All children enter this world with an innate curiosity. Kids are hardwired to explore, to ask questions, to experiment. Intuitively they develop and inhabit imaginary worlds where they play, create, and dream. Adults do not teach these skills to children. Instead, something about what makes us human, what makes us people, is tied to this curiosity.
And then, kids go to school.
Traditionally, and quite unintentionally, it turns out that schools are much better at stifling curiosity than encouraging it. Although student safety, equity, inclusion, test scores, and yearly progress towards benchmarked goals are all very important, I believe it is possible to create an environment, create a school, where each student’s natural curiosity is able to flourish. We can do this by creating student centered classrooms. By developing rules and policies at the class and school level that prioritize inquiry, creativity, and student directed learning. Will this be, at times, chaotic? Yes. Will this, at times, be loud? Of course.The cost of prioritizing student-centered learning, of emphasizing inquiry and problem solving, is to put an end to the quiet claustrophobia of conformity. It is possible to create this type of learning environment and put in place the structures to ensure that every student is successful and prepared for an unknown future.
The world our students will enter as young adults is filled with problems that today’s leaders have been unable to solve. These problems – political instability, climate crisis, over population, food scarcity – will not be solved by students who attended schools that emphasized route learning and conformity. Instead, these problems will be solved by students whose curiosity evolved into inquiry, who learned to collaborate with diverse individuals, who spent their time in schools taking risks, who learned to try novel solutions to complex issues, who watched their hard work – at times – lead to failure, who developed the resilience to try again and again and again. Through it all, teachers and leaders should be there to facilitate, encourage, mentor, and guide students as they learn these 21st century skills. As educational leaders and teachers it is our responsibility to create learning environments that not only embrace that all students can succeed, but to create the schools where this success ultimately gives students the greatest chance of success in a world that has not yet been fully realized.