Your Passion Follows You

What’s your passion?

Do you feel your stomach going into a knot? Is your heart beating faster? Are you scared of being ‘outed’ as an imposter – someone who doesn’t have a passion?

Or, do you find this question easy to answer, knowing that your entire being and your identity is rooted in that one thing that you love. You are like Michelangelo, Einstein, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, or Mother Theresa – you devote your life to your passion.

Or, do you answer with something that you enjoy doing? “Yeah, I like to golf.”

In education we are using the word ‘passion’ a lot lately. We know that deep and meaningful learning happens when we are enthusiastic and genuinely interested in something. As good teachers, we want to personalize learning and create rich experiences, so we ask our students to name their passion. Yikes! Other than the soccer players and the odd artist, most students freeze when asked this question. It’s intimidating. It implies a devotion to an activity, object or concept. Most children aren’t devoted to any one thing. Nor do we want them to be. Their job is to explore, discover, inquire, question, and create.  The things they like to investigate and learn about change constantly. You might get the best answers from our kindergarten students, when, in one week, the same student might answer that question differently every day, “Dinosaurs!” “Bugs!” “Building blocks!” “Books!” “Mud!”

Benjamin Todd’s advice in his TEDx talk, To Find Work You Love, Don’t Follow Your Passion suggests that the phrase “follow your passion” gets it backward. Rather than following your passion, he says, do something that is valuable, get good at it, and passion will follow you. Focus on building skills that genuinely help others and make the world a better place. His equation:

Explore + Get good at flexible skills + Solve pressing problems = Happiness/Passion.

Instead of asking students to identify their passion we can help them find great problems to solve and guide them to develop the skills to solve them. Let’s provoke them until they feel that fire igniting, you know the one, the desire to learn, to create, and to become really good at something. And when they are good at something, create opportunities for them to use those skills to help others. Students love to share expertise and help others. Imagine a community of students who aspire to become experts so they can make the world a better place.

When I was in University, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I fell into teaching due to an offer I couldn’t refuse. At first I did it. Then I liked it. Then I got good at it. I got better at it. And as I got better at it and because I developed these skills, I grew to love teaching and I became passionate about learning more to help our students.

Terri Trespicio, in her TEDx Talk Stop Searching for Your Passion, suggests that passion is where your energy and effort meet someone else’s need. “To live a life full of meaning and value, you don’t follow your passion, your passion follows you.” My passion definitely followed me.

where-to-find-passion

Do Unto Others as They’d Like Done Unto Them

There is “The Golden Rule” (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and then there is the “Platinum Rule

Do Unto Others as They’d Like Done Unto Them

Years ago I read the book by Tony Alessandra and Michael J. O’Connor about the four basic personalities and how to see people differently, understand them better and deal with them in ways that they would want to be treated. It made a lot of sense, and honestly, it helped me understand my husband better – he wanted fast, goal-orientated interaction whereas I was slower paced and focused on harmony.  As soon as we both understood that we were treating each other the way we wanted to be treated and not the way the other person wanted to be treated, it made a world of difference. 

It is all about empathy. Understanding others. Here is a powerful example of how empathy is often misunderstood:

On the Leading is Learning website there is an interesting article about empathy. You may have read last winter the heart warming story of a police officer who bought a pair of boots for a homeless man. He bought the boots with his own money. A passerby saw the interaction, took a photo, the picture went viral and the story made national news:  An empathetic  police officer.

Empathy is often misunderstood.
Empathy is often misunderstood.

The officer had great intentions and he gave from his heart. He, however, misunderstood the need of the homeless man. A month after the gift of the boots a journalist returned to the homeless man to find him barefoot. When asked why he wasn’t wearing the boots, the man said, “Those shoes are hidden, they are worth a lot of money-I could lose my life.” (New York Times.)

This anecdote gets at a core challenge with empathy in leadership. Empathy isn’t about treating other people well. It’s about understanding that other people’s needs and expectations – what they mean by “being treated well” – might be very different than your own.

What does this mean in a school? Leading is Learning suggests that school leaders need to listen to their community and really understand the experiences of their clientele. Whether it is in designing the daily schedule, a new report card or the new cafeteria:

Innovative school leaders need to take the time to “play Anthropologist,” in the words of IDEO designer David Kelley. They need to understand what other people experience on a daily basis, and what values and norms they carry with them.

To a teacher, it means taking time to understand your students. Ask them questions, listen to their answers. What kind of day are they having? What are they worried about? What do they love to do? Where do they want to sit and why?

As teachers, we all wish the best for our students. It is who we are, that’s why we do what we do. Empathising with them, understanding their experiences, needs and motivations will help us, the teachers, help our students get what they need. This is compassionate teaching.

In the book I am reading now, Olivia Fox Cabane, offers these definitions:

Goodwill: wishing the other person well

Empathy: understanding the other’s experience

Compassion: Goodwill + Empathy

How would you assess your level of compassion in the classroom?

 

Release the energies!

And, perhaps my last post of connecting the idea of philanthropy to our students (inspired again by Jacqueline’s Novogratz’s book The Blue Sweater). John Gardner, while giving advice to Novogratz, continued:

“Finally,” he continued, “philanthropists should find innovations that release the energies of people. Individuals don’t want to be taken care of — they need to be given a chance to fulfill their own potential. Too many projects create dependence that helps no one in the long run.”

Doesn’t that sound exactly like school?! Our students don’t want to be taken care of (worksheets, highly structured lesson plans and graded activities), they want to and need to be given a chance to engage, discover their potential and fulfill it.

Let’s not be afraid to release the energies!