Tagged: Independance

Just Curious: A Simple Strategy to Model/Foster Engaged Learning

Yesterday my children and I spent about half an hour sitting on the porch just before bedtime.  It was a beautiful evening!  I sat with my five-year-old, while my three-year-old and my one year-old collected rocks, named bumblebees, and practice lifting each other up (the one-year-old is not so good at any of that stuff, but she’s great at trying!).

A kid on a scooter rode past.  My five-year-old said, “I’ve never had a scooter.” I asked if he’d like one.  He replied, “Yes.”  I told him that we could ask mama when she gets home.  He agreed, and then we went back to sitting in silence for several moments before we spoke again.  Here’s how it went when we did (he started):

“Can you talk to G-d?”


“But G-d doesn’t have eyes.”



“Well, G-d talks in different ways than we do.”

“Like in Spanish?”

“Well, like when flowers grow, or the sun shines, or babies are born…that’s G-d talking.”

“And like when scooters are made?”

“I suppose.”

Now it seems clear that part of his motivation was the scooter wanting, but this wouldn’t be the first time he’s expressed profound and almost visceral curiosity. This kid wants to know stuff!  I’d like to be able to teach him everything he wants to know, but (and I hate to admit it) there are many things that I myself don’t know.  It reminds me of an old joke.  Two old men are sitting in a café.  After several moments of sipping in silence, one of the men states, “Life is like a cup of tea.”

The other man looks up, scrunches his eyebrows, raises his shoulders, rubs his chin, and finally asks, “O.K., how is life like a cup of tea?”

The first man replies, “What am I, a philosopher?  How should I know?”

There are some things that we know and can explain, there are some things that we just know, there are some things that we just think we know, there are some things that we believe, and there are some things that we suspect.  However, we can be curious about and explore anything and everything.  And when we teach kids to learn that way, we don’t need to be able to teach them everything.

Curiosity comes very naturally to children…it’s included, and it acts as a catalyst to engaged exploration.  It’s truly powerful.   As educators, we must work to harness that power through targeted instructional practices and connected classroom management.  I really appreciate the “just curious” modeling strategy for that purpose.  Before the introduction of a new concept or the start of a new lesson, say something like, “I’m so excited!  Today were going to explore (insert content, standard, skill, or idea)!  I’m just curious, how does that work,” or “Why does that happened,” or “Do you guys know anything about that?”

I believe that in response you’ll get at least some excited engagement; a decent start.  Stress exploration as the process that you’re going to engage in, and then modeled what authentic and excited engagement looks and sounds like.  When reached out in that way, you’re inviting your students to be partners in learning.  You are engaging in the process with them.  I’ve found that the, “just curious” approach can be effective across the curriculum.  When it’s implemented with authenticity, it can truly drive a culture in which curiosity leads to exploration, in which it’s not only safe to be wrong within the course of learning, but it’s expected, and in which multiple pathways can lead to discovery and achievement.

As you know, kids look to adults for much more than information.  They look to us for examples of how to behave, how to learn, and how to communicate.  Modeling learning as a process that begins with curiosity and moves through exploration, one that’s enhanced by positive partnerships, and one in which trial, error, adaptation, and the repetition of that cycle is critical for the achievement of intended outcomes, is a viable way to develop an effective learning culture in your classrooms and your schools.  Consistent modeling of active and engaged learning promotes active and engaged learning in those we serve.

They say that curiosity kills the cat.  They also say that the cat has nine lives. Maybe the cat is designed to try, and fail, and explore, and move forward, and try again, and fail again, and continue that way along a pathway of learning and growth until he reaches his ninth life.  Maybe each of our goals, and each of our intended outcomes has nine lives.  Maybe we can look to the cat for inspiration on how to achieve those goals and intended outcomes.  Let’s be sure that we don’t stop trying, even and especially when we fail.

