Curiosity matters… don’t give up!

Today’s blog post is all about Curiosity

For as long as I can remember, I have been inspired by teachers. Teachers got me reading, told me to pull up my socks (sometimes literally) and to push me from good to great. Teachers persevered and coached me into working through algebraic formulae, a skill I have now archived into a dusty part of my brain. Teachers reminded me that lifelong learning is a pre-requisite for a life worth living, along with sustenance, sunshine, relationships and books.

I decided to write my first blog post on curiosity after hearing the news last Wednesday that Stephen Hawking had died. I thought about what I knew about his life and how his words on curiosity encapsulated much of my thoughts.

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes a universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t give up.
Stephen Hawking

As a child, I was lucky to be part of a large family of curious people who sought to find out about the world. I spent most of my younger years outside playing on the street. If not outside, I was in the library or curled up somewhere warm – reading.   The world was a place which I was very curious about, and without the internet at my fingertips I sought answers from books and from my observations.

My curiosity and desire to engage with a learning community is what led me to becoming a teacher; I wanted to instil this curiosity in a younger generation. I sought to make my classroom an interesting place to be. My pupils learnt through practical application. Learning from the past and recognising how their learning could shape the future. By teaching pupils to be curious I knew the saying ‘the world is your oyster’ could be realised.

In 2016, Stephen Hawking spoke about an inspirational teacher – Dikran Tahta who helped inspire him.

In recognition of the need for curiosity and to mark the passing of Stephen Hawking, in my assembly at the end of last week I showed the children this photo and asked them what they thought it was.

From the centre of an eyeball, to piece of black paper over white paper, the answers came thick and fast.   They showed that their curiosity sparked by a simple image of a ‘black hole’ and were not held back in the need to have the right answer.

I have since found out that there is no true photographic evidence of black holes and that a team of scientists are currently piecing together what could be the first image of a supermassive black hole.

Stephen Hawking - Solar Eclipse

A lack of photographic evidence did not stop Stephen Hawking from being curious about the world. His challenging illness did not stop him continuing with his learning and his work on black holes. His curiosity led him to work with a quantum of scientists (or theory of scientists), he challenged his thinking and those of others.

But for many teachers today, curiosity can be lost in a sea of targets, data and paper. And in the daily effort to get on with the job, a teacher can lose sight of the shore and tread water. In our efforts to get on with a job we can forget the reasons why teaching is so important. We refuse to enter the unknown and stop being curious about our world.

Not knowing and being excited about the unknown is described beautifully in the book ‘Not Knowing’ by Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner. The book leads you on a journey into the unknown and how to use the unknown to your best advantage.

In the book the authors discuss Finisterre, the final destination on the Il Camino, the famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. ‘Finis Terra is Latin for the end of the world.

The chapter goes onto describe how being close to the edge of what we know can be scary or exciting.

How we react at the edge- whether we chose to stay there or turn our backs and run- will determine whether our relationships with the unknown might be full of dread or full of potential. The edge is a crucial point where the future of our relationship with the unknown hangs in the balance.

A powerful way in which school leaders can support teachers to be curious is by engaging a coaching model for their schools.

I know that coaching can re-ignite curiosity. The coaching space can provide time for an individual to step into the ‘black hole’ or ‘the unknown’, doing so without fear or judgement. Once there they can and look to find out what they know, what they might know, who to turn to for support and then make a plan of action. Coaching can help us lean into the unknown, testing the water like Stephen Hawking and getting excited about not knowing.

Each coach session develops curiosity not only for the person being coached but for the coach too. The incidental conversation at the start of a coach session, the deep and meaningful sections of stretch mid-session and in action planning for the future, help keep us all curious about people and ourselves.  

So for all school leaders out there, consider coaching as a way to build a curious workforce.

And for all teachers out there, continue to ignite the curiosity in pupils, just as Stephen Hawking’s teacher did for him. Be curious about yourself and the world.

And to change his words very slightly –

Curiosity matters… don’t give up.