Through the Eyes of an Educator: Curiosity, Wonder, Promise—stepping into a new year
We’ve turned the calendar page. It’s a new year, a new month, a blank slate; we begin again. We’ve been here before, yet we’ve never been here before. We’ve flipped the page, started a new something, and entered into the unknown prior to this, but it’s never been today before and never will be again.
Deep breaths—how will you greet this day?
Forever students have experienced this: a new school year, a new class, a new working engagement, a new endeavor. Well, this time it’s a new year—and whether we like it or not, it’s ours for the taking.
How will you greet it?
The other day, an artist shared his story with me. In his open air, village-based studio, he smiled easily, happily exclaiming that he’s been sharing his gifts of sculpture and pottery for nearly the past fifty years. His face glowed as he wandered from piece to piece, each telling a story of their own, each one different from the next. His pieces held his story along with their own. Some, called spirit jars, told of a place to store your hopes and dreams, where each time you held or opened this magical jar, you’d literally feel its embrace and know that those thoughts in that vessel were in good hands. There were beautifully crafted mugs and vases each with their own story, all appearing to hold some piece of this artist’s heart, ease, and whimsical view of the world.
His presence exuded wonder, curiosity, and enduring hope.
In his every move and description, any listener could feel his joy and excitement in what he gets to do each day. His passion for his work extended beyond the piece itself; it was infectious. Cultivating curiosity and wonder, I left his space feeling lighter, buoyant, and filled with joy.
That encounter made me think again about the education in and out of our classrooms.
Sure, there are some educational facilities, mindsets, and practices that foster passion projects, but it’s not the average school situation. Sure, there are some specialty locations that focus on being a good human, put empathy and kindness front of mind, and encourage that character building from kindergarten through high school seniors. And, yes, there are definitely some globally-minded spaces that elevate the heart as well as the academia…but it’s not the norm. Often, unless it’s fostered outside of that educational format, that curiosity and wonder dissipate, and the rigors of academia become center stage.
What if we could change all that?
What if we could manifest that magic in ourselves, in our young ones, and in those young at heart and ensure that while they take on those tough and fulfilling academic-centered courses, they don’t lose the joy of dreaming, cultivating curiosity, and empowering wonder in their worlds? What if we helped encourage that promise of the whole student, challenged them to be those good humans in heart and mind, and faced the world in big picture thinking?
Imagine what the world would look like then.
The start of a new year, a clean slate, a clear mind, a keen objective—however you choose to greet this time of year, there’s some semblance of a beginning attached.
It’s up to us to continue or change our story.
It’s up to us to build, grow, find resilience, make it through, cope, manage, grieve, discover, challenge, explore, uncover, unlearn, and encourage ourselves to find our reason, our ‘one thing’, our why. It may ebb over time, but the search leads us to wondrous places, channels our strengths, and employs a growth mindset. The attitude of anything is possible triggers that curiosity, accentuates wonder, and empowers the notion of promise.
Will you join me?
5 ways to encourage curiosity, wonder, and promise
Fire up that passion
Have you ever listened to someone speak about their passions? The face lights up, the eyes widen, the smile is infectious, and it’s as if the words they speak emanate directly from their soul. The sparkle emitted is electric. It could be anything from race cars, to ladybugs, to cycling, coffee, science, culinary arts, theater, math, yoga, travel; you name it, someone is passionate about it. Some schools offer this type of project as a Capstone or Personal Interest project.
While it may not be a thing in your educational space, we can all find a way to fire up that passion.
Dr. Elizabeth Radday of Skills 21 and School Services for EdAdvance exudes a love of these personal interest projects and continues to open more doors for more students to experience them. She tells me that, “Personal Interest Projects are so powerful. They demonstrate that any kind of learning is worthy of recognition in school, not solely topics that are traditionally considered rigorous or academic. It's an opportunity for students to dive into something they are interested in, and their engagement is truly authentic. Teachers love watching their students do something related to their interests and it helps grow deep and meaningful connections.” I agree with her wholeheartedly.