One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Edison is, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to success is always to try just one more time.”  I think that modeling curiosity as a catalyst to learning and growth is a great way to give our student license for that kind of ongoing effort.  What do you think?  What do you know?  What do you think you know?  How do you model effective learning to your students?  Just curious.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

No One is Only One: Recognize, Appreciate, & Encourage Complexity

Yesterday I got to spend the evening at the park with my three munchkins.  A high energy and wonderful way to go that helped us all sleep soundly last night.  I love watching these siblings play together!  It’s amazing how my 1yr old daughter keeps up with her brothers.  I cant help thinking about the song lyrics, “Anything you can do I can do better,” when I’m watching her kick up dirt while scampering along after the two big guys who are rounding the bases following an imaginary home run.  This little girl is tough!  She’s also sweet, and smart, and sometimes shy, and curious, and all kinds of other things.  She’s complex.

Then there’s my 5yr old.  When he heard that we were going to move from the playground to the field so that we could eat our picnic dinner under one of the shaded tents, he shot off in a full on sprint.  This kid can run.  In soccer, he doesn’t seem to realize that the ball is supposed to go with him, but he’s by far the fasted one on the field.  And his excitement over running is palpable.  It’s almost like a turbo boost goes off.  His face purses up, his arms get going even before his little knees bend, then he shoots of like the road runner with a cloud of smoke lifting off the ground behind him.

Yesterday he bolted into the filed like he was chasing a gigantic cookie (the kid likes cookies…what kid doesn’t?).  All of the sudden, as if the gigantic cookie grew fangs and pounced on him, he let out a scream to beat all screams.  His pursed, excited look had been transformed into a face flushed with absolute terror.  Remember when you were little and a sibling jumped out from behind a wall, and then shouted, “Boo!”  Remember the rush of adrenaline and terror as you writhed in petrifying shock?  That’s what it looked like.

I said, “What happened?”  I thought maybe a bee sting, a rabid squirrel attack, who knows?  He shook and shouted, “It was chasing me!”

“What?” I asked with compassion.

“A butterfly!!!” He shouted.  He then compassionately turned to his little brother who was on his way into the same field and shouted, “Be careful of the butterflies!!”  Good looking out.

Knowing this child, it didn’t surprise me that he was susceptible to the terrifying advances of a rouge butterfly…he’s cautious let’s say.  He’s also really thoughtful, he’s as smart as they come, he’s creative, he’s loving, and all kinds of other things.  He’s complex.

Earlier in the day my 3yr old saw me doing some landscaping.  I had work boots on, I was dirty, I had all kinds of related tools, and I was focused on the task at hand.  He asked me, “Daddy, why are you a worker?”  He saw my outfit and my actions and connected those things to people he’s seen working in ways similar to the way that I was at the time.  He wanted to know what his daddy was at the moment.  Was I the guy whoes tie he helps take off in the evening, or am I the guy who’s digging in the dirt?

Later, he was lying on my chest.  We were just staring at each other making faces and laughing.  This is a kid who rarely sits still.  If he’s awake, he’s typically moving.  He’s loud and fast and not terribly gentle.  He typically leaves a line of broken lamps and falling picture frames in his path.  But when it comes to staring, making faces, and laughing, he can sit still for a while.  A few minutes in he asked, “Why do you have hair in your nose (a question that should be reserved for a kid and his dad)?”

I thought for a moment, and then started, “Because I’m….”

Then he chimed in, “…old?”  I suppose that’s part of it.

He’s wild at times, he’s calm at times, he insatiably curious, and he’s energized and excited at times.  I’m old at times, I’m young at times, I’m a worker at times, I’m a thinker at times, and sometimes I’m all kinds of other things.  We’re complex.

People are complex.  Complexity is like individualized diversity.  As parents and educational leaders I feel strongly that we should be working hard to recognize, appreciate, and encourage complexity in ourselves and in those we serve.  All too often we’re pigeonholed.  We sometimes speak in generalities and finalities, even though we know that all people have the ability to change as we grow.   And even though we know that we are each much more than meets the eye.

