Students Are Falling Through the Passion Gap in Schools

This post was original featured on Smartblogs on Education in Inspiring Others

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?

The Courage to Teach

The heart of education is an education of the heart.

The root of the word “courage” is the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart.” The English word “core” comes from the same Latin root. So at its core, effective teaching is about developing courage.

As the world changes at an ever-accelerating pace, leaving some of us experiencing Future Shock, one act of courage that is essential for all teachers to make is to admit that we don’t know it all, and that this is becoming more so every day.

As Pat Hensley, a teacher and instructor with Furman University, so eloquently explains in her blog Successful Teaching,

“It also takes courage to know that I don’t know everything. It is alright if I learn some new things from my students. It is alright to even let my students know that I don’t know everything. It takes courage to learn new things and open up to possible failures. My students will learn that I am making an effort to learn and they will also learn from me how I handle the results.”

Students can be our greatest teachers. But, like Pat says, it takes courage to know that we don’t know everything and that is one of the most important parts of teaching. The courage to keep learning with an open mind and heart is what teaching is about. As teachers, we don’t have to have all the answers, we just have to be open to learning in our own classrooms.

Mary Bieglow, a teacher and blogger for the National Science Teachers Association, wrote in her post “What Teachers Can Learn From Students” that by being open to not knowing all the right answers or questions, she got more out of her students. “After a unit test, [a student] looked very dejected. When I asked her what was wrong, she replied, ‘I know a lot about this, but you asked the wrong questions.’ That stopped me in my tracks. I was the teacher—the one supposed to have all of the questions and answers … She was right—for her I didn’t ask enough of the right questions. She taught me the value of providing a variety of ways for students to share what they know and can do.”

The heart of teaching is the teaching of the heart. In order to teach, we need courage to overcome our fear of admitting that we don’t know it all.

You Have to Show Kids That They Matter

I recently spoke with Nicholas Provenzano and Timothy Gwynn on #Nerdycast and Hooked! on BAM Radio Network. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN.

Nicholas and Timothy are passionate teachers so I loved speaking with them about the importance of  letting students know their contribution is valued.

“If we do not secure their hearts, we do not have a shot at their brains.”

Nicholas and Tim asked me to introduce the work I do with Choose2Matter. I explained it is, like teaching, a labor of love.

“The root word of passion …  is to suffer. To be willing to suffer through any challenge because the work that you’re doing and the pledge that people are making to you and you’re making back to them is so sacred there is nothing that breaks it. It’s that binding and that’s what we need to cultivate in our classrooms.”

Students need to know they matter; the need to know that one matters is in our DNA–it’s that important.

Last year we asked a half  million kids, “What would you pledge yourself to?” and “What would make you run to school?” It boiled down to twelve things, such as “I want to be noticed, I want you to smile at me, I want you to say my name.” The need to hear one’s own name is why two hundred million people are sending Tweets everyday, because someone’s noticing them.

“My job is to teach, not to be their friend.”

Nicholas said that he’ll often hear teachers in the faculty room say that they are not their students’ friend. I responded:

“Anybody who teaches pledges to change lives … give me a year of your life and I promise you that you will walk out of here better, stronger, smarter, more confident, more beautiful. So anybody who does that kind of work would never ever pledge that they want to be your friend because there’s no way that you can grow without the appropriate conditions and feedback. Cultivating genius is a really difficult endeavor.”

For fellow teachers, I’d love to hear from you and start a conversation about the following questions:

  • What kind of pledge do we make to our students when we begin the school year or even every class?
  • Do you think that you can be your students’ friend and teacher?
  • How do you make your students feel that they matter?
  • How do you make your students feel noticed everyday? In every class?

The Classroom Habitudes in Gym Class!

 am blessed to receive many emails from my readers around the world. One of the more interesting notes recently came from Andy Vasily, who teachers Physical Education at the Nanjing International School in China and blogs at PYPPEWithAndy (PYP = Primary Years Program).

Andy wanted to create a PE-focused model of the 7 Habitudes. I asked Andy to send me a guest blog; this is his response:

“A lot of my research and work of late has been focused on finding a better way to teach PE. I have been downloading a number of Kindle books in order to find research that is relevant to a new model of instruction I am trying to create and test out. This often requires me to go outside the realm of PE in order to find excellent ideas or models that I can then transfer over to the arena of physical education.

As I read Angela’s book the ‘Classroom Habitudes’, I realized that much of what she writes about is immediately applicable in PE. Revolutionizing education, especially as we move forward in the 21st century, can only be made possible if we put greater emphasis on the development of the whole child. Subject area boundary lines should be blurred and enduring concepts such as Angela’s 7 Habitudes should be embedded within all of the learning experiences that we have our students engage in.

As a PE practitioner with over 15 years of experience, I believe it to be critical to initiate change now. Giving our students a clear, concise, and consistent way of describing and defining success is paramount within any PE program and this often means that we must teach outside the box of sport. We must foster and build upon our students’ abilities to think critically, to find problems/obstacles, and to overcome these challenges. Arming students with the skills necessary to conquer adversity is what being successful in sport is all about.

More importantly, teaching the skills necessary to overcome adversity not only helps our students in PE and in sport, but better prepares them for life, both in and out of school. If this isn’t our ultimate aim as educators, I am not sure what is!

The teaching of the 7 Habitudes is such a natural fit, not only with PE, but within any subject that we teach. I am excited to take forward what I have learned in Angela’s book and will share this journey on my own website that I regularly blog on here.

Habitude: Imagination

Photo Credit:Jônatas Cunha

Photo Credit:Jônatas Cunha

“If we cannot see the possibility, we cannot achieve the outcome. Imagination is our mind’s eye and gives us the capacity to jump from present facts to future possibilities. Our capacity to dream, hope, and plan for the future is influenced and impacted by the control and understanding of imagination’s remarkable power.”

