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?
As passion-based 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 that more?
" "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 that." "
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 comprehend." "
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 social settings." "
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 pursue." "
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 passions.
" "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." "