How to Inspire Passionate Learning

A Kind Word is Never Wasted: a plaque with these words has always hung above the door of my classroom.  

I believe it to my core, but today I learned that there is science behind the phrase.  Today I watched a presentation by Nicholas Christakis. He described an experiment that had a student be kind to one member of their peer group.  As students moved throughout the experiment that student was kind to another and another. In the end, the kindness was delivered and received by two students who were far removed from the original two students.  Essentially, that first act of kindness produced ripples across the entire student network. 

Christakis used the example of graphite and diamonds.  He showed that the individual molecules of these two substances are the same, but variation in the arrangement of the molecules produced either a dark substance (graphite) or a clear and strong substance (diamonds). Christakis further explained that who we surround ourselves with shapes our behavior.

This idea of social grouping or networks having effects on individuals as well as the group is not lost on educators. When we think of a classroom with 30 empty chairs, we have conducted hundreds of mini experiments. We take the same elements (students) and find the ideal grouping to produce maximum learning. One arrangement might produce more of a dark graphite, while others create clear diamonds.  

I think we can scale up this idea to the larger context of a school.  How can our professional engagements elevate us to the next level as educators? What if we came together with a similar focus, harnessed our collective resources, and put them together to create momentum?  If an act of kindness can ripple through an organization, then could an idea, similarly, spread through the network? What would happen if passion could ripple through an organization?

This morning the speaker, Mr. Christakis, was fervently passionate about his work.  The content was at times convoluted with graphs, numbers, and theories which now I cannot recall their content. However, what did resonate with me was his passion.  Christakis’ passion was infectious. His research shows that if we surround ourselves with passionate people, we will, in turn, become more passionate, or more kind, etc.  

Could this passion spread from teacher to teacher and then student to student?  Could passionate students inspire passionate learning? I think so! We just have to rearrange thinking, surround ourselves with passionate people, and we can move from graphite to diamonds.  

Could it really be that simple…why not give it a try? 

Start by doing these three things:

1. Find a colleague that is passionate about something and inquire more about their passion.  Allow their passion to inspire you. See what happens.

2. Teach a lesson about something you are passionate about.  Share your passion with students. See what happens.

3. Ask students what they are passionate about and let them do a project that reflects that passion.  Passion Based Learning; See what happens.

Want to go deeper? CLICK HERE to use this FREE staff activity I created for you to better understand your staff’s passions and how to replicate this feeling across campus.

Sarah Hayden
Instructional Coach, TEEN TRUTH

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