As we value the wonder and joy that curiosity brings to children’s learning experiences, school leaders must likewise keep curiosity at the center of our efforts. In fact, curiosity might just be the transformational difference between creating impact as a fixed-mindset manager or as a growth-focused leader. Faced with complex issues requiring adaptive solutions, curiosity feeds an educational leader’s ability to systematically lead with purpose.
To challenge the status quo.
To thoughtfully address root causes and to not simply and reactively target symptoms.
To appreciate not having all the answers, but rather, the desire and drive to constantly ask “Why?” and “Why not?”
Examining our schools through a cultural lens, for example, and ensuring we are leading with equity demands curiosity. Our backgrounds and experiences are often quite different from those throughout our school community, leading to diverse-yet altogether valid-perspectives. Curiosity about our individual and collective beliefs, values, identities, and expectations is necessary to address inequities and disparities across the educational landscape. With knowledge, understanding, and empathy, we are better prepared to address societal challenges within our own school buildings.
Working in education, with and against its demands, requires emotional intelligence and stamina. School leaders can slowly lose their curiosity, becoming entirely focused on the technical and mundane tasks that we can let dominate our to-do lists. This often results in fewer questions asked and more directives given. Less creativity and more checklists. Tunnel vision.
I have experienced this tunnel-vision myself. In my district, we thought we were more than adequately addressing tolerance, inclusion, diversity, and respect in our curriculum and culture. But when an angry parent acted confrontationally in a public meeting, I was faced with the choice to either dismiss or diminish this parent’s concerns or to get curious about them. Thankfully, I chose the latter route, and this curiosity revealed that, despite the solid focus within our curriculum on these issues, there was a disconnect between our intent and impact in our schools. There were ways we could do better!
Curiosity allowed me to ask questions like “Tell me why you feel that way?” and “How have you seen this impact your family?” It allowed me to not only come up with a collaborative solution for the child in question, but also address a greater perspective shift within our schools. As a leader, I was also able to get curious about my perception of myself and how this parent felt I was showing up.
Equipped with this new understanding and a team of engaged stakeholders, we committed to ensuring all voices were heard and included in all aspects of our community. We rallied around a sense of curiosity to engage us all in this important work. We set forth on a large-scale equity and inclusion model that has dramatically changed not only what and how we teach, but also how we better interact and respect each other. Setting out with curiosity, we better understood ourselves and others as leaders and learners. This curiosity served as an opportunity to collaborate, empower, and build trust.
So, how do we, as leaders of adult and child learners, maintain our curiosity?
Many schools create powerful student “buddy” and mentoring programs; peers able to connect, share, and listen. Likewise, district and school-based teacher mentoring opportunities allow colleagues to learn from each other, creating supportive and enriching environments for growth. By having mentors, our students and teachers collaborate in safe, judgment-free partnerships to learn and grow. No assessments, grades, evaluations, or pressure – formal, yet simple, peer relationships focused on remaining open and curious about possibilities.
Yet, what about school leaders? How do we ensure we constantly listen to other perspectives, question our own assumptions, and learn about new ideas? Where do we turn when emotions overwhelm, pressures mount, and we view checking off our to-do list as a substitute for accomplishing our greater goals? How do we remain the curious growth-focused leader we wish to be?
Professional coaching is a wide-ranging practice in numerous business industries, but it can be especially valuable for the education leader. Trained and invested in the leader and their context, the coach serves as an active listener. The coach does not solve problems, but rather facilitates reflection and deep critical thinking to consider options. The coach can also help identify emotions that may drive insufficient decisions built upon faulty assumptions. It ensures our impact matches our intent. This coaching model keeps our curiosity alive.
School leaders need support as we maneuver among the multitude of challenges presented in our educational settings. Leadership curiosity must be valued if we seek to create and sustain outstanding learning environments for all. Supporting those efforts, professional coaching is a critically important tool to strengthen our leadership commitment to our teachers, students, and community.