Photo CC By-Andy

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a pilot light is a small flame that is always burning…and is used to light a much larger and more powerful flame.  In today’s education system, it seems to me that we have let this pilot light go out.  In schools around the country, there is such a large push for teachers to cover the contents of textbooks from cover to cover, just so that students might do well on their end of the year standardized tests.  As a result, we have lost the passion and fire that should go hand in hand with learning.  I have often wondered through the course of my college education about ways to challenge this practice that has come to be accepted as the norm.  After reading some words from a couple of wise sources, I think I have finally found a place to start.

Jeff Delp says in his blog that passion is one of the absolutely essential qualities of a 21st century educator.  I would have to agree.  Not only is it important that everyone in the field of education be passionate about the content area they are responsible for, but that they are even more passionate about their students; the perfectly unique individuals they work face-to-face with each and every day.  This sort of passion should be so obviously evident that it becomes contagious and spreads like wildfire.

Both Delp and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach are advocates for a better tomorrow through the use of passion-based learning.  In an interview with education journalist, John Norton, Nussbaum-Beach shares her thoughts about how we can implement passion-based learning in our 21st century schools.  In my experience as a student, throughout parts of middle school and high school, and the majority of college, I have spent my time sitting in a classroom, listening to the teacher talk for extended periods of time.  Nussbaum-Beach suggests that instead of using most of the class time for the teacher to talk, there needs to be an emphasis on “student talk”.  As teachers, we should be acting as facilitators of learning and strive to help students realize their own personal strengths and abilities.

Nussbaum-Beach also uses the phrase “One-Size-Fits-All”.  In the classroom setting, there is simply no place for this kind of approach.  Each student learns in different ways and at varying rates and it is important that we encourage them to do so.  Instead of dictating to our students exactly what and how to learn something, we should be setting an end goal in front of them and allowing them to reach it using whatever means of transportation they choose, while we (the teachers) act only as traffic directors along the way.  Students shouldn’t be taught what and when to learn, but should be encouraged to ask their own questions and make discoveries in their very own way.  Nussbaum-Beach demonstrates this method in her skateboard example given towards the end of the interview.  By choosing a subject that she knows her students will love molding it with the curriculum and objective requirements, she successfully teaches to the students’ interests and ignites in them a passion for learning.  At the same time, she shows that it is possible to meet the demands of high stakes testing through passion-based learning.

To take this approach in a classroom is not easy.  It takes some serious courage and faith in both your students and yourself.  But if we are seriously committed to reigniting that pilot light and giving our students the passion they need to light an even bigger flame, we must take the leap and go for it.



  1. I think one of the great things about CSC is that they allow future teachers to look at these sort of issues! They want you to question how you will break the mold, and be a better teacher to your students because of it. I hope you are able to take all of this passion and pass it along in your classroom!


    1. I would absolutely agree that CSC has given us a lot of useful knowledge that we will be able to apply in our future classrooms! I think it is so important to model a passion for learning because our students will mimic whatever behavior we display ourselves. It is my goal to facilitate passion-based learning in my classroom as much as I can. Thanks for reading, Courtney!


  2. Ashlyn,
    I really love your analogy of a pilot light and the “light” in education. I agree that too much emphasis has been put on standardized testing and their outcome. Why is it that we think that the best way to measure students learning is by testing them one time a year, and then teachers having repercussions of “undesirable” outcomes? Like you said, this does not allow teachers the ability to be “passionate” or instill love for curriculum that they do not even love.


    1. Hillary,
      I’m not sure why or how our education system has arrived at the point of it being ruled by the results of standardized tests. The results of these tests are very poor indicators of a student’s (or teacher’s) ability in my opinion. I am hopeful that we as the future generation of educators can bring about some changes and find positive solutions or ways around the things we cannot change.


  3. Ashlyn-
    This is great! I love your comparison between light in education and the pilot light. There are so many ways schools have put out this light. So very sad! So many teachers have lost their passion for teaching and are resorting to other methods of teaching removing themselves from the teaching position.
    Thanks for sharing!


    1. It is true that many teachers have lost sight of the passion that should accompany learning on a daily basis. It can be easy to get caught up in trying to help your students score well on tests or simply in the busyness and stress of teaching and everyday life. It’s awesome to be able to share and discuss ways we might be able to get around this issue. Thanks for reading, Shontell!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ashlyn, this is great!! I love the idea of a pilot light; I think it really relates to how students work. Students have the smallest lights when they begin school. They come in and don’t want to learn, but when a teacher takes delight in their passions the light slowly grows. When you begin to see the light in students you will be able to build on it. Let’s say your student is fully focused on athletics…they have an intense passion for sports, how do you ignite that flame, and use it to contribute to their learning? My teachers hated when I would miss class for sports. Sometimes I received extra work and even a worse grade for missing. To support the passion of this student you need to take interest in their sport. Give them more time when they miss school, ask them how the game/race was, and help them catch up when they fall behind. I know I will favor athletes when I am a teacher knowing how it feels to be neglected as a teacher for my passions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t have said it better, Kelly!! It is so awesome that we get the chance as teachers to kindle these flames in our students. I can completely relate to your experience as a student athlete. Even now as a college athlete, I still face some of the same challenges while trying to balance school and sports. This will definitely give me an understanding perspective on the situation of these students when I am a teacher. Thanks for reading!


  5. Love, Love it! This is wonderful blog you have created. “One-size fits all” mentality has to go. There are different teaching methods and learning methods, so it is possible to engage learners. Asking them about their sports or including those ideas to create a makeup assignment is going to get a better response than, “You have 5 homework assignments you missed. I will give you until tomorrow.”
    Nice job!


    1. For sure! If we can get tailor our teaching to include the interests and desires of our students, they will be much more likely to stay engaged and make an effort to learn. There must certainly be alternatives to some of the ways we are doing things in many public schools today, including the one-size-fits-all approach. Thanks for reading, Valorie!

      Liked by 1 person

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