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.