Seeking To Understand

There is a difference between wondering and seeking to understand, even though they both involve questioning.  When my daughter was very young, she made an observation about who appeared to be homeless.  She asked about a pattern she felt she recognized and wondered about why that might be true.  After acknowledging how important it is to notice things such as that and encouragement to always ask those questions, I began to talk to her about how we could learn more about homelessness.  But, her mind had moved on to other thoughts and ideas.  She wasn’t truly seeking to understand.  She was wondering about an observation.  For someone her age, even noticing and thinking to question something so complex was impressive.  Certainly, my goal as a parent and educator is to develop her wonders into a curiosity that drives her to not only observe and question, but to search for understanding and act on what she learns.

Seeking to understand is about more than asking questions or getting to answers.  It is about asking questions and pursuing answers to the point of creating ideas.  As adults, how often do we wonder or question without pursuing answers?  How often do we accept an answer without enough understanding to take action?  In the book A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger says, “ambitious, catalytic questioning tends to follow a logical progression, one that often starts with stepping back and seeing things differently and ends with taking action on a particular question.”  He goes on to describe how we lose the innate desire to question that we are born with, and he then outlines how we can reclaim this skill.

I see this problem from a slightly different perspective (possibly just a difference of thinking whole:part rather than part:whole).  I would ask… Is the problem that we aren’t asking enough questions?  Or, is it that we don’t always have the drive to take action?  What tempers that drive?

As I reflected on the past week, I thought of two notable situations where teachers pursued the art of questioning for the purpose of taking action.  One involved a student’s behavior and another involved curriculum.  They both likely began out of frustration with questions such as, “Why is this child behaving this way?”  and “How are we supposed to make this work?”,  but developed into truly earnest inquiries that led to productive action.  What made these teachers invest the time and energy to pursue understanding?  Why didn’t they stop at wondering?  I believe there were three ingredients that fueled their drive:

  1. Devotion – The definition of devotion is attachment, loyalty, and affection.  A person must have a level of investment in an idea, place, people or situation in order to pursue understanding.  At Trinity we have worked intentionally on developing relationships between the adults and children in our community, seeking to build connections.  Our teachers care about each other and our students.
  2. Belief – If a person feels his or her efforts will be futile, there is an obvious negative impact on motivation.  One must believe in their own abilities (growth mindset) and in their ability to influence a situation (power) in order to move forward and take action.  It is a part of our mission and vision at Trinity to develop knowledge, skills, habits, and attitudes necessary for success in learning, including a growth mindset and the development of personal empowerment.  This sentiment extends to the faculty and is facilitated through professional development, practices, and policy.
  3. Resources – Having the people and tools available to support an effort is critical.  When a person is motivated and empowered, but lacks the necessary resources, they will work outside of the existing systems to seek understanding and solutions.   But, when a person is motivated, empowered, and has a team of people ready to work with them to seek understanding and solutions, great things happen.  Trinity has tremendous resources in a faculty that is knowledgeable and skilled.  Each person brings unique interests and strengths that they make available for the community.

There is a difference between wondering and seeking to understand.  At Trinity, we seek to understand.   As a leader, I aim to intentionally promote seeking for the benefit of our students and the professional growth of our teachers.  I believe in the possibilities.  The possibilities are endless, if we seek to understand.

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