– A Statement on my Teaching Philosophy –
Created for EDUC 403
What It Means To Be Curious
Who am I as a learner and who am I becoming as a teacher?
In thinking about what it means to learn and to be a learner, there was one word that continuously crept into my consciousness: Curiosity. I am, by nature, a curious and inquisitive person. This has led me to explore life with a sense of wonder, adaptability, and a willingness to follow the path that intrigues me at the expense of the path that is safe. In coming to the teacher education program, I have thought deeply about the decisions and the moments that brought me to the discovery that I would like to be (and in some ways, already was) a teacher. I could never have predicted that this is where my life would lead, nor do I believe that I know where it is going. But I am firm in my decision to remain open to the possibilities. I am curious as to what the rest of my life may bring; I intrinsically value the process and not the result. I believe that curiosity as a model for learning is exactly that, it is the ability to find value in the process of discovering and understanding, not the single right answer at the end.
Curiosity has a childlike connotation. It is often seen in a diminutive light, in phrases like curiosity killed the cat, a gentle reminder to mind your own business or stop asking questions. It is seen as childlike to consistently question, to ask why, to challenge and negotiate the world. The refusal to accept things as just the way they are or simply because has often been treated as a lack of maturity or social understanding. In my mind, this is part of why I succeeded in spite of school rather than because of it. I learned to give the right answers, but what I really wanted to do was to pose different questions. My curiosity is what drew me so strongly to art in my studies. My BFA was truly an exploration in being curious, in a space where that questioning was not seen as immaturity but as a way of enhancing understanding.
Curiosity, like creativity, is something that I believe is taught out of us throughout our education. It cannot exist within what Diana Laufenberg calls “the culture of one right answer that can be properly bubbled onto the average multiple choice test” in her talk on Ted.com regarding student learning and the power of making mistakes. Loris Malaguzzi calls upon us to “…be able to play with the things that are coming out of the world of children. Each one of us needs to have curiosity, and we need to be able to try something new based on the ideas that we collect from the children as we go along.” (1994) While she is speaking about the nature of the teacher/learner relationship, I believe that this statement, this allowance for uncertainty, is applicable in all areas of life. “As life flows with the thoughts of the children, we need to be open, we need to change our ideas; we need to be comfortable with the restless nature of life.” (Malaguzzi, 1994) I could not have coined a better definition for what it means to be curious.
In my mind, the next important question would involve how one learns using curiosity as their guide. To me, living and learning curiously (for lack of a better term) is about thinking critically. It is about thinking of every interaction as a possibility for greater understanding. It involves openness to new things and a distinct understanding of who and where you are at a particular moment in time. This is something that I see in elementary school children quite often. It is difficult sometimes to conceptualize that a child in grade 4 may have a better conception of who or where they are in the world than I do. There is a humility necessitated in that, an understanding that learning doesn’t always present itself through an older, wiser teacher. In truth, it is through my interactions with my students that I have had some of my greatest revelations about myself and those around me. It is in this knowledge that I have come to appreciate the learning process differently. In speaking about the need for revolution in our educational system, Sir Ken Robinson reflected that “education, in a way, dislocates very many people from their natural talents. And human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them. They’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.” (2010) I believe the same is true for creativity and curiosity. We need to create moments for those skills to flourish, to remain in practice.
This notion of being curious has led me to explore what it means to be a teacher. I believe that a true teacher is a dedicated learner. Without a passion for learning, both inspiring it in others and promoting it within ourselves, we cannot hope to teach. We must view our students as teachers in their own rights. “Observing in this way offers tremendous benefits. It requires a shift in the role of the teacher from an emphasis of teaching to an emphasis on learning, teachers learning about themselves as teachers as well as teachers learning about children.” (Malaguzzi, 1994) To be truly curious about our students and the world around us, we must listen. My experience in art education has reaffirmed the importance of listening. I can have a brilliant lesson plan, but it is nothing compared to the power of a room full of students exploring a concept on their own terms. Moments like those are only possible when I am an open listener, when I embody curiosity. Diana Laufenberg sums it up perfectly in her discussion of a movie making project she explored with her class. “I asked them to put their own voice over it. It was the most awesome moment of revelation that when you ask kids to use their own voice and ask them to speak for themselves, what they’re willing to share. The last question of the assignment is: how do you plan to use your life to positively impact other people? The things that kids will say when you ask them and take the time to listen is extraordinary.” (2010) I do not believe that a curious teacher can ever approach their students from a deficiency model, there is far too much to learn from them.