Ask, inquire, research, explore
Curiosity comes naturally to some and takes work for others. In a time when we have online access to an incredible amount of information at our fingertips, it takes a bit of detective skills to uncover which of that information is credible, factual, and worthwhile. With that internet access comes international access; we can enter global labs, libraries, museums, and even intergalactic universes to learn from all sorts of talented experts from the comfort of our couches.
Schools can skype with classrooms on the other side of the world, kids can take virtual tours of so much, and that traditional pen pal now comes complete with video connections and snapchat conversations galore.
Go outside! Every walk in nature, in a city, and around your own community nurtures that sense of wonder. Perhaps you channel Winnie the Pooh and follow the path of the honeybee, the butterfly, or that red balloon. Whether you’re researching the journey, asking the questions, or trusting the whimsy of the path ahead, there’s discovery in the questions and wonder in the unanswerable ones. Go explore.
Channel your inner Princess Leia
Fear takes many forms. A writer I admire, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love), once told a story about working through fear. While the struggle is real and a work effort in itself, once she reaches the point of moving forward, she reminds herself that fear will always be there. Today, she considers it like going on a road trip, and knows that since fear won’t ever really leave us alone, she tells fear that it can come along for the ride as a passenger in the backseat—but it can’t control the radio stations.
Between that and Carrie Fisher screaming at us to “be afraid but do it anyway,” when fear gets loud, these are some of the titans I use to help remind myself that I can quiet the noise and use it to engage my own actions.
Fear pokes at our doubts, but we can challenge it.
Fear niggles at our insecurities, but we are mightier than we imagine. Fear huffs and puffs, but our staying power is far fiercer than its bouts of hot air.
Today, whether you’re thinking like the writer, the warrior, or your own superpowers, fear is no match for the likes of you. If you need a reminder - remember the words of the youngest inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman: “There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Pay attention to the whimsical
Luna Lovegood is one of my favorite characters of the saga of Harry Potter. She’s her own person, a gentle spirit, a fierce believer of good, and a whimsical and wise human. She often sees what others don’t or refuse to allow themselves to see.
She sees beyond the ordinary; that different perspective is a gift we could all use in our lives.
Throughout her Hogwarts journey, those who get to know her begin to realize how her combination of whimsy and wisdom is magical in itself. If we pay attention to that spirit, that inner light we all have, perhaps we can all be a little more like Luna. Perhaps it’s the practice of looking at things another way. Perhaps it’s the idea of believing in the promise and intention behind the mind. Perhaps it’s supporting others with your own strength of really listening and understanding the heart. Luna reminds us that ‘things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end…if not always in the way we expect’. Look at the world in a new way. The wonder and whimsy of it all will amaze even the fiercest critics.
Put your Disney attitude in play
As a child, I visited Disney World often. All these years later, the magic of the ‘happiest place on earth’ still tickles my soul and lights my heart. In the world of Mickey, nothing is impossible.
So, when it feels like the world outside those doors is a harsh place of existence, I find myself remembering to believe in the possible, the magic of the possible.
While I adore the moment when Tinkerbell sparks an epic show of sky glitter each night above a wondrous, magical castle, I find that there are those sparkles of magic in the real world, too. I mean, someone dreamt of building a flying machine and today we can get from a bagel shop in New York to a pie shop in Australia in a galloping metal tube.
Someone imagined the possibility of exploring a world beyond our own and managed to bring together other talented humans who wondered the same thing. Today, we’ve got lunar modules hanging near other planets and a goal to send people to Mars. And there’s a guy who hung out in a garage and thought up a way that we can sit in our houses, click buttons on a magical box, pay some money, and packages would literally appear within a few days. When struggle is real, and everything seems impossible, put on your Mickey ears, fire up that imagineer attitude, and remember that amidst all of that madness, there was Walt telling us, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” If he can do it, so can you.
Please click the photo below for a collection of my Through the Eyes of an Educator columns:
Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand.
Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.