Discovering Students' Passions


"Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you're passionate about something, then you're more willing to take risks." ~ Yo-Yo Ma


It's amazing what you discover when you take a moment to talk with a student. As an administrator at a large elementary school it's challenging to know all the students. I mean really know all the students. What they're passionate about, what they like and dislike and their aspirations. Yesterday was one of those moments where I found myself discovering something special about a student that I probably wouldn't have known if I hadn't taken the time to visit her classroom and have a conversation with her about her work.

In my post yesterday I committed to being present and observant during my month of blogging and for that I am so thankful. My normal routine is to visit some classrooms when I'm free from administrative work. I tend to visit classrooms when students are working and the teacher isn't in the middle of teaching a lesson. Sometimes teachers will see me at the door and motion for me to come in so they can get my opinion or thoughts on something. Either way I usually make my way around the room asking students questions about what they are working on and pushing their thinking a little bit.

Yesterday, however, I was struck by the work of a grade 6 girl I'll call Janet. The class were working on creating individual t-shirts that promoted not only their class, but what their individual accomplishments were. When I walked in most were so engaged making their creations with fabric markers and Sharpies that they didn't notice me. As I made my way around the room some were so proud of their creations that they just had to show me even if they weren't done yet. They all had a great message about themselves and the class. But Janet never looked up. She continued to work on her design, pausing every so often to inspect her work. I knew Janet by name but didn't know much about her other than her being a quiet, likable student. When I finally got to Janet's desk my jaw nearly hit the floor. Her shirt was amazing (It's the one pictured at the top). I initially thought that maybe she had traced it like some other students had done. I immediately started asking Janet questions about how she came up with the design. This is where I really discovered the passion Janet had for art. This was going to be her life's work. She reads books about artists. She finds websites about artists. She reads blogs about artists and she visits any art gallery she can. Janet doesn't just have a talent, she has a passion. I would have never known that if I hadn't taken the time to talk at length with Janet. 

So how can a teacher or administrator tap into the passion or interest a student has? One method that I have seen produce amazing results are Passion Projects (sometimes called Genius Hour). They are based on the Google concept of giving employees time during their work day to work on any project they want. Students are given time to research, plan and present on a topic of interest to them. This is such a great way to allow students to really dig deep into their passion. If I were in the classroom today Passion Projects would definitely be part of my program. If you want to see some Passion Projects in action check out the hashtags #passionprojects or #geniushour . You won't be disappointed.

I'm sure there are other methods to support students with their passions. I'd love to hear what you think. 


Jumping in Puddles

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  • Great post and I completely agree with creating the conditions for students to explore their passions and their curiosities. We know as adults that when given a choice of tasks, we gravitate towards those that we are passionate about. The one line in your post that resonated with me the most was when you shared that if you hadn't stopped to talk to Janet, you would have never known about her passion for art. I often wonder if I had just one "wish" for every student in every classroom what would it be. In reflecting on the work of the Language portfolio teams and my own learning, I now know what that wish would be.... I would want every teacher to take the time to know his/her students, as people, as learners, as readers etc. I have no doubt that that would have a significant effect on the choice of tasks, the choice of text, the choice of materials in classroom libraries etc. If students felt that their teachers really knew them, can you imagine the engagement level?
    For Janet's sake, I'm thrilled that her VP now knows about her passion for art!!

  • David

    Thanks Sue. It's amazing to see the time you take to comment on many blogs. It just proves what a great leader and role model you are.

    I agree 100% that if students felt that their teachers really knew them that the possibilities in the classroom would be endless. They would be engaged in their learning and I think teachers would see a classroom that students returned the favour by wanted to know about their passions. This whole conversation reminds me of the recent hashtag and blogging trend #iwishmyteacherknew. There were some very poignant and thoughtful ideas that came from those conversations.

    Thanks again.