By Ashley Lamb-Sinclair
I’ve always been curious.
It’s a trait that has gotten me into trouble more times than I can count, and a trait that has bailed me out of really boring situations. Sometimes it can be an advantage. Sometimes it’s a liability. Curiosity has led to that phone call my parents got in the middle of the night when I was a teenager. And curiosity has led to an acceptance letter in the mail that I never dreamed I might receive.
In my life as an educator, curiosity creates a similar juxtaposition in my professional life as it does in my personal. I’ve gone down a curious path with lesson planning and created amazing lessons that kids still remember and colleagues ask about. And then curiosity has led me to create seemingly amazing lessons that I had to shut down midway through class because they were so far off the path of what I intended to teach. The thing about curiosity is that it can be a secret weapon or a weapon of mass destruction.
Lately, though, curiosity has served me well. I knocked on one door a year ago, and since then, a thousand more have opened. Behind one of those doors was the Redesign Challenge. Redesign Challenge asked teachers to propose real solutions to the problem of video professional development — a problem that any educator who’s been around for a while can tell you about. The primary problem with professional development — especially video PD — is that it does not provide an authentic opportunity for educators to pursue their own curiosity.
So I proposed something I titled then, “Curio-ed Convos” because at the time I was reading Brian Grazer’s A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life (a book I picked up because I was curious). I didn’t really even understand the idea at that time, I just knew I had a vision. I envisioned a way for teachers to systematize what they already did naturally to become better teachers, to follow their own curiosity to discover, share, and collaborate on new ideas. In 2015, this process is often a combination of the virtual and the personal. Most teachers I know Google first, talk about what they find, and create materials after synthesizing the ideas of others with their own original ideas. Why couldn’t video PD just embrace what I instinctively knew teachers already did?
Apparently my instincts were right on, because Redesign Challenge selected my idea as one of the few to develop during Innovator’s Weekend in Washington D.C. And I could have never imagined in a million years how lucky I was to be one of those few.
Innovator’s Weekend changed my life. Truly. I really didn’t know what to expect, why, of all people, I had been selected to go, or how I could possibly make it through the weekend without proving to everyone how much of a fraud I actually was for being there. People who have known me for years would say, You’re going to D.C. to do what? Because, although I had submitted the idea, I had little to no interest in or experience with technology. The idea that I would develop a web platform was laughable.
And there were moments at Innovator’s Weekend that were laughable, but not because I didn’t belong there. I realized immediately that I did belong there, like I had never belonged anywhere, because I was surrounded by creative, problem-solving, frustrated-yet-eternally-positive educators just like me. They didn’t know how to make web platforms either; they didn’t need to. There were experts for that. But we did need a creative spirit and a positive attitude, and we had that in droves.
Over the course of a couple of days, I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about learning. I learned that a person is not a set of defined boundaries and immovable traits; a person is elastic. A curious, creative spirit who prefers a pen to a keyboard can create a virtual world that emulates the one inside her own head. I learned that true collaboration is not necessarily multiple people coming to the table and walking away with one product or idea; true collaboration can be many people, many ideas, and many iterations of those people and ideas. I learned that learning is messy, and we should embrace it.
It is now mid-October, months past Innovator’s Weekend, and Curio — the name I settled on at the end of the weekend — has just launched in its first form as an early test of the concept of discovery — A Curio Challenge. People have willingly signed up to join Curio. People have willingly taken the leap into something unknown because they are, as I’ve known all along, curious about what might be possible when they try on a new idea.
During the last few moments of Innovator’s Weekend, we all stood in a circle and reflected on the path we had begun to walk. Jan Bathel, one of the experts there, said something that has resonated with me since. He said, “What I see here from these ideas is a sense that you have all felt so lonely before now. All of these ideas stem from feeling like you were alone. And now you’re not.”
I thought what sent me to Innovator’s Weekend was curiosity, and partly, it was. But after Jan said those words, I realized how right he was. I had felt so alone for so long because I thought no one else thought the way I did. I created Curio as a way of connecting, and now, I have connected with, and continue to find, others who think just like me.