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Staying Humble Means Staying Curious

One thing I see consistently reinforced in conversations with other teachers, conversations with friends, and on the pages of therapists I follow on social media, is how important it is to stay curious about the people you interact with. When you start to believe you know someone, you run the risk of believing that you can accurately attribute why they’re behaving in a certain way or what they must be thinking or feeling; while you may sometimes be able to do that, you can’t do it all the time for anyone other than yourself (and you have to be incredibly attuned to your own mind and body to get it right even for yourself all the time). There is a danger to believing we know someone’s story already. 

In other words, we need humility to do our best work in the world, and it’s important to keep this at the front of our minds when we engage with students. While it’s true that we teach content, we don’t do it in a vacuum. Rather, we teach content to people, and without an understanding of who those people are, we won’t do that job nearly as well as we can. What we see is only part of the story, and without a real relationship and a desire to know what’s going on, teachers can get in their own way attempting to help a student thrive. If we can get to know our students and their families and not imagine that we know everything about them, making sure to stay open and inquisitive, we can help our students make progress in ways that will be more meaningful to them.

Even now, during the early spring, we need to ensure that we are humble about what we think we know and curious about the students we’re working with and on behalf of. No doubt, teachers in every classroom have learned a myriad of important pieces about their students, but even come the summer, we can’t know it all. Here are some questions to ask your students that can help you broaden and deepen your understanding of who they are and what works for them.

  1. What activities or assignments make you feel most confident? What activities or assignments make you feel least confident?

  2. What work do you never want to do again? Why?

  3. When you get home, what do you do? Who do you go to for help? (If applicable given age, who comes to you for help?)

  4. When you’re stressed, what do you do to feel better?

  5. When have you felt best in this classroom? Why?

  6. What is something you’re looking forward to in school? Out of school?

Similarly, reaching out to families to gain more perspective on their children is a great way to build and extend your relationship with them and help them see that you care about their child not only as a student, but also as a person. Here are some sample questions to help you engage with families.

  1. What quality does your child possess that you wish you had more of?

  2. What do you notice is consistently tricky for them?

  3. (If applicable) Where and in what conditions does your child do their homework? 

  4. What academic hope do you have for your child? What non-academic hope do you have for them?

  5. Who is the last teacher your child felt a strong connection to? Why?

  6. How do you know your child is having a particularly rough day? A great day?

There are times when the students I’ve been most curious about are the same ones who I can’t seem to get any answers for. If you find that there’s a student you’re trying to understand better but you can’t get the information you seek from them or their families, see who else teaches them. Can you ask that teacher for help? Could you observe them in someone else’s class? While your efforts may not always lead you to a nice and tidy answer to a specific question, your new understanding will help you expand your thinking, and sometimes, that’s enough. 

How do you stay curious about the students you work with? What’s the best question you’ve ever asked a student or a family? If you try out any of our questions, we’d love to know how they worked for you!


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