The Gift of Curiosity

By Joey Lee

When visiting with family for Thanksgiving, I found myself rummaging through old pictures and childhood artifacts. I came across a book that I had written at the age of 8. While unimpressed with the story, I found myself rather pleased with the ‘about the author.’ The brief and detailed biography closed with “when I grow up, I want to be a natralist.” 

I did. 

I remember feeling curious about all sorts of things as a child. I wondered where the praying mantis in the backyard came from, why I needed to swallow so often, and how exactly the banks were able to keep all my lawn mowing money in the little pigeonhole behind the counter especially if all those other people used the same bank. This trait, curiosity, can be very time consuming and cause a pesky burning desire to seek understanding — and it is such a gift.

Nurturing Curiosity

As a newly minted professional with visions of grandeur (think Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society), my early classroom practice could be better described as ‘death by PowerPoint.’ Students would sleep. Channeling my youthful curiosity, I would ask myself, “why”, pushing aside my shame and frustration. This inner inquiry led me to Understanding By Design, a learner-centered framework used to design curriculum units, performance assessments, and classroom instruction created by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. The creation and implementation of essential questions became the cornerstone of my educational philosophy, and the effect on my classroom was palpable. My classroom became “our” classroom, and the shift from rote memorization and regurgitation of content to recognition and acquisition of skills through personalized inquiry was liberating. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only person curious about themselves and the world around them (insert mind blown emoji).

Curiosity meets Creativity

I was first introduced to Sir Ken Robinson via his 2006 TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity” which still remains the most watched TED Talk of all time. His beliefs around the deeply rooted flaws in the industrial model of education spoke directly to my personal inquiry around classroom fatigue. I wondered if my colleagues were aware of this talk, I wondered if school leadership was aware, I wondered what my students would think. And so, I shared. 

Sir Ken has written extensively about school redesign inspiring educators around the world to reimagine, to recognize and nurture imagination and creativity. He believed children were born curious and were full of questions, as many parents can surely attest. Sadly, we lost this inspirational leader this past August after a short battle with Cancer, but his legacy carries on. Valerie Strauss’s piece shortly after his passing captures his work, vision, and beautiful sense of humor. Please, gift yourself and explore his research and writing. Out of Our Minds, The Power of Being Creative is a great place to start.

The Season of Giving

The Holiday season is upon us. A fellow educator once introduced me to the work of The Character Lab, an organization that connects research to educators to advance scientific insights that help kids thrive. It has been the gift that keeps on giving. Led by Founder and CEO, Angela Duckworth, The Character Lab has written the playbook on curiosity — literally. Their site hosts many other playbooks and resources including access to a network of schools and scientists, a perfect digital stocking stuffer for the life-long learner in your life. My partner recently shared that she had gifted a magnifying glass to her then 9 year old nephew a few years back. He couldn’t have been more pleased. She shared that he spent hours out and about on adventures looking at everything in sight through a new lens, returning with observations and questions. Many, many questions. His excitement was contagious.

What if we were to celebrate the gift of curiosity this Holiday season. In the spirit and legacy of Sir Ken, might we cultivate internal attributes just under the surface poised and ready to grow? How could we gift tools like a magnifying glass, that will lead to questions (and more questions) instead of regurgitating answers?

By the way, I still do want to be a “natralist” when I grow up.


Joey Lee — Chief Learning Officer, LiFT Learning
As a New Hampshire educator at the forefront of the competency-based movement, Joey taught at Pinkerton Academy, serving as Cultural Geography teacher, curriculum coordinator, hockey coach, golf coach, and exchange program director. He was awarded New Hampshire’s Teacher of the Year in 2014 before taking a leadership role as Director of Education at Education First. At EF, he was responsible for improving the learning experience of participants in travel programs through accreditation, strategic partnerships, and product development.