How School Leaders Can Create a Culture of Curiosity
To be a Montessorian is to be curious.
But with the multitude of daily tasks and obligations teachers and school administrators face, curiosity can sometimes fall by the wayside.
Prioritizing curiosity breeds better learning environments for students. When curiosity is embraced by a head of school, the power of questioning spreads, creating a community of lifelong learners.
Encourage Inquiry and Exploration Through Modeling
Modeling the perpetual pursuit of knowledge emboldens students and staff to do the same.
Eric Dustman, head of school at the Montessori School of Maui (MOMI), is the epitome of a lifelong learner. A frequent attendee and presenter of workshops and conferences, when Eric isn’t supporting his team of teachers, he’s often reading a wide array of content, not just pedagogy. And these days, he’s also writing.
Eric recently published his first book, From the Head: A Resource of Letters to Motivate, Inspire, and Affirm Leaders, featuring a series of letters sent over the years to faculty and parents at MOMI in his weekly “recaps.”
Initially developed as a way of introducing himself to families, Eric uses the recurring recaps as an opportunity to share topics he’s passionate about, including empathy, connection, and relationships. By sharing his ideas, he encourages those within his community to pause and reflect.
Not only do his recaps spread ideas worth sharing, but through his writing he also demonstrates his own natural curiosity, modeling the behavior for others. The recaps also serve as conversation starters for the community, often leading to dialogue amongst staff and families. It has become a weekly ritual that sparks school-wide learning and exploration.
Support Teachers with Curious Questions
Eric believes that a key to transformational leadership lies in challenging teachers to self-reflect. He does this by creating conversations and facilitating an environment that supports ongoing dialogue, something that can even lead to healthy debate.
Asking teachers questions and regularly engaging in conversation builds strong relationships within teams and fosters a climate of growth and joyful learning.
Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John, professors at Harvard Business School, agree. They write in The Surprising Power of Questions that:
“Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members.”
Regular communication with faculty and staff allows school administrators to identify areas where support is needed, encourage self-transformation, all while contributing to their own leadership development. “I’m only as good as the people who work for me,” Eric adds.
Build on Best Practices with Innovation
Innovation is a byproduct of curiosity. When schools are led by inquisitive and curious leaders, implementing new research and technology becomes a natural next step.
For example, MOMI is in the process of implementing Transparent Classroom as its school-wide record-keeping system. For Eric, that means he’s learning a lot about the ins and outs of the system. It also means a number of 6:00 AM calls with Transparent Classroom’s tech support. He believes it’s time well spent.
“Teachers are busy,” he explains. “They don’t have time for this part of the implementation. I’m going to do what I need to do to ensure that our teachers are successful. If they’re successful, we’re all successful.”
The software adoption wasn’t his idea but rather came directly from his teaching team. In fact, he wasn’t even sold on the service at first, but his teachers were eager and vocal about adopting the program. He listened. He reflected. And he decided to move forward.
By remaining open to new ideas, eager to explore options, and interested in identifying opportunities for growth, curious administrators invite innovation into their communities.
Initiate Curious Communities with Introspection
Eric recently shared a reflection with the MOMI community inspired by The Sympathizer, a novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen. At first glance, a novel about a communist double agent may not seem a likely resource for a school leader to share with parents. Still, curiosity has a peculiar way of expanding minds and making unobvious connections.
His recap, titled Introspection, featured a quote from the novel:
“It seems to me that one way to understand a person’s character is to understand what he thinks of others, especially those like oneself.”
It’s a quote that applies to what he and his team at MOMI look to engender in their students.
Through his own introspection, Eric sends a message about curiosity to his staff and families: keep learning, keep reading, keep thinking, keep asking questions, keep reflecting.
This unquenchable thirst for knowledge is a common trait in Montessori educators. It’s not surprising, considering the educational philosophy is deeply rooted in supporting the child’s natural sense of wonder. And as such, we are called to live curiously.
Marta Donahoe writes eloquently about the connection between the child’s curiosity and the Montessori educator’s inherent desire to understand the complex:
“It is hard work to understand the depth of carefully sequenced lessons and experiences that [Montessori] designed to create a genuine experience for the child. This work avoids simple answers. It evades black-and-white opinions. It frowns on bullet points. Simply put, the work invites us to study, discuss, engage, and participate in transformation, and, in doing so, it promises a better world.”
About the Author
Kira Hinkle (she/her) is a Montessori educator turned freelance writer. She is AMS credentialed (Elementary I). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.