Passion in Teaching | Steve Barkley

Passion in Teaching

Passion or profession symbol. Businessman turns wooden cubes and changes the word profession to passion. Beautiful yellow table, white background, copy space. Business, passion or profession concept.In a SmartBrief post titled How to Build Workplace Passion, Naphtali Hoff identifies the importance of passion at work.

“In today’s rapidly changing business environment, companies need passionate workers because such workers can drive extreme and sustained performance improvement beyond the one-time performance bump that follows a bonus or a workforce engagement initiative. Passionate workers also possess personal resilience and an orientation toward learning. This can be particularly helpful for companies that need to withstand regular market challenges and disruptions.”

Several phrases in Hoff’s paragraph caused me to spend some pondering time with the article:

    • Challenges and Disruptions – The past three years have surely extended the usual challenges and disruptions for schools and teachers. The uncertainties that go with the ‘new normal’ have changed what many educators had previously valued in the many routine teaching elements.
    • Personal Resilience – Building student resilience is a key task for teachers. The teacher’s resilience is certainly an important element.
    • Orientation Toward Learning – Advancing success for all students will require ongoing growth in knowledge and skills of educators. Educators need a willingness to tackle the discomfort of changing practice and of learning with trial and error. The driving question needs to be, “What do our students need us to learn?”

“One of the best ways to build up a love of learning is curiosity. Ask yourself, what am I passionate about, what am I curious about, what am I interested in? And then ask yourself where that leads you.”
(Dr. Ryan Niemiec)

Here are a few of Hoff’s indicators of workers with passion. Do they appear in passionate teachers?

  • Bring noticeable energy to their work
  • Search for new and better solutions to challenging problems
  • Take meaningful risks to improve performance
  • Cut across silos to deliver results
  • Perform at a higher level with each passing year

“Teachers keep their passion for teaching alive by remaining passionate learners.”

(James K. Wangberg)

An ASCD article, Fueling Teachers’ Passion and Purpose, describes teachers’ experiences with Math Teachers’ Circles, which are designed to “renew teachers’ passion for their subject material and rediscover their love of learning.” The website for Math Teachers’ Circle shares, “On national surveys with hundreds of respondents, teachers report increased enthusiasm for mathematics; higher levels of professional engagement and leadership; and an increased belief that all their students are capable of doing mathematics.”

See this short video clip:

The ASCD authors point to the writing of Dan Liston and Jim Garrison in Teaching, Learning, Loving: Reclaiming Passion in Educational Practice which identifies three types of teachers’ love that drives quality teaching.

  • Love of knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge – Teachers tend to initially enter the profession with a love for their content but over time can lose that spark dealing with rigid curriculum objectives and fierce pacing. We need to provide opportunities like Math Teacher Circles for teachers to interact with others with similar content passions. Coaching and supervisory activities should communicate the value of teachers’ enthusiasm for their content. I sense we do a better job of that with performing arts staff.
  • Desire for Personal Growth – That growth can be connected to learning more about their content knowledge. Often teachers need to seek those opportunities on their own and frequently are not supported financially. School leaders need to encourage and support that continuous growth which brings enthusiasm for content learning to their students. In addition, growth can be in instructional practices. “Doing math for fun with colleagues also supports teachers’ growth as educators; teachers share teaching strategies and work through instructional issues while solving problems together.”
  • Sense of purpose/professional meaning – Statements like, “I hope to inspire generations of students not to hate math” or “I want my passion for math to infect my students” communicate teacher passion that provides needed resilience. Again, coaches and leaders need to reinforce these beliefs and values within their conversations and feedback to teachers.

As school leaders, we should be checking our passion and actions for creating environments that promote teachers being driven by passion. In a podcast, I had an opportunity to hear Music Teacher, JJ Hanson, describe her experiences in a districtwide PLC of music educators. I heard passion opportunities in her description.

You know that your colleague is sitting there caring just as much about your success and your student’s success as they care about their own success and their own students’ success. There’s this feeling in your department that these are all our kids, we’re all in this together. So, I have a responsibility to you as your colleague to help you be the best that you can be just like I have a responsibility to myself to help me be the best that I can be. I really think that that’s one of the things that happens when you work really hard on building a collective efficacy community.

We questioned why we were not retaining students of lower socioeconomic status in our secondary music programs when we’ve got them all in elementary? Are there some things we’re missing? You know, we live in this area and in my town, the housing prices, the gentrification, all those things are changing our context. Instead of just being satisfied with the kids who have resources, who are going to be in our programs in high school and middle school, we’re trying to ask the questions, where are the other kids? Are there things that we can be doing? There are some things that are out of our control, but we’re curious about the things that are in our control or ways that we can shake up the system because music education is the right of every kid who wants to have access to it.

Sounds to me that this PLC is passion-driven and that their work builds and supports passion. Consider placing teacher passion on the agenda for your leadership team to explore as you meet to plan for the next school year.

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