The passion gap

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“Nothing great in the World has been accomplished without passion.” — Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, German philosopher, 1832

I recently spoke at the Dell Innovation in Education Panel at the Texas Association of School Administrators 2013 Conference in Austin.

When we were invited to sum up at the end, I realized that one guest had not been invited to the table: Passion. I was the first to interject this word, saying that “passion should not be the number one thing on the agenda, it IS the agenda.”

The #TASA13 hashtag on Twitter, which had been moving moderately, exploded, with several dozen tweets supporting my statement.

At any other conference in any other industry, passion is on the lips of nearly every participant, but at some education conferences, you are far more likely to hear the words “assessment,” “standardize,” “common core” and “pedagogy” than you are to hear the word “passion.”

There is a passion gap in education, and students are falling through it and drowning in ennui.

This is not to say that students are never passionate at school. As a teacher at the K-2 level for 14 years, I had the privilege of spending each day with children eager to learn and explore. Yet this begins to change somewhere around the fourth grade.

Why does passion matter? What are the real-world implications of an education system that discourages passion?

In a recent column in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman explained that “we need everyone to be innovating new products and services to employ the people who are being liberated from routine work by automation and software. The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime.”

When Bill Gates appeared on “The Colbert Report,” Colbert asked Gates whether data or passion was more important to him in pursuing his foundation’s aims. Gates response? “I think passion is probably the most important…backing scientists who have great ideas.”

So if passion is so essential in the work world, how do we invite passion to stay in school past fourth grade? How do we bridge the passion gap between school and the rest of life?

Schools mistake passion for an emotion, as something kids like to do in their spare time. Those are hobbies. Passion is what you must do, even if you have to suffer to do it. Passion is the genius of all geniuses. It’s discipline at a level we can’t comprehend. To release a passion, a student may need above all else a role model. It may be a parent, an aunt, a neighbor, a coach, but as often as any of these, it is a teacher.

To lay the groundwork for students to develop passion, teachers must do two things – greet students — by name — when they walk in and hug them (either physically or metaphorically) when they leave. Whatever happens in between, students will remember that you notice them and they mean something to you. Teachers must let students know that they expect that students will accomplish great things. All of this may sound trite, but it is derived from the responses we received when we asked 500,000 students last year, “What would make you run to school?” These responses are not confined to the young; they mirror the results when a similar question was asked of 7,000 adults.

Sir Ken Robinson writes, “Passion is a deep attraction. It can be for someone else or for a process: music, maths, cooking, sport, entrepreneurship, teaching… whatever fires your imagination and stokes your energy. We all have different aptitudes and we have unique passions. The challenge is to find them because it’s in the fusion of both that we live our best lives.”

When will your school declare that its mission is to help students find the fusion of their aptitudes and passions to live their best lives?

This post was originally posted on SmartBlogs.

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  • Mark Malaby

    Love this post. Passion is the critical element, and we have largely abandoned it in favor of efficiency and standardization. Better in my opinion than greetings and farewells, however, is empowering the students to follow their own passions in the classroom. Let’s start as you said, by just acknowledging our students’ humanity, but then follow up by teaching them in a way that reflects it as well. Great post, Angela!

  • Kenna Griffin

    Passion is circular. If the teachers are passionate, it will help inspire that passion for learning and curiosity in the students. However, it’s difficult for teachers to maintain their passion if they aren’t supported by passionate administrators, colleagues, parents, etc. We all need to get excited about making future generations the best ones yet. Individuals can create movements, but it takes a mass to really make something happen.

    Thanks, Angela, for this great post. I couldn’t agree more.


  • Bruce Sallan

    Passion has defined my life, thankfully. Also perseverance and persistence. I like to say they are the three “P’s” of success (and happiness). I miss you Teach – please give me a date to talk PASSION (and how to instill it in our kids) at #DadChat – what a great topic!

  • Margaret Ridgeway

    Passion…I was passionate – passionate about teaching students social studies – geography, civics, economics, history – an area which is totally neglected today. After 30 years of being a paraprofessional in the legal field, I went back to school so I could spread a little of that passion around. Got my masters in using technology in the classroom so I could open up the world to my students. I landed in a World Geography classroom studying the transmittal of culture by introducing students to Russian rap music or taking a simulated trip to Antarctica to study the effects of global warming on the penguin population. Another day I wound up unexpectedly being in a school assembly with my shirt on backwards because that day in Sociology we were studying deviant behavior. I kept getting feedback from administrators about what crazy thing would be coming out of my classroom next and from students who couldn’t wait to take one of my classes. Part way through my second year into teaching, I get transferred, not to another social studies class but to a business app class since I was the most technologically savvy person on campus…it was easier to find someone to teach a Social Studies class. So now I teach MS Office and Desktop Publishing. Not exactly my passion and pretty boring to me….but lately I’ve been thinking of ways to incorporate my passion into the non-passion I teach. The reason I don’t just move on to greener pastures? Because I definitely am passionate about my students and I want them to be excited about learning. So maybe, just maybe, if I can interject life into a subject I find boring, then I can pass that on to them.

  • James

    Thanks for the good post. I totally agree that passion is one of the most important things if you want to achieve something. It is essential in every field starting from school and job to your hobby. It is also vital if you are learning a language for example. Many people start to learn a language without passion and then wonder why their skills are just okay or good and not excellent. If you need an excellent translation make sure that it is done by a professional translation agency.

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