At the end of March, I had the incredible opportunity to join Team BC at the Western Canadian Ringette Championships in Calgary, Alberta. Ringette is a sport that combines the skill and finesse of hockey with the speed of basketball, the artistry of dance with the strategy of chess… the ultimate team game where one player is never able to dominate. But my favourite part of ringette is its stature in the sporting world: small. Many people don’t even know the sport exists. (Click here if you are one of these individuals!) And although a ringette player can strive to reach the national level, ringette is not an Olympic sport and there are no scholarships or academies. Players choose to play and develop their skills simply because they are passionate about the sport. Ask any ringette player why they play and the answer is, “I love this game!”
Watching this passion for learning and excelling on the ice has led me to think more about the role of passion in our classrooms. Passion-based learning is not a new concept, nor is the idea that passionate teachers can motivate students and influence the culture and climate of our schools. Much of this conversation puts the onus on the teacher to be passionate in his/her approach to teaching and learning, or to encourage students to follow their own passions during passion projects such as genius hour. But how can learners ‘find’ their passion? Can passion be taught or developed?
Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow. – Anthony J. D’Angelo
While I agree with the importance of developing a passion for learning, I’ve met learners of all ages who feel pressure to find their passion, along with disappointment and anxiety that time is running out in the hunt for this elusive passion that will change the course of their life… or help to complete a passion project deadline in school.
What can we do to lessen this anxiety? How can we help learners find their passions? I’m not sure there is one answer to this question. The shift in education to personalized learning, inquiry-based learning, or deep learning is a place to start; allowing learners to ask more questions, to make connections between their learning and the world outside their classroom, and to engage in self-directed exploration. But we must remember to scaffold our lessons with sufficient support in these areas. The Core Competencies in BC’s draft curriculum allow learners–and teachers–to more readily identify their strengths and needs in the areas of communication, critical and creative thinking, and personal and social connections. I believe these skills are essential to becoming self-directed and engaged learners that can ‘find’ our passion in the learning opportunities that are presented throughout our lives. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach clearly articulates that passion-based learning is not about ignoring the curriculum; it is about allowing students to connect the content with their current interests and skills, and to have greater choice in demonstrating their learning.
As educators, we can also provide a rich array of learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom that potentially spark a passion in our learners. And we don’t have to plan these alone — connecting with community members and inviting them into our learning spaces, or visiting them in their places of expertise, allow learners to hear different voices that may ignite a passion for further learning.
And as teachers, we can model passionate learning by sharing our learning journeys with our students and with each other. We can find areas of the new curriculum that inspire us and look for ways to support cross-curricular studies and use multi-age groupings where teachers can work together with a variety of students. We can document and share our own learning through blogs, workshops and social media. (See Jenny Jackson’s work as a great example.)
At Bowen Island Community School, we have passionate educators doing many of these things:
- teachers are working together to look at the Core Competencies–to use the same language in our classrooms that will help learners recognize and identify their strengths;
- we are revisiting our school growth plan to ensure that our areas of professional development are connected to improving the engagement of our learners;
- we are looking at ways to utilize technology not only as a tool but as a canvas; a place to ‘place’ our learning;
- teachers are sharing their own passions with students: passions for gardening, art, athletics and music;
- a variety of learning opportunities and voices are being explored such as: learning our alphabet by using natural objects to make letters, raising and releasing salmon eggs, visiting the Big House and connecting with First Nations’ culture and stories, and creating and enacting advocacy projects for local issues;
- and connections are made with community members: learning about gardening with seed to plate, carving with local artists, PE Enrichment with the Bowen Island Gymnastics Club, and exploring intergenerational learning with seniors.
Passions are sometimes goal-driven, such as improving learning environments for the benefit of students. Other times, they are simply fun and all about living in the moment. Most times, though, there is an element of improvement, an element of learning that people find deeply satisfying. Whatever the ultimate source of passion, it’s worthwhile considering why people do what they do, and what conditions spark or have the potential to spark, passion.