What is Learning Without Passion?

It is easy to say to bring passion to all you do, but when it comes to school I can’t see a more fundamental attitude in the process of learning. Students who feel passion about what they are learning ask more questions, look at the challenges ahead of them with a different perspective, and tend to not give up when the learning curve becomes a challenge rather than a tryst.

credit: Quotemaster.org

Up until recently, I saw passion as something that the students were to bring to class in the forms of ideas. At the start of each session, I would have the youth coming up and sharing what they would love to work on if they had the chance. It was a great way to get an idea of what motivated them, and it also impressed me at how many ideas and concepts could be brought to the table. The students with clear goals in mind, who had already taken the time to chart their course, and often had already invested time through another class or on their own time seemed particularly appealing for our teams. We thought that this was a great indicator on the type of student we wanted in LEAP Academy.

We may have missed the boat on that notion all together.

At the start of each 6 week session of LEAP, our method digs into the idea of what makes you excited to learn, and we spend some time sharing with one another the concepts and areas that are most appealing. It has always been important in building the team dynamic, but also helps to find project ideas that all can connect on. And this is where our past methods may not have been helping us craft the ideal team to carry forward a project.

Many kids would come up to us in the week’s preceding the next LEAP session and express interest in joining. In most cases the conversation would lead to the students telling us about an idea they have had and would love to pursue. In the first lessons these ideas come about again, and they often find it easy to persuade friends to work on this project as a group. While the group may share a common interest in doing this project, it generally is one person in the group who has the passion to keep the project energized.

Therein lies the issue… if that person does not show up to school their group feels little motivation to continue the project, even if they are thoroughly enjoying the process. Over the course of the project, we have observed it is most common for the energy level of the group to drop. The idea holder generally is no less passionate about completing the project, but their passion was only shared in a limited sense. Since we aspire to greater autonomy and self direction among our students, this poses a double challenge. The traditional carrot and stick motivators are not present, and without passion for this project the intrinsic motivators also are lacking.

While there are many examples I could point to, I will single out the Live Action Role Play (LARP) group. The members of this team were all friends, and had all indicated shared interests in the idea of building a LARP group at our school. However, two of the group were very passionate about this and wanted to carry forward plans that had originated with experiences shared in the past. The others were enthusiastic, and excited to build swords for mock battles. By day 4 the group had ceased to move forward as a collective. Instead, what had started with strong enthusiasm has deteriorated into a chore. It was by no means a fault of the content, as others have designed whole schools around it. The goals they set was achievable, but seemed to no longer hold relevance to the group.

Those who had passion from the start failed to confer this passion onto their peers.

We have started to reconsider how to structure our first week of brainstorming to avoid an independent project growing into a group project at the risk of a team who just don’t have the passion to carry the project forward. Should we bring in canned projects for the students to build team dynamics around initially? Should independent projects be scrapped in LEAP, in an effort to refocus our efforts on building amazing collaborators?

In this process a neat realization started to unfold, one which helped to not only identify solutions for this problem but also solve another slightly more existential one. This is where the teacher fits into the picture. More so, this is a key indicator of an excellent educator: they have passion that is contagious.

photo credit: Quasar Group

The teachers I have had who impacted my learning journey the most were those who were not only passionate about what they taught, but made me feel passionate about it as well. I became passionate about architecture because of Mr. Whitfield, passionate about history thanks to Ms. Kimmey, and will never forget the passion expressed as Dr. Rolf painted a picture of what a chaetognath would look like to their prey. Similarly, the teaching colleagues I most admire do this regularly. They are able to keep kids engaged in a conversation about something they had never heard about long after school has ended. They can impress upon young minds how lucky we are to have information to look into anything, that we are in fact the biggest limit to something not being done.

Our new iteration of LEAP will start with a transfer of passion from our educators to the students. We are not concerned about what is going to be learned, but are hoping that we can create strong enough hooks to generate sparks of interest while also pushing our students outside of their comfort zones. Our hope is to create a program where students can feel the awesome power of collective effort, and we will leverage our experience and capacity as vectors of passion to make this happen.