— Chapter Two, Imagination, from Classroom Habitudes: Teaching Habits and Attitudes for 21st Century Learning

Game Changers: Taking Student Genius Global

Our Quest to leave no genius behind is coming to fruition! We have had an extraordinary flow of good news this week and will be announced many terrific partnerships and ventures in the next few weeks.

On Friday, May 17, Choose2Matter was featured on a segment of “Tech Game Changers” on HuffPost LiveCLICK HERE for a link to the recorded session.

I was joined by our partners Saul Kaplan of Business Innovation Factory, several of the “troublemakers” who help form BIF, and Brian Cuban, also a noted troublemaker, First Amendment lawyer and TV talk show host.

Prior to the segment, Saul and I had a chance to sit down and discuss the game changing elements of our partnership. We also explained in a joint blog post today on Huffington Post about the incredible rewards to be gained from breaking down generational barriers when it comes to innovation.

Guest Post: Dream Big – The Passion of Learning

This is a guest post from Jana Scott Lindsay, an educator and learner in Saskatoon, Canada.

This is a cross-post from her blog, Driving Me to Think.

Why is it that we are often our own greatest obstacle to overcome?

I love being a dreamer. Of imagining a world of possibilities that will shape and guide me.

So then, what does it mean to dream big … I mean really?

I hear these words all the time… and yet I am not sure if I really understand what they mean. Or is it I don’t value enough my own desires to actualize them?

That is exactly what it was … until now.

This new year I have taken more than one step into uncharted territory.

Going back to school as a full time student after twenty years was no small feat. No small challenge but in many respects offered the incentive to really dream big.

I have long been looking for a passion that could rival both being a teacher as well as mother and wife. I knew that while I could utterly feel fulfilled in these roles I really felt I owed it to who I am to explore who I hope to become. Envisioning the future isn’t only for the young, but probably most especially, for the young at heart.

Here is where the footsteps of my quest have taken me…

I have found my passion in one of the most unlikeliest of places. I can’t give myself any more credit that the simple fact that I stumbled upon it. Hiding in the shadows of my existence, it has become a part of me without me even knowing it was happening. I have been immersed in this culture and life for years now, but only recently could I see it calling to me with fresh eyes. I know that to dream big is to follow in the direction I am being led.

My passion is the martial art of Muay Thai. The word Muay is derived from the Sanskrit Mavya which means “to bind together”. Those simple words completely encompass how I feel when I am training. I am bound to the learning in a way I never thought was possible. The confidence I feel is only matched by the competence I gain from each new training session. It consumes many of my waking thoughts and, for the first time, I revel in knowing that this learning is a part of who I am. It has empowered me as a learner and given me a focus that compliments every other aspect of my life. Muay Thai has been an amazing teacher … combining humility, assurance, skill, tenacity, and intelligence as part of the curriculum. My own teachers, each and every kru (sensei), continue to offer me the challenge I need to grow in my skill, understanding, and learning. Most importantly, they instil in me the confidence to continue on.

I have never looked back and now truly understand what passion and fire feels like as it burns inside of me. I know that my journey has only just begun … mastery may very well be a minute speck in the far distance, but with discipline and passion as my compass, I know I am headed in the right direction. Someday mastery might very well intersect my future.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” ~Bruce Lee

And so continues my passion and desire to learn…

Brighter Days Ahead For All of Us

Guest post: this post is from Carly Shields and Jennie Shaw, two rising juniors at Downingtown STEM Academy, which we visited in early June. Read it and you’ll understand why I feel so blessed to be able to work with students such as these. There are, indeed, Brighter Days ahead for this world.

When Angela Maiers visited us, it was the final week of school, and we had finished finals. We thought we were done for the year, but little did we know that we were about to change the world.

On the first day, we all met in the auditorium, and Angela spoke to us and inspired us all. It was the first time that everyone in our grade was on the same page.

It only took two words — you matter. The meaning behind these two words is so powerful, and it changed our outlook on life. Well why were these words so important? For some, these words could simply put a smile on their face, or brighten up their day. But for others, it could save their lives. Just having someone tell you that you matter can make that big a difference.

Angela then gave us our mission. She wanted us to use our genius and skills to create something that would change the world. And so we did. Seems too simple, doesn’t it? Well with a room full of young, innovative people, we knew we could do it.

Usually, everyone thinks that it’s only adults who have control to change the world; but what a room full of us teenagers accomplished in a mere two school days will surely change that thinking.

Over the next two days, we worked rigorously and passionately to create projects that addressed what we felt were important issues in the world. Angela connected us with several people via Twitter and other social networking sites, and this taught us that adults take our ideas seriously and want to help us succeed. At least 10 organizations were launched.

This blew our minds. How could we make such an impact? Were people really willing to help us change the world? The answer was yes.

For example, we created something that is very near and dear to our hearts – an organization called Brighter Days that seeks to put an end to suicide. Since we have both lost someone to suicide, we know the terrible effects that it has on family, friends, and the community.

  • Brighter Days will strive to save the lives being lost by showing people their purpose in life, and that they do matter. 
  • It’s amazing how a community can come together when a valuable life is lost, and we want to tell people how to handle that. 
  • We will share our experiences in order to assure people that everything will be all right in the end, and that there will always be brighter days ahead!

We’d like to thank our teacher, Mr. Staub, for introducing Angela to the STEM community, and for all of the hard work he put into making all of this happen. And of course, Angela Maiers, for being such an inspiration to us all individually and as a school. What we have accomplished in one week is unbelievable, and we hope she comes back to see our progress soon!