Educators have got to be some of the most passionate
people on the planet. Take one look at the way they pour themselves into helping
others, and it’s hard to imagine a profession more infused with passion.
Why, then, isn’t that passion rubbing off onto more students? Why do so many
people reach adulthood and launch their careers, only to realize years later
that something essential is missing from their lives?
learning advocate Angela Maiers put it, “There is a passion gap in
education, and students are falling through it and drowning in ennui.”
In Rules of the Red Rubber Ball, author and ISTE 2014 keynote
speaker Kevin Carroll explores how passion and creativity can maximize human
potential — both in school and beyond.
“If you’re getting up every morning for a reason that inspires you, it shifts
your energy immediately every day,” he said in a recent interview. “There are
plenty of brain studies that show that when you’re lighting up the frontal lobe
with inspiration, when you’re getting lit up, you know it. How do we tap into
“I think it’s sampling, getting a chance to sample and try lots of things in
your formative years, and having awareness as an individual to tap into
Yet with arts
programs all but disappearing from many schools, the opportunities to sample
a wide range of pursuits are dwindling. Ironically, in the quest to prepare
students for embarking on a career, helping them discover what lights up their
frontal lobes often doesn’t seem to be a priority. In fact, Maiers says, it’s a
common mistake, for schools to treat students’ passions as hobbies, or something
they should only do in their spare time.
“Passion is what you must do, even if you have to suffer to do it,” she says.
“Passion is the genius of all geniuses. It’s discipline at a level we can’t
It starts with play
There’s a lot teachers can do to help students find and nurture their
passions: Ask questions about what inspires them, design inquiry-based projects
in which students get to choose what they study, pay attention to what books or
activities students are drawn to, and even just exude an infectious thirst for
learning and teaching in general.
Unfortunately, one of the most important ways children find out what they’re
passionate about — play — has become disposable in many schools.
These days, recess often takes a backseat to the need for higher test scores.
Up to 40 percent of U.S. school districts have reduced or eliminated recess to
free up time for core academics, and one in five principals report that annual
testing requirements have led their schools to shave minutes off of recess,
according to a survey
by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“Taking away recess is the worst thing we can do,” Carroll said. “Students
need time to celebrate motion and their bodies and their kinesthetic sense. It
will lead them to better study sessions and better testing. And students learn a
lot of important life skills during play, out on the playground and in those
With less time to play, students may also be missing out on precious
opportunities to discover and nurture their own passions.
“Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to
negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills,” says the American
Academy of Pediatrics. “When play is allowed to be child driven, children
practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own
areas of interest and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to
With technology pervading nearly every aspect of life, it can all too easily
become a means of wasting huge chunks of time. However, when students understand
and engage with the things that fuel them, technology shifts from potential time
sink to powerful catalyst for tapping into their passions and drawing them
deeper into their own learning.
“I think one of the things we’re starting to understand is that technology is
an amplifier of our gifts and talents, not a replacement for them,” Carroll
said. “Look at all the dimensions it can bring. It can be a wonderful
amplification of what you love.
“But I have to know what I love to be able to maximize my use of the
technology. You can basically idle away your time being mesmerized by the screen
and not advancing anything, or you can look at a screen and it could inspire you
to level up in life, in possibilities — not just in the game.”
And that may be the important mission of all for teachers in the digital age:
to help students learn to use technology meaningfully in pursuit of their
“I think so many people fail to optimize the convergence of technology and
inspiration, passion, purpose and intention," Carroll said. "If I know what I’m
passionate about and I have access to technology that can help to demystify or
amplify my passion, purpose, intention or inspiration — boy, that is the perfect
storm. Then we get all kinds of people leveling up in life.”