeper presence in this world.

Consider what can happen when a student is shown how to ask her own questions, what can emerge if we allow this instinct to follow its natural course. This is the tricky part, of course, because we’re not used to forging ahead without a distinct plan. Teachers are master-planners. We’re prepared; we work well with structure.

But allowing a student to follow the course of her own curiosity — let alone asking ourselves to monitor that of 30 other learners in the same room — can get pretty messy pretty fast. And a bit scary.

I fear not knowing how to deal with chaos. Not to mention adjusting to a drastic shift in our traditional job description. Admission: I fear risk.

But if only we could find a way to structure this type of learning, I’m convinced that what you’ll get is a room full of happy people. After all, as Nobel laureate Alice Munro once said,

The constant happiness is curiosity.

But then also:

Wait, hold up. So which is it?

Does being curious mean being happy or unhappy?

This little gem of paradox came out of Week 6 of #SlowChatEd and I’m grateful for it, because it has placed a whole new set of questions in my hands like a good book, and I find myself not being able to put them down.

Is it possible that I wish to spend my days in classrooms where students are not happy? Not happy with veneer? Not satisfied with injustice? Not content with hypocrisy? Not happy with the immediately unanswerable?

Holy cow. Do I need to change the title of my own blog to ‘The Constant UNhappiness’?

I’ll end with a true story. (Still with me? Still curious?)

(Disclaimer: The following is an update of a post shared last fall. I share it here because it was really the inspiration behind the topic for Week 6 of #SlowChatEd).

As a boy I often found myself staring at a map of Canada that hung above my bed. I could look at the thing for a half-hour, analyzing its contours, focusing on one strange detail or another.

One night, my eye fell upon this shape in the far reaches of northern Quebec:

image

Is that a circle?, I thought. It looks too perfect a circle not to be some sort of ancient crater. But if a crater, why is it called a reservoir, and not Something crater? Why haven’t I heard about this before?

I was struck by an innate desire to inquire. For whatever reason, I didn’t pursue my question any further. Had it been 2013, I’d have Googled it and had an answer as fast as my thumbs could type ‘crater lake in quebec’. The tools weren’t as readily at hand, I guess (our encyclopedia set from 1981 lived at my grandmother’s).

But here’s the point: I had a question to ask. A good question. Given the right environment and encouragement, I could have set upon a quest to arrive at the answer — and who knows what other answers?

So, what we’re talking about here is a need to find something out — the ability to ask questions that we feel compelled to try to answer.

This was curiosity.

What if all of school were an act of finding the right questions to ask and the journey to answer them?

Imagine a sort of Big Book of Questions from which learners can choose the question that will set them on a path of discovery.

What does it take for a rocket to fly?

What makes banks so powerful?

How do empires fall?

Is war justifiable?

What makes something ‘beautiful’?

What would it have been like to see that crater strike in northern Quebec?

As it so happens, my quest was rekindled recently when Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted this image from his recent stint as commander of the ISS:

20131030-224121.jpg

The Manicouagan Crater in Québec. 19 years later, my question is answered.

But now I’ve got more of them.