When we speak about “engagement,” especially as it pertains to us in our work as educators, or in the tasks of students as learners, it’s obvious that the word can mean so many different things.
- Am I having fun?
- Am I paying attention?
- Am I focused?
- Am I dedicated to the task?
- Have I just become more curious?
- Am I being creative?
- Do I want to speak and participate in a discussion?
- Do I have something to contribute to the group?
We don’t talk as much about passion. In one sense, we hope many of our educators who work with kids do have a passion for the job or vocation. Just as you would like your teachers to have a passion for teaching, you’d hope your school leaders had (a) passion for… school leadership. And we could even say that the goals go beyond teaching and leading. You could find yourself in this profession because you simply want to make the world a more interesting and better place, and you feel the best way you can do that is through educating young people.
But what about students’ passions in life? Is it our job (as educators) to worry so much about that? Or is passion something best left to a student’s parents?
We can talk about, as I already have, passion for a profession. But what about passions for other things? If we were to make a list of the passions of people we know, it would no doubt be varied and long. But what about some of our own? Certainly the list would be manageable?
I am willing to bet that if we could honestly list our passions, and then list how we spend our days, evenings, and weekends, we’d see one of several things.
- We spend a lot of time doing the things we have a passion for, and we’re happy.
- We don’t spend enough time doing the things we’re passionate about, and we long for more of it.
- We don’t spend much time at all doing the things we’re passionate about, and we’re miserable.
- We’re having a hard time coming up with what we are passionate about, and darn it, we’re not that happy doing what we’re doing, either.
I believe there is a type of magnetic relationship between passion and engagement. I would like to see more people saying #1 above, that they’re happy, and they’re doing the things for which they have passion.
One of my passions in life has been music. I am that general about it; I like listening to it, I like making it. There are many days I wish I was simply better at making it, as my love for making music has somewhat informed me that playing a major concerto on a stage with an orchestra must be fun. I’m never going to do that, but I can imagine having the sound around you, the technique to play overcome the challenge, and to hear the applause, must all be very awesome. It would be engaging.
While I believe a lot of different things may cause us to become engaged in an (educational) activity, I’d wager that one of those things, perhaps quite significant in comparison to the others we could name, would be passion.
Following your passion slavishly is not likely a good idea, however. I’m not saying we should all find our passions and devote ourselves to them shamelessly. Some passions could be harmful, destructive, or lacking in pragmatism. So…
We have a very definite passion about something, but following it leads to strife: either it’s too much of a good thing, or we’re simply misguided by the fact that we’re not very good at doing what we’re passionate about.
There’s a couple things I’ll say to conclude about this. First, the fact that #4 could exist for any kid growing up, to me, is sad. One of the major goals of growing up ought to be finding the things that inspire us, that instill passion.
Second, we ought to have opportunities to develop those passions into marketable skills. Every passion doesn’t need to be our vocation. If I had a passion for riding in speedboats, I could meet that a number of ways, including becoming a professional racer, or by becoming a successful businessman and buying a boat for weekend cruises. A K-12 education may not ever fully prepare us for transforming our passion into a career, but it should certainly give us opportunities to develop towards that goal, or else learn that the goal is misguided.
Third, and finally, our passions help define who we are. And if that really is true, then those same passions are a huge key to unlocking our engagement. Those passions will inform my values and my choices, and will help me to put myself into pleasing situations and take myself out of painful ones. Engagement, I believe, is a mental switch. I’m more likely to engage in something when it leads to what I’m passionate about. Conversely, I’m more likely to “tune out” when the activity doesn’t lead to my passion.
Which brings me back to #4. How engaged can I ever be, if I’m not even sure what I have a passion for? It speaks to me that schools should be:
- concerned with the concepts of passion and engagement,
- primarily focused on offering a variety of different types of opportunities in learning that reflect the interests and curiosity of young minds,
- helping kids develop the skills and competencies in the things they want to try.
I’m being totally philosophical here, without citing any experts or research, but if any of this resonates with you, do at least this: Find out what the kids around you are passionate about and figure out what you (if you’re an educator) are doing about it. What might become of this challenge?
- You strike up a conversation about the child’s interest, strengthening your relationship with that student;
- You change a lesson plan to accommodate a passion;
- You modify a lesson with differentiated options, so that students are not all doing the same thing;
- You provide students time to think about who they are;
- You talk more to parents, in an effort to try and learn more about their student;
- You exercise leadership in joining a school committee to offer extra-curricular enrichment;
- You take the time to share with kids at least one of your passions in life in an effort for them to better know you (improving relationships.)
- We reflect on who we are, and what we’re about, and self-correct.