Curiosity is certainly changing for us as a culture.
“In adults, diversive curiosity manifests itself as a restless desire for the new and the next.” (Ian Leslie, 2015)
This is the kind of curiosity we find ourselves usually practicing as we scroll through websites, tweets and headlines. We are hooked, as a society, on quick, stimulating information coming at us at such a speed that we get lost in a sea of information.
This is not a state of mind that I need for this new school year.
Instead, Ian Leslie, author of the brilliant new book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, introduces an opposite kind of curiosity – epistemic curiosity – which requires perseverance in exploring a specific area of focus.
”Epistemic Curiosity (not just seeking the new but building stocks of knowledge) requires focus, persistence and discipline. And teachers and parents have to work hard to help kids work at it. And as adults, of course, we have to keep working at that ourselves.”
~ Ian Leslie, speech from July 11, 2014, as posted on ian-leslie.com
This kind of deep curiosity is a challenge for many of us in education. It is easy to shy away from work that requires depth and sustained effort because our year is fast and frantic most days. Our work is also highly complex and potentially exhausting. We’d like to argue, however, that choosing a question and spending a bit of time each week deeply curious about that area of focus is actually worth our time. We even think it’s so important that it just might change our whole year.
Following are 5 reasons why a “new year’s resolution” to practice deep curiosity might be a game changer for educators.
#1: Practicing Deep Curiosity is a Healthy Struggle
It requires effort. In that, it brings us closer to our students. Deep, reflective learning around a single question might help us know better how to cultivate that same level of sustained effort in our learners.
“The rewards of curiosity have never been higher, but our ideas about how curiosity works are muddled and misguided. … We confuse the practice of curiosity with ease of access to information and forget that real curiosity requires the exercise of effort. We focus on the goals of learning rather than valuing learning for itself. Epistemic curiosity is in danger of becoming the province of cognitive elites, with far too many of us losing or never learning the capacity to think deeply about a subject or person. In a world where vast inequalities in access to information are finally being leveled, a new divide is emerging – between the curious and the incurious.” (From Curiosity by Ian Leslie, p. xxii)
It’s alarming to consider that some of our students may never exercise the capacity to think deeply about a subject. To hear that epistemic curiosity may be the dividing line between the cognitive “haves” and “have nots” makes this no less than a issue of social justice. Colleagues, this is a call to action – to choose to live the struggle of focused curiosity for ourselves in order to model this for our learners this year! Let’s symbolically “put the oxygen mask on ourselves first” so we can better help our students with this cognitive breath of life.
#2: Curiosity Has Been Proven to Enhance Learning
There is now brain research that supports the fact that curiosity stimulates learning and actually creates chemical reactions in the brain. This NPR article summarizes a study of brain imaging when participants were curious before learning new content.
“When the participants’ curiosity was piqued, the parts of their brains that regulate pleasure and reward lit up. Curious minds also showed increased activity in the hippocampus, which is involved in the creation of memories. ‘There’s this basic circuit in the brain that energizes people to go out and get things that are intrinsically rewarding,’ Ranganath explains. This circuit lights up when we get money, or candy. It also lights up when we’re curious. When the circuit is activated, our brains release a chemical called dopamine, which gives us a high. ‘The dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning.’” (Singh, 2014)
Fascinatingly, the researchers found later that, those who were more curious were more likely to remember the learning. What a compelling argument to exercise the act of deep curiosity this year and model this for our students!
#3: Curiosity Builds Excitement and Passion
If we love what we do, we do it with more gusto than anything we’ve done. We can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning for the excitement the day may hold. When we choose to ask a question and become deeply curious about a topic, it puts us in the driver’s seat of our learning and gives us control of what that looks like.
Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.” ~ Samuel Johnson
Educators can get a bit bogged down by all the initiatives they are “told” to do….or the professional development that is predetermined for them without any input on their part. By choosing to commit to personally exploring something, our learning is energized. This passion and excitement comes from the creative juices that flow when we are in our element.
As Peter Johnston reminded us is the book Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning (2004), humans have a need for autonomy. Autonomy is defined as the state of being independent, free or self-directed. What a beautiful image.
If this is a need for our students, couldn’t a greater level of autonomous learning be a valuable endeavor for educators? Autonomy is an important fertilizer for deep curiosity to grow. This drive for autonomy is one reason why a group of educators are committing to choosing a question that is important to us and living that question in a sustained way this year. We hypothesize that this will have a significant impact on our passion and our work in our schools. But we can’t do this alone because…
#4: Curiosity Thrives in Community
Deeply curious individuals seek out collaboration with other curious minds. When you are actively curious, you want to find others who may share your same passion. You build partnerships with others, developing collegial communities with whom you connect. They drive you, push you to be your best and challenge you to go further in your thinking. And we need that kind of accountability to sustain curiosity over time.
In this inspiring Ted Talk, medical researcher, Laura Green, calls for more conversation around curiosity and discoveries.
“What if we could redefine the word ‘science’? What if we took that simple curiosity and then gave it the tools to be sure we are speaking the same language? What we are left with is actually quite simple. I want to disrupt this idea that science is by scientists, for scientists – because everyone has the power to be curious. I need you, my community, to be excited by science so our kids are excited by science. They are our next generation of discoverers. I need you to ask ‘why?’ and seek quality information and then discuss it with your neighbors – because a connected community, armed with knowledge, can tackle anything… Let’s connect our curiosities and see what we can discover.” (Green, 2014)
What about you? Do you have someone in your professional life that could be your curiosity accountability partner? If so, share a question you are wondering with them, ask them to check in on you, and schedule times for conversations. Accountability and discussion are the magic to keeping the focus even when we are tempted to move on to the new and the next. And if you don’t feel like you have someone who could be that partner in your professional life, keep reading for an invitation below…
#5: It’s Good for the Soul (and the Mind, too)
Happiness experts tote the importance of building connections and relationship with others. So while you are feeding your brain with healthy curiosity, you are feeding your soul as well. Reasons 1-4 above work to increase our overall satisfaction with our work and, in turn, that leads to a greater sense of happiness and fulfillment.
Even Einstein often described curiosity as a matter of the heart and soul.
“People like you and I, though mortal of course, like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live. What I mean is that we never cease to stand like curious children before the great Mystery into which we were born.”
~Albert Einstein — To Otto Juliusburger, September 29,1942.
So this year, let’s make a mindful commitment to get focused, centered, and curious! This may feel like a step outside the box for us in education because we have grown accustomed to our work being almost scripted for us. But it’s time to get a little “weird” and do something outside the norm.
If you wish to take this “new year’s resolution” on with us, then what might be a question worthy of your time and focus? Be intentional with your curiosity this year and don’t let it go. And, if you work better with a little accountability or support (as is often he case with resolutions) take a look at what we created for you here: bit.ly/livecuriosity.
How might deep, intentional curiosity impact our thinking, our conversations, our teaching craft, our students? Try this experience with us for a year and let’s marvel together at how far we’ve come at the end of our journey.