How do we help students discover their passions?

John Rison - jrison@abingtonfriends.net

I think we start by giving students some freedom and some room to experiment, and we allow for failure. Too many schools today are not learning centers; instead, they are places that provide a process or a system that is imposed on students. We are not empowering students as learners, nor are we helping them discover passions and interest, because the system is too rigid. If we look at shifting away from content, and moving towards learning as the focus, then passions fit nicely into that model. What if we taught thinking and learning?

Just a few thoughts to start us off....

Some starting links:

Pope's book "Doing School"
Waldorf

I think a lot about how we know when we've discovered our passion(s)? For me, it's often the feeling: my body and mind feel clear, excited, happy. I try to pay attention to what catches my attention: so I ask myself what about an experience makes my breath catch in my throat or makes my heart pound? That's what leads me to the things that matter to me and align most closely to my deepest values/beliefs.

So, how do we help kids connect with their feelings, not just their thoughts? We have to value more than just intellectual development. That makes me think of Marc Brackett's work at Yale.

[Bill Ivey] In our middle school (based on NMSA's "This We Believe"), we work to focus on intellectual, social, physical and aesthetic development. We understand, and help parents and students to understand (in different ways) the inter-connectedness of these aspects of development - that a student doesn't turn off her brain or emotions or even aesthetic sense while she's on the soccer field, for example. Teaming is key to what keeps our focus on all aspects of development. Our middle school team meets twice a week, focusing more on the social side Mondays and more on the academic side Fridays, to share successes and questions and strategies. Classroom teachers, performing and visual arts teachers, coaches, advisors and houseparents all find ways to support kids where they need it.This approach can work well at the high school level, too, and I believe the elementary program at Pine Cobble School, where I used to work, also teams effectively in support of kids even though some teachers do see only kids from one certain grade.

I think it would help students if we model what we are passionate about as teachers. Especially, if we can work in those things besides what we do as a profession, teaching and working with students. If you're runner, share those experiences. If you like to cook, share those experiences. Share the things that make you who you are besides teaching. These types of activities do not have to happen during regular instruction time, though actually something in me tends to lead me to believe that they are just a vital as "State" or National standards; our current tools for learning and communicating lend themselves elegantly to this type of "teaching."

[Brian Brown brownbr@thompson.k12.co.us] I agree that we have to model for our students. Showing students what we are passionate about and what we want to learn more about is a step. we then need to show our students how we go about following our passions and stretching our learning. Kids need to see that sometimes new learning is placed in front of us. We learn because that's the job at hand or the requirement that we need to fulfill. That type of learning is necessary at times. Students also need to see that sometimes there is just a personal need to learn more about a certain "thing" and that when we listen to the voice and follow the trail our lives are enriched, our minds expanded, and our world becomes a better place. Not for points or grades but for that inner desire to know something more than we already did. As teachers we sometimes need to set aside the curriculum and scope and sequence in order to share with our students those passions for learning that we are experiencing and allow them to do the same. Maybe using a certain time each week to discuss passions in the classroom will work for some. Possibly a class wiki or blog for students to share their passions and learning will work for others.