Many of the philosophies that I bring forward into the classroom center on this idea of curiosity. They are deeply rooted in the belief that teachers are learners and that one process cannot be separated from another. “A cultured teacher not only has a multidisciplinary background, but possesses the culture of research, of curiosity, of working in a group: the culture of project-based thinking. Above all, we need teachers who feel that they truly belong to and participate in this process, as teachers but most of all as people.” (Renaldi, 2006) I hope to be one of the teachers who is a part of the learning process rather than the authority of knowledge. I hope to pose questions and create opportunities for my students to explore their understandings of the world. In discussing tact, van Manen states that “A tactful educator realizes that it is not the child but the teacher who has to cross the street in order to go to the child’s side.” (1991) It is one of my goals to bring that sense of tact, of enthusiasm and discovery, to the student’s side. I would like us to learn together, not in isolation from one another.
One of the things that struck me while reflecting upon my journey through the teaching program thus far has been the power of experiential learning. Of what can happen when we allow students to build upon their knowledge by using it directly. It requires an understanding that students have great resources to offer; to themselves, to one another and to the community at large. It sees them as whole people and it requires a great deal of trust. Trust in the process, trust in the importance of the experience, and trust in the students to create meaning. We must consider “what learning can look like in a landscape where we let go of the idea that kids have to come to school to get the information, but instead, ask them what they can do with it. Ask them really interesting questions. They will not disappoint. Ask them to go to places, to see things for themselves, to actually experience the learning, to play, to inquire.” (Laufenberg, 2010) In my experience, when students are asked to be agents in their own learning, they consistently exceed expectations.
The idea that students have the ability to exceed your expectations through learning experientially has its core in the understanding of students as people. Children are more than just not adults. As Sir Ken Robinson points out “You know, a three year-old is not half a six year-old.” (2010) That simple statement underscores to me, the vast pedagogical changes that come about when you believe that your students are not lacking, but full of their own knowledge and understandings. A three year-old is not a deficient six year-old. In fact, I find it incredible the amount of knowledge that students bring with them, but also their ability to adapt and grow based on new concepts. Children are incredibly flexible and when given the chance are prone to fits of unbridled curiosity and creativity. There must be an appreciation for the act of teaching as an act of learning about the students in our classrooms and how they see themselves in the world. Children have the astounding ability to be truly present in a moment; it is one of my goals to become present with my students as they are present with me. As van Manen encourages, I believe that I must explore “perceiving and listening oriented to the uniqueness of the child, using a multiplicity of perspectives, considerations, and vantage points to try to gain a vision and pedagogical understanding of the child.” (1991)
The model of experiential learning is coupled with an understanding that the process of learning is the most important – rather than the result. For me, it is a model that thinks not of assessment as a linear tool, something to happen at the end of the journey, but something that happens as a part of the journey. The “one right answer” model that was discussed earlier sees no value in the process or the development of understanding. In many ways, I think that it sees little value in meaningful learning. In striving for a singular conclusion, we negate all of the potential for students to learn by doing, by making mistakes and even failing. Some of the most significant growth in my life has been in response to the adversity of failure. By removing the stigma from the word failure, that it is simply a thing that happens and not a state of being, opportunities for growth and greater risk taking abound. “At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and of intelligence. This linearity thing is a problem” (Robinson, 2010) By seeing failure or success not as a sense of ability or intelligence, but as a part of the experiential learning process, classrooms can exist as safe places for taking risks and trying new things. It can foster curiosity rather than quiet it.
Laufenberg highlights the change in information gathering in our digital age, where students are no longer coming to school to simply receive information. With the advent of the internet, information is at our fingertips. It can be accessed anytime and anywhere. The true challenge that we face as educators is to find a way to help our students make meaning out of the information and knowledge that is in the world. “If we continue to look at education as if it’s about coming to school to get the information and not about experiential learning, empowering student voice and embracing failure, we’re missing the mark.” (Laufenberg, 2010) I believe that we owe it to our students to challenge them, to provoke them and to excite them in applying their knowledge to the world around them. To learn that failure is not a state of being, that they are rich in their own knowing, and that their voices deserve to be heard. We owe it to our students to engage in what van Manen calls “thinkingly acting” (1991) where we bring tact into our classrooms and the understandings of our students. I think we owe it to our students (and to ourselves) to never stop learning, stop thinking and stop doing.
“And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.” Sir Ken Robinson (2010)
Ayers, William (2001). To teach: The journey of a teacher. New York, NY Teachers College Press. (excerpt from Chapter 1)
Laufenberg, Diana (2010, December) How to learn? From mistakes. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/diana_laufenberg_3_ways_to_teach.html
Malaguzzi, Loris (1994, March/April). Your image of the child: Where teaching begins. Child Care Information Exchange.
Renaldi, C (2006). Documentation and assessment: What is the relationship? Dialogue with Reggio Emilia. London & New York, NY Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. (excerpt from pp. 61-73)
Robinson, Sir Ken (2010, February). Bring on the learning revolution! [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html
van Manen, M (1991). Pedagogical tact. The tact of teaching: The meaning of pedagogical thoughtfulness. London, On: Althouse Press. (excerpt from pp. 149-186)