Thursday, June 9, 2011

Making the case....

On Monday, June 13 I'll be giving a talk to my School Board on the "Passion-Driven School." We're making plans to move toward a standards-based system, and I'm going to call for the inclusion of some system for finding interests/passions of children and giving them the time and resources within the system to pursue them.

There's a lot of support on my Board, but there will be objections that I'm trying to anticipate. One is: "In a passion-driven, personalized school, what happens with the kid who just doesn't feel like learning math or science? We've hired these teachers, and we can't just get rid of them. We have all this curriculum and we can't just forget about it!"

There's a strong feeling in my district that if you don't make kids do things they don't want to do, the whole system will spin out of control and kids won't learn anything.

I could use all the input I can get -- my talk will go through some of the neuroscience of education, the need for transformation, need to respect kids, the role of teachers, etc.

I have a pretty good grounding in the reasons for the passion-driven classroom, having read lots of books, read lots of teacher blogs over the last months and done a bunch of writing on it. But when I sit in front of parents and traditional teachers my mind goes blank, or I lose my temper, one or the other. So I need help.

Any input would be so helpful!


  1. OK, I'll start with my own answer. Here's what I've come up with so far:

    If kids don't understand why they need to learn something, they won't learn it. If a teacher TELLS them why they need to learn something, it still isn't real to them. I'm sure teachers tell kids why they need to know something all the time! The first task is to establish trust between students and teachers. This trust is based on acknowledgement that kids have passions that deserve time and resources. First of all, If a teacher is facing a class full of kids with ongoing projects in their own areas of interest and passion, he or she will have a much easier time of it. Second, students are subject to discipline routines based on mutually-agreed-upon rules and consequences. There is lots and lots of discussion of rules and behavior, what is acceptable and what is not, and students have been a part of establishing those rules. There are no grudges in the room based on perceived unfairnesses. These things are the necessary precursor to kids making connections to material and concepts they don't naturally gravitate toward, and learning them well. A curriculum that says, cover a lot of material and dig deeply into what you love makes sense. It makes even more sense still if you enter into these curriculum areas with kids with whom you have already established a trusting relationship.

  2. Suggest to the so-called traditional teachers that they go with you to visit a school where this approach is working. Assure them, too, that any poor test results that come about during the transition from traditional to passion-driven education won't be held against them.

    Those teachers have a lot of real-life experience with kids, parents and school Boards who always think they have the answers but who haven't lived through "cutting-edge this" and "the-next-new-thing that" from every Principal and superintendent who came along all the while struggling to maintain some sense of momentum and classroom discipline. It's darned hard to meet every child's individual need/wants while also trying to satisfy the community at large for good test results.

  3. Very good thoughts, Nancy. Thank you!