Skip to content

CURIOSITY IS THE KEY to the future

Student In Nature

Cultivating Leadership Skills by Fostering Curiosity

What makes a good leader? The qualities that probably come to mind are things like courage, compassion, gratitude, resilience, self-awareness, and integrity. A good leader should also have a sense of vision and purpose, and they should know how to collaborate effectively with different kinds of people. 

These qualities of an effective leader are not innate, but rather, skills that are honed in over time. And the foundation of all of these skills is curiosity.

What Is Curiosity?

Curiosity is an eagerness to explore, discover, and gain a better understanding of the world around us and the people in it. Fortunately, it’s a quality that children have in abundance! 

And while it’s tempting to believe that our natural curiosity decreases as we age, that’s actually not the case. As we move into adulthood, we have as much, if not more, curiosity — just about different things. 

Why Is Curiosity Important to Learning and Leadership?

Students solving problems together at Saint John's Prep in Central Minnesota.

Curiosity inspires us to think outside of our own experiences and drives us to seek explanations for things that are confusing or beyond our understanding. It rewards us for being open to new ideas and gathering different perspectives. It helps us imagine new ways to solve problems, and it helps us see things not just as they are but how they could be. 

As educators, we get to see the correlation between curiosity and learning every day we’re in the classroom! When our students are driven to ask questions, getting answers to those questions is a rewarding experience that we hope leads to a lifelong love of learning. 

Open-mindedness, problem-solving, perspective, and vision…these are also important leadership qualities! And educators are not the only ones who see a direct parallel between curiosity and leadership. In fact, Forbes Magazine recently published an article about how curiosity is now viewed as a core leadership trait by thought leaders across various industries. 

Why Curiosity Appears To Fade as Children Age

Humans are naturally curious, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be stifled. Some schools may unintentionally do this by not allowing students to explore topics that interest them or putting a singular focus on grades or test scores. Encouraging conformity and discouraging challenging conversations are also common at many K-12 schools — public and private. 

Children are very perceptive. If they are punished for asking questions and rewarded for simply repeating answers that have been given to them — and there’s little room to explore different viewpoints or explore what makes them unique — they might not express as much curiosity in the classroom or at home. But curiosity can always be encouraged if it’s cultivated and given room to grow. 

At Prep, our teachers welcome tough questions! We believe it’s one of the biggest reasons why our students are so engaged in what they’re learning that they can’t wait to discuss it further with their peers or with their families at the end of the day. 

How To Develop Leadership Skills and Encourage Curiosity

It’s never too late to reignite a spark of curiosity. In fact, many of the following tips are just as helpful for parents as they are for students! 

Students at Saint John's Prep get a lesson in paddling a canoe as part of a holistic education.

Model Curiosity

You and your child may have different hobbies and interests, but talking about what makes you curious and what you enjoy learning about is a great way to model curiosity. Share what makes you curious and the topics you’re interested in, and ask open-ended questions, like “How would you solve that problem?” or, “What would you do if…?” 

As a parent, you will always be your child’s biggest role model. So even if your child’s school isn’t able to provide all of the benefits of a holistic education, you can still make your home a safe place to explore different cultural traditions and have open conversations about religion, philosophy, and opposing world views.

Take Advantage of Local Resources

Science museums and cultural festivals provide amazing opportunities for children to explore and get more immersive, hands-on experiences. If you have a local arts scene, take them to an art show or a play! Unlike TV or movies, your child can take a more active role as an audience member and choose which characters to focus on at any given moment.  

Reading books is a great way for children to imagine themselves in another person’s shoes and be exposed to cultures and ideas that open up entirely new worlds of questions. Many local libraries also offer programs that cater to a variety of interests, like arts and crafts, STEM topics, music, storytelling, cultural heritage, wellness, and more. 

Get Outdoors

A female Saint John's Prep student participates in a writing exercise within the school's woodland campus.

It’s almost impossible to quantify the power of nature when it comes to the development of young minds. At Prep, we are truly fortunate for our 2,900-acre campus shared with Saint John’s University. Depending on the time of year, you may find our teachers holding their classes outside or students reading in the woods. Nature provides unlimited opportunities for discovery, inspiration, and exploration. So whether your child prefers nature walks or spending time in a local park, there are endless ways to encourage their curiosity — right outside your door.

Support Your Child’s Interests

Your child may express excitement about a certain topic only to lose interest after a short time. That’s okay! However, we understand that when it comes to athletics, the fine arts, other co-curricular activities, and special interest clubs, parents also want their children to stick with an activity that allows them to develop some of their unique gifts. 

Most families don’t have unlimited time and resources, but we also believe it’s important to try new things at every age. We will often encourage our students to join an athletic team or try a new activity because it gets students out of their comfort zone. If they discover a new talent, all the better! If your child tends to perform well academically, encouraging them to participate in activities they aren’t immediately good at can help them build resilience and focus on incremental improvement.

Don’t Focus Solely on Achievement

There are many inspiring quotes about learning from mistakes, but we love this quote from Irish writer James Joyce: “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Watching your child make a mistake — even a minor one — can be hard for parents. But as long as that mistake won’t jeopardize their long-term health or their ability to find a rewarding career, it will help them learn. Additionally, allowing your child to make mistakes also shows them that you’re confident in their abilities to correct them. 

That’s important because leaders who are too afraid to make mistakes aren’t effective leaders. Not surprisingly, James Joyce isn’t the only successful writer, artist, athlete, or business leader to credit their mistakes for their eventual success. Former CEO of IBM Thomas J. Watson said, “You can be discouraged by failure, or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because that’s where you will find success.”

Why Are Leadership Skills Important?

A gropu of diverse Saint John's Prep students graduating with distinction.

While we believe in the importance of developing the entire person, as a prep school, we are ultimately tasked with helping our students succeed in the next phase of their educational journey. For our students, that’s typically attending a college or university. 100% of our students who apply are accepted to a college or university!

Leadership skills are important to top colleges, and not because every child is destined to become an entrepreneur or a CEO. College admission professionals look for leadership experience because it suggests that a student is likely to be confident in their abilities and possess communication and collaboration skills needed to be successful. It also suggests that a student has developed a greater understanding of some of their strengths and weaknesses and has found ways to overcome them. 

Leadership experience, when paired with strong test scores and academic performance, quickly paints a picture of a student who’s highly likely to succeed at some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the world.

Our Commitment to Developing Leadership Skills

As an arts and sciences world school in the Catholic Benedictine tradition, our values call us to be respectful and inclusive inside and outside the classroom, and they guide everything we do. However, you don’t have to be a person of faith to attend our school. In fact, the majority of our students don’t identify as Catholic. Our teachers are free to discuss different faiths and philosophies and other challenging topics, and if you were to walk our halls, you might be surprised at the level of creativity and self-expression you’d find. 

While a strong academic program is something we’re known for, we believe one reason you’ll frequently find our former students at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Macalester, and MIT is that we offer a number of ways that students can develop and demonstrate their leadership skills. 

Our students are encouraged to form their own special interest clubs — with the help and mentorship of our staff. In the past, these clubs have focused on anything from tea appreciation to classical music, and their longevity or “success” isn’t nearly as important to us as the experience our students receive in creating, leading, and participating in them. Our campus also houses the new Benedictine Leadership Center, which provides resources, space, and additional support to students who want to, for example, organize a food drive to support the local community. 

Ultimately, parents are going to be the single biggest influences in their children’s lives. But if you’re interested in the opportunities a prep school can provide, we encourage you to arrange a visit. You also might find one of our recent blogs especially helpful. 

Click the link below to access it!