I recently committed to writing a post for my friend @ajjuliani on the topic of Intellectual Curiosity. In doing so, I reflected on my own school experience as both an educator and as a student and the role intellectual curiosity plays in the overall learning experience of the struggling student.
Over the last twenty years, I have spent a great deal of time working with students who many educators would define as “reluctant learners.” Others may categorize these same students as apathetic due to their absence of interest or concern about school. And sadly, some would say that they were incapable of doing work at what we would define as grade level work. Regardless of how we choose to define our kids, it is clear that our students who struggle with learning pose the greatest challenges. But does it have to be that way?
I have often shared with many folks that I had a poor educational school experience which is why I am naturally drawn to students who struggle in school. I can recall countless times in school feeling like I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t smart enough, that maybe school just wasn’t for me. Yet, over the years each time I looked back on my school experience, I recognized I did not always feel this way. I have shared with others on many occasions that I cherished my elementary school experience. My best school memories revolve around my elementary school days and can be attributed to my teachers who truly believed in and cared about me. They left such an impression on me that a few years ago I returned to my hometown to attend a retirement luncheon because I found out three of my elementary teachers were retiring. So what happened? It is hard for me to pinpoint the exact time or year that things began to turn for me personally. What I can tell you is that my high school and undergraduate college experiences left in me a confidence void which still impacts me as a learner today.
Ironically, I have spent the last sixteen years as a high school administrator and during that time, I have spent countless hours talking to kids and trying to make sense of why some kids are successful and why some students are not. What I have learned over the years is there are three areas which are interrelated and trapped within intellectual curiosity:
– students often share with me they do not feel connected. We must recognize that building meaningful and purposeful relationships with students and sustaining those connections throughout a child’s school experience works. We know that, yet we fail to put in system structures to ensure that all, not just some, students are cared for on a more personal level at school.
– we either believe all students have the potential to learn at a level that reflects success or we don’t. My observation tells me we still have some teachers, administrators, parents and students who don’t believe this to be true for all kids. For most yes, but I am talking about all kids; the gap (of students) where we shake our heads and say “I don’t think they can learn this.” It pains me every time I hear this to the point of defensiveness because it takes me back to my school days when I struggled, yet wanted so badly to be able to show my teachers and professors I could DO IT!
– in my personal experience over the years of working with kids, this is the number one reason why kids fail – they lack confidence. Whether it is in the area of academics, fine arts, or athletics, the inability to believe in one self is the greatest contributor to why students fail. I often tell teachers the key to success for their students is to build their confidence to the level they believe they can do it. The ability to create a mindset with kids that all things are possible with a belief in one self, complimented with a strong work ethic and determination is a major factor in a student’s success in both in school and in life.
Regardless of their personal history or circumstances (both good and bad), we can help kids overcome those obstacles and provide a positive school experience for them where they feel connected, capable, and confident
in their abilities. If we want kids to take responsibility for their own learning, then we must create an environment where their curiosity can be nurtured and developed in a way that we build their capacity to want to learn for learning sake. We can no longer hold our children hostage by labeling them as “apathetic” as though they have no desired interest or curiosity to learn. On the contrary, we are the reluctant ones if we choose not to take action.
Be the change!
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams