For life-long learners and leaders, curiosity is often the inspiration that makes you better and more knowledgeable about everything in your life. We are one of our students’ role models for lifelong learning and therefore must be continuously curious. Whether it’s new ideas or technology, we should always be on a quest to discover and learn . And it doesn’t stop there. Curiosity extends to building our relationships as it helps us to be more knowledgeable about and connected to the people in our lives.
As librarians, we often explore new ideas to see if they have merit or are being embraced simply because they are new (Fidget Spinners, anyone?) whether at the request of students and teachers or because of our own interests. We look to sources outside our field to find out what is being done or discussed and seek to learn whether it might have valuable applications for our students and teachers. The knowledge we gain we bring to our students and share with our teachers.
The more regularly we do this, the more they rely on us to be able to help them. For students, this means guiding them to the best resources for their assignments or a new book or author to read. For teachers, it means we show them new ways to engage their students in learning and to be more successful in what they are working toward. We build awareness of our value each time we bring the fruits of our curiosity into our school library.
Many years ago when rubrics were just beginning to be used in education, a teacher came to me for help creating one. At the time I had never done one, although I was acquainted with what they were. We sat down together and developed what she needed. Not wanting to confess to her supervisor that she didn’t know how to design a rubric, she chose me because from our previous interactions she trusted I was both knowledgeable and safe.
If we want our students to be lifelong learners, we need to help them develop their curiosity as well. Children are born curious. Our brains are designed that way. It’s how we learn. Anyone who has been around a two-year-old knows they are constantly asking why. Author Arnold Edinborough said, “Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.” Learning is not the memorization of facts, it’s using those facts for a purpose.
Unfortunately, the structure of many schools effectively curtails this vital instinct. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “It’s a miracle curiosity survives formal education.” This is truer than ever as high-stakes tests have focused teaching energy on correct answers. It is our job to reach that innate curiosity that is in danger of being lost.
Curiosity propels civilization forward. I have said that knowing the answers only proves one has mastered the content. But that was already learned. It is when we or our students take that information and ask new questions that don’t have answers yet, that knowledge moves forward. Bernard Baruch said it better, “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.”
We want our students not only to ask “Why?” but also “What if?” They need to have opportunities to wonder and see where that takes them. Through cooperative or collaborative inquiry-based learning experiences, we can engage students’ curiosity in topics that interest them and lead them to discover answers not in textbooks. In this way, they become better prepared for whatever the world has in store for them.
In addition to being curious about ideas and things, good leaders are also curious about people. They go beyond the surface mask most people wear in their daily interactions. They want to know who more about their colleagues, what they care about, and what motivates them.
Curiosity is also a factor in Emotional Intelligence. While you can perceive the feelings of others with some success based on their outward persona, you will be more successful in using emotions if you know more about the people you are dealing with. The more you know, and to learn you must be curious enough to ask, the easier it is to build relationships.
When I say we need to be curious about the people in our world, I don’t mean being nosy. It’s about caring about them and their situation. It’s being empathetic.
I have told the story about seeing a teacher walking through the halls with her shoulders slumped: her entire body language conveying misery. While I was perceiving her emotions, I had no clue as to the cause. Her first answer when I asked what was wrong was to claim she had an argument with her department chair. I knew her past and her successes – no way was a disagreement with her department chair the occasion for such a reaction.
I invited her into the library to relax and have a cup of coffee and then asked for the real reason she was so unhappy. She confessed her only child, who had done so well at school, had become a heroin addict. She feared for his life. It was not an easy confession to make, but it helped her unburdened.
There was no advice I could give her, but I could be a listening ear. A confidential one. While we had a comfortable relationship before, this new connection deepened it. It led to more collaboration on research projects, but that was not the reason why I reached out to her.
A caring, curiosity was my motivating force in asking this teacher for a deeper truth. Empathy and curiosity often go hand-in-hand, but they never should be used to manipulate others or you have negated the empathy.
We live so much in a task-filled world, spending our day in “doing,” we devote little time to wondering—being curious. Embrace your natural curiosity in all things. Ask more questions. Look for more creative answers. And get to really know the people you work with. Life will be more interesting and you will be a better leader.