Friday, February 22, 2013

Choose Passion

When I read this excellent post by Angela Maiers (@angelamaeirs) about the passion gap recently, it helped me to reflect on how fortunate I have been to have some amazing mentors and teachers who have “metaphorically hugged me” by supporting and challenging me in support of my passions. (see @robinellis, @snbeach to name a few) I’ ve also had incredibly supportive colleagues and administrators as well. Sadly, I’ ve come to realize that my experiences are not typical in most schools or classrooms.

For many educators, William Butler Yeats’ classic quote “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” resonates with them. Yet how often do we, as teachers, use the proverbial pail to douse and extinguish that fire inside of our students instead?  How often do we pour cold water on our colleagues ideas instead of fanning the flames? How often do administrators forcefully snuff out the innovative fires burning inside their teachers? How often do school boards or other state and federal bodies completely extinguish the fires inside the bellies of administrators who see the potential inside their schools and classrooms?

Based on that last paragraph, it would be safe to assume that “passion killing” starts at the top and  rolls down hill. In the accountability-based, standardized test driven world of education, what one does based on their passion is rarely appreciated or valued because it often can not be quantified or evaluated. Yet, those of us at the bottom of the educational  food chain, who often complain about a lack of professional autonomy and choice, professional development that doesn’t match our unique learning needs and styles, and little personalized feedback and support from our overworked principals turn around and return the favor within our classrooms.  We punish students by giving them little of their own autonomy or choice. We do not support their learning in personalized ways. And as overworked teachers we rarely give them the timely and necessary feedback needed to help them grow.

Many of us don’t want to admit this, but every one of us has a choice. Choosing to be passionate and providing that space for our students to be passionate learners is not easy in the current educational climate. It requires imagination and curiosity. It requires commitment and dedication. It requires data and evidence. It requires self awareness through reflection and adaptability to make necessary changes. It requires effort  and perseverance. It requires trust and faith. And most importantly, it requires courage. (See habitudes).

In all the rhetoric surrounding education reform these days, the words of Sir Ken Robinson always ring out to me:

“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn't need to be reformed -- it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

As educators, we must love our students and one another enough to embrace this vision and work tirelessly to make it a reality for every child. We must create classroom and district  cultures and climates that embrace inquiry and authentic opportunities of learning. We must be reflective enough to see the many ways we destroy our students and colleagues passions and then have the courage to change those practices.  We must shine a light on and reject the systemic processes  that do the same and work vigorously, professionally, and passionately to change them. And we must do this together. Living in a world with a passion gap is not acceptable for us or for our kids. We all have a choice. Choose passion.

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