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Smokey the Bear Says, "Fires Allowed Here"! | Ecology of Education

Smokey the Bear Says, “Fires Allowed Here”!

Want to give your students transformative learning experiences? You’ll need these:

  • Engagement
  • Content
  • Relevance

Students must be engaged and involved to the point of being vested in the outcomes of the experience. They must encounter content that deepens their knowledge base and provides them with the intellectual tools they need to be successful. And the task, project, and/or objectives must have a meaningful context in order to be meaningful to the students.

However, even with these three elements in place, a lesson or unit or project may still fall flat. Students engaged in relevant content does not necessarily translate to inspired learning.

Herein lies the piece of the teaching puzzle than cannot be standardized, scripted, or tested. It’s the magic voodoo that the best teachers possess and the worst lack. It’s the catalyst that turns a humdrum subject into something powerful and life changing. And it’s the red thread that ties together all those gushy “The Teacher That Changed My Life” stories.


Ironically, it’s also an ingredient that is altogether missing from our national edu-speak about quality education, and for the most wonkish of reasons at that: It’s utterly unquantifiable. Passion can’t be graphed, charted, or objectively assessed. It defies convention and refuses to be contained.

Yet anyone who has ever been to school knows this simple truth: Passion is also what separates the teachers who teach from the teachers who inspire. As William Yates famously opined, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”

The question for many leaders close to the ground floor of education is “How?” Amid standards, accountability, achievement, and performance, finding time to develop the less results-driven talents of teachers can seem like a luxury more than a necessity. They wonder, “How can I inspire teachers to truly inspire their students while achieving quantifiable results?”

(That policy makers answer this question with “merit pay” is illustrative of the gaping disconnect between politicians and educators. “Everyone we interact with is motivated by money. Therefore, aren’t teachers?” But I digress.)

Turns out, passion is contagious. Inspired teachers inspire students. Inspired students are learners. Learners “achieve”.

But again we wonder, “How do we effectively inspire teachers?”

I’m not sure. But there are some things I do know:

  1. There are no silver bullets for cultivating passion in teachers. Chocolate helps, but it’s only a short term solution.
  2. Canned curriculums taught the same way year after year stifle passionate teaching.
  3. “Burn out” burns out passion.

The passionate teachers connect deeply with both students and content. They love who they teach and they love what they teach. They’ve invested themselves emotionally in both the subject matter and the students. It’s this dual emotional commitment that leads to transformative learning experiences.

Cultivating that passion is an indirect process, but it is possible. We must re-personalize teaching. Teachers need to feel that the classroom is an extension of their own love of learning, a place where curiosity reigns and it is okay to say, “I’m not sure. Let’s find out.” We need to give teachers autonomy to adjust curricula to the students in their charge, to tailor the learning to meet the needs AND interests of the kids in their classrooms.

Find out what your teachers care about, what their hobbies are, what they google when they want to know something, and encourage them to bring that learning to the classroom.

Passion is contagious. Let’s create an epidemic. Fire up your teachers to bring what they love about learning into the classroom, share it with their students, and let’s start some fires.

This post was originally published on AngelaMaiers.com as part of the “passion driven” discussion.

Image: Collective Spark

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Author:Jason Flom

Learner. Educator. Reader. Writer. Cyclist. Part-time Polyanna. Husband. Daddy. Founder, Ecology of Education. Director of Learning Platforms, Q.E.D. Foundation. Twitter: @JasonFlom. LinkedIn: Jason Flom; Edutopia's Green School Group; and doing dishes while pretending to be a professional underground rapper. "I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion." Kurt Hahn