To throw one more in…we should not be judging books by their covers.  Let’s give everyone in our lives the benefit of the doubt.  Let’s not worry about complexities that seem worrisome, but instead, let’s be thoughtful about them, and consider how they relate to positive progress.  Let’s view them simply as aspects of personalities and portions of abilities, as opposed to defining and unwavering characteristics.  Let’s work to identify the strengths that are implicit in our complexities, and let’s celebrate that each one, butterfly sensitivity and tough little sister-ness alike, can contribute to our individual and collective learning and growth in miraculous ways!


Dream Big.  Work Herd.  Be Well.

Reflective Questioning To Build Capacity

Summer…it’s a time of water play, dirt digging, popsicles, concerts in the park, bike rides, long walks, barbeques, cool evening breezes, and so much more.  For educators, summer is accompanied by a unique brand of relaxation.  It’s not that we don’t work.  It’s that our work changes.  For me, one of those changes comes in the balance between reflective development and application.  During the school year, application is key.  During the school year I spend most of my time at a building filled with people; a joyful place to be; a wonderful way to function.  During the summer, I’m quite often working alone, or with small groups of people in planning or developmental sessions.

Frequently, during the summer, I get to put my brain to the task of considering the experiences I’ve had, the goals I intend to accomplish, the methods I might employ, the philosophies I hold, the core values that I function from, and various other aspects of the leadership, learning, and service pathways I’m on.  It’s work, but it’s a different kind of work.  A summer “break,” with the ability to stop and start, gives educators enhanced opportunities for critical reflection, it fosters continuous learning and growth, it perpetuates positive progress, it empowers us to dig deeper, and with all of the above as happy consequences…it provides unequalled time and space for thoughtful questioning.

Below are a few questions that I’ve been asking myself so far this summer.  I don’t have comprehensive answers, but I find that asking the questions and giving them some analytical thought is a good way to start.  I’d love to read your input on any and all if you’re so inspired to comment.

Among the goals I have for the upcoming school year are: the intentional development of my ability to perpetuate shared leadership, the building of an autonomy-supportive school culture, the empowering of individual and collective growth through independence and healthy interdependence, and the finding/using of effective strategies for authentically emphasizing every stakeholder’s value.

In what ways do I currently show those I serve that they are valued?  How can I enhance that practice as I grow in my leadership/learning capacity?

I know that I am not alone in the belief that shared leadership is fundamental to individual and collective achievement in any organization…arguably even more so in schools.  Schools are meant to be joyful learning spaces for diverse populations of stokeholds, primarily students, but including faculty, parents, and administrators.  Among the many critical issues to consider when leading a school community, none are more important than the valuing of people and building of positive relationships.  I find that listening with an open mind, thinking critically about input and ideas, and working hard to include all voices in forward progress helps perpetuate a genuine sense of value among those I serve.

What strategies can I use in my school community to perpetuate autonomy while maintaining the collective aim of student achievement, & learning/growth for all?

Autonomy is a key ingredient for learners of all ages, and so is collaboration.  I find that when we come to growth independently and collaboratively, we come to growth authentically.  As members of my learning community approach me with their thoughts and ideas during the upcoming school year, I plan to ask these types of questions:

“What can I do to support that effort?”

“How can I help as you explore that idea?”

“In what ways can I contribute to the pursuit of that vision?”

Then I plan to act on the subsequent answers, and work hard to promote collaboration as progress unfolds.

How can I best use my practice to positively impact those I serve?  What are some ways in which I can effectively communicate my learning philosophy/practice?

A love for learning via exploration, along with a commitment to facing setbacks as opportunities, is well taught by way of authentic modeling.  Through reflection, and with patience, I will continue working on exposing my process with intention.  Transparency, both in times of success and in times of challenge, is one way that school leaders can help others feel comfortable with the ups and downs of their individual and collective growth & development.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.