The Principal's Office
Leadership. Collaboration. Innovation.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Disrupt-EdTV studio last week where I had the opportunity to share some ideas about how to creating a culture of curiosity in schools. Below is a snapshot of what I discussed......
“There are two types of schools. There are schools that prepare students for their future, and there are those that allow adults to live comfortably in the past.” (Insert mic drop here.) This quote by Weston Kieschnick, author of Bold School, sparks quite the debate about the state of education today. There is no doubt that education is changing. Are schools? As educators, we need to ensure that we are preparing students for a future that they are prepared for, not one that we as adults are comfortable with. Students are going to need to think critically, be creative, be able to communicate effectively with others, ask questions and be resilient. It is our responsibility as educational leaders and teachers that we are embrace a culture of curiosity, innovation and excellence. It may require us to reach outside our comfort zone but the reality is, our future is depending on it. Being disruptive in education means pushing the status quo and understanding that being uncomfortable may be the norm if it prepares our students for their future. There are some fundamental principles that you can put in place in order to create schools that thrive in a culture of curiosity and innovation.
Put an emphasis on building relationships. One of the reasons that I became an educator was because of the positive relationships that I had with my teachers throughout my life. They took a vested interest in me. It wasn’t just about my grades or their class. They got to know my strengths,weaknesses, interests and values. When I knew that my teachers believed in me, I wanted to do well not just for me, but for them. Students walk into our schools and our classrooms every day, looking for someone to believe in them. Before any learning happens, take time to foster relationships with your students. There is no greater influence on the success of your school than creating a culture where students feel safe, valued and supported.
Ask the right questions. Too often students go through a school day without answering a question or worse yet, asking one. If we are to create schools that are preparing students for their future, we need to ask questions that require students to think beyond recall. We need to push to levels of synthesis and analysis that require students to think critically. However, a critical aspect of creating a culture of curiosity is teaching students how to ask questions. In The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros says that “Innovation starts not by providing answers but by asking questions.”
As teachers we must also ask ourselves questions in order to ensure that we are meeting the needs and expectations of our students. Couros goes on to provide critical questions for innovative educators to ask themselves:
● Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
● What is best for this student?
● What is this student’s passion?
● What are ways we can create a true learning community where teachers and students are learning together?
● How is what you are doing working for the student?
If we are expecting our students to ask the right questions in our classrooms, we should be asking ourselves questions about whether or not we are doing what is in the best interests of our students and pushing them beyond what they think they are capable of doing.
Students need a voice and choice. The availability of technology has opened the door to endless possibilities for students to learn and grow. Technology evens the playing field for students of all abilities, skills and talents. Providing opportunities for students to research, explore, communicate, translate, create, modify and share allows them to take ownership of their learning that might not have been possible before. Allowing students to demonstrate mastery by providing options can highlight abilities of students who may not always be the most talkative, or the ones who may be more visual, or the artistic students or students who have difficulty working in groups. Providing choice to demonstrate learning gives all students a voice to own their own learning. The goal is empowering students to want to pursue learning beyond the classroom.
Embrace the “struggle.” Students (and parents) have been trained to believe that grades are the sole determination of a child’s success in school. School becomes more about chasing grades than what the grade truly represents. If we, as educators, are going to disrupt education, we must seek to move learning from “grade focused” to “improvement focused.” Students must learn to “embrace the struggle.” It is in failure where true learning happens. Learning from mistakes teaches resiliency and persistence. Schools must seek to cultivate a “growth mindset” in students where they believe they can grow. If we are going to prepare students for their future, classrooms need to emphasize the process of learning. Generating ideas, brainstorming, creating, testing, modifying, and re-doing should become daily practice in classrooms. When learning isn’t mastered, the answer a student gives should not be, “I don’t know.” It should be, “I don’t know…..yet. I’m going to find out.” Change the way we interact with students. Empower them. Make school an exciting place to learn and grow.
Invest in professional development. Whether you are an administrator or a teacher, there is no greater investment you can make in your students than a strong professional development program. A professional development program is not a few days built into the school calendar. It is a comprehensive, structured year long experience that offers varied opportunities to learn. Whether it is teacher driven workshops at faculty meetings, book studies, “power PD” at lunch or afterschool, teacher edcamps, twitter chats, voxer, podcasts, or simply observing your colleagues, there are so many opportunities to learn and to grow. As educators, we cannot sit back and let professional development be irrelevant. As Rich Czyz says in his book, Four O’Clock Faculty, “If we are to improve as educators, it is imperative that each of us takes responsibility for our own professional learning.” When teachers make the most out of their own learning, we are able to provide experiences for students that awaken their natural curiosity, creates a professional culture of growth, mastery and sets a myopic focus on student achievement.
There are some “in the trenches” that say, “Sure, this all sounds great in theory where we are creating innovative schools and students are creative and resilient, but it isn’t always reality.” I believe it can be. It begins with accepting the challenge to make schools a place where students and teachers foster positive relationships and shift the focus from “grades” to “mastery” and from “memorization” to “application.” It continues with embracing a “growth mindset” that is not only “improvement based” but actually encourages students to learn from “failure.” Schools need to be a place where teachers and students are learning and growing together. When all stakeholders feel supported and encouraged, there is no telling the levels of achievement that can be reached. Are you uncomfortable thinking about it? Good. It is time to disrupt education and create a culture of curiosity in schools. You may think your school is not ready. The reality is, your school is not ready…..yet. They are waiting for you. Get after it!
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator and current Principal of Pequannock Township High School in NJ, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.