Students exploring the ‘why’
The “why” of school systems is the moral imperative of everyone who has the privilege of working in a school system. Simply put, it is the absolute and unwavering commitment to do everything we can to serve the learning needs of students. It is grounded in passion for working with children and youth and a compelling need to continue to learn and improve our systems, services to students, and instructional practices.
As pointed out by superintendent Chris Smeaton a few weeks ago in his column, “Knowing the why,” the future has not been defined for our students. We only know that competencies such as critical thinking, creativity, innovation, and the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively will be essential for navigating success.
In order for students to grow these competencies, school systems need to keep “why” at the centre of learning. Starting at about age two, toddlers flood parents with the question, “why.” The “why” question is one illustration of the natural curiosity that we are born with. There are times when the relentless “why” question can make busy parents crazy, but it is a genuine effort on the part of the child to grow understanding. So why do children stop asking why, and why does curiosity wane as students get older and progress through the grades? Is it because they have all the answers to navigate their world? Or is it because we have taught them that there is a body of knowledge to access and know within a confined world of the present, and that it will be “taught” to them in due course? Have we instilled in them that you do not ask why if you are independent and complying with what is expected? What is traditionally expected in school? You will listen and learn what is taught to you.
So what is wrong with listening and learning? Nothing. But it is not enough, nor is it the paradigm of thinking that will develop competencies that lie outside knowledge acquisition. Whether it is called critical inquiry, active learning, innovation projects, inquirybased learning or centre-based exploration, instructional practice is changing in the classroom. There is growing recognition that we need to continue to nurture and inspire curiosity and keep the “why” of the world in the forefront of student thinking.
It is those who continually seek to understand, who continue to ask the “why” of the world who create, explore, invent and become dynamic thinkers. Our students will need to be dynamic thinkers so they can respond to rapid change and engage in learning throughout their lives as part of natural growth. I am not saying that every student needs to be a great scientist, engineer, artist or inventor. But I am saying that those students who remain curious, who ask the “why,” and engage in learning as a natural part of life, will be able to change jobs, use technology effectively and thrive on changing demands.
As important, or perhaps more important, than having the mindset to thrive as workers within a culture of change, is asking the “why” within their social context. It is those who question observed inequities that bring about positive social change. I feel confident that with our collective effort to grow inquiring minds as schools, families and communities, that our children and grandchildren will work together to define our world as a place where all children, regardless of circumstance, will thrive and grow.
Cheryl Gilmore is the superintendent of Lethbridge School District No. 51.
Cheryl Gilmore Each Wednesday superintendents from around our region offer insights and news on the school system.