From the moment of our birth, we are curious. It is how our brain has programmed us to survive. Babies touch, explore, and taste to learn and understand their environment. Toddlers interminably ask questions. But too often, in the quest for grades and good scores on high-stakes tests, the urge to satisfy curiosity is overwhelmed by the need to produce the right answer. Albert Einstein famously said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” And knowing the right answer is not a preparation for life.
Correct answers say you know what has been done before. Innovation and growth come from thoughtful questions, and not questions which can be answered with a Google search or by asking Alexa. In fact, they might never be answered, but the pursuit will bring new knowledge and understanding – and perhaps more questions.
How can we apply this in our work as librarians and to ourselves? In our super busy lives, our own curiosity has been diminished. Who has time to go down a research rabbit hole (curiouser and curiouser, indeed) to explore a topic of interest? And yet, curiosity is how we continue to learn and grow. It feeds us intellectually in a way food does intellectually.
To satisfy our curiosity, Diana Kander suggests we cultivate Deliberate Curiosity. Being deliberate connotes focus and mindfulness. She proposes 3 Questions CEOs Should Ask to Practice Deliberate Curiosity. Answering these questions can speed up our growth and help us achieve our goals. You may not think of yourself as a CEO, but when it comes your library, your role as the one guiding and standing for the Vision and Mission makes you just that. Kander asks us to consider:
- What are your blind spots? We have become more aware of having blind spots as we look at our implicit biases, but we have many more places where Kander says there are “gaps in how we see the world.” If you’re curious where yours are, try asking for feedback. Frame your questions to give you honest, worthwhile answers. Don’t ask teachers if your collaborative lesson went well. Ask what you could have done better, what they learned, or where they struggled. Ask students which part of the lesson they liked – and which they didn’t.
- How will you know what’s not working? Kander refers to the advice often given to authors to “kill your darlings,” and labels projects that yield far less than the effort that goes into them as “zombies.” Do you have a favorite unit or project you look forward to every year? When was the last time you revisited it? If it takes a lot of time but isn’t giving you the results you need, it could be a zombie. Your administrator assesses you each year, but you need to do a self-assessment. Have you fully integrated EDI into your program? Do your programs support your Mission statement? Do stakeholders know what ethical principles are foundational to your program? How well are you communicating with all stakeholders? Answering these kinds of questions will help you get curious about what is and isn’t working.
- How do you create accountability? We have become far too accustomed to doing things alone. As the African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” You need a mentor, or, better yet, mentors, a professional learning network (PLN) and other supportive resources. Get curious about where you can reach out and talk to leaders. Think of the people in your life you trust. You’ll want even more than feedback from them. You want to bounce ideas off them and hear their suggestions. And you want them to hold you to your goals once you set them. They’ll also help you get curious and creative about how to improve by asking what is missing that needs to be included or what is new that should be and hasn’t been incorporated. Schedule regular time with these mentors. It doesn’t have to be long, and it could be monthly or done with a check in of some type. The important thing is to be accountable to them – and yourself.
Don’t let your curiosity wither. Be deliberate at including it in your life and your program. Combine curiosity with knowledge and see how your program thrives.