“Can’t you ever just turn ‘it’ off?”
I knew exactly what my son meant as he asked this question that wasn’t really meant as a question. We had just moved to a new community last month, and we were going to volunteer to raise money for his new soccer team. Growing up the son of an educator, he knew I wasn’t shy and loved to talk to others, especially students. This meant, I would have the opportunity to talk with students as we volunteered, who happened to be his new friends and teammates.
I need to go record that I waited a full hour before asking a student a question while moving some tables and chairs.
“So, what’s your name?” (I could already feel my son’s eyes rolling around.)
After making small talk asking about his age and position on the soccer team, I asked what else he did or liked to do. At first, he looked a me puzzled. While I figured I caught him off-guard by asking him this deeper question, his facial expression revealed much more.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
What do I mean? Maybe he didn’t hear me. Maybe he was shy to talk about me. Maybe he had an interest he was nervous about telling other people. After a pause and with a smile, I asked him what he liked to do, or enjoyed doing, when he isn’t playing soccer.
Silence. Total, complete silence.
This wasn’t silence based on confusion about my question; he looked as though he didn’t honestly know. It was as if no one had ever asked him this question before.
How could a student get to high school without the self-reflection or guidance in finding and developing his passion?
Long after changing the conversation with Eli back to soccer, I still sit wondering how I can personally help him. What good is having students sit in class day after day learning about math, science, and social studies, when we haven’t addressed the most fundamental, the most important key to success: helping students identify who they are, so they can pursue their passion.
Now more than ever educational leaders need to build awareness and create opportunities for students to discover who they are. Through guidance and key moments, it is important we promote student discovery for students to look inward to truly make sense of the world around them and develop a plan to find their passion. Contrary to belief, educators are not just meant to teach subject matter, but use it as a vehicle to provide context for students about themselves and the world around them.
Here are a few key considerations to help students find their passion:
- Ask students how they describe themselves to others. This should not contain physical characteristics of themselves. Instead, it should be left up to them to explain to someone else who they are.
- Ask students to share their vision of the future. Allowing students to “dream” about their future reality may help to unlock what they care about most. They may not be aware of a hidden passion, but it may come from their description of the place or what they are doing in their future state.
- Ask students what they enjoy doing most in the world. Or better yet, what they feel they can’t live without! As a child, I remember crying if it rained preventing me from playing tennis outside!
- Ask students when they find themselves in their “flow”. “Flow” refers to those moments when time passes while they are doing something, and it feels like brief seconds. I am amazed how my youngest son “loses” himself shooting hoops in the driveway in all seasons of weather!
While finding a passion extends to many other lifelong goals and careers, the most important goal is for students to be able to self-reflect and identify their passions. Since passions change over time, it is critical students have the necessary skills to find their passion as the beginning step in finding their place in this world. Just like learning how to ride a bike, driving a car, or learning how to play the guitar, identifying one’s passion is a skill in and of itself. For educational leaders, it is important for us to be mindful of our real purpose and power to help students for a lifetime. It is important we make the most of every opportunity in helping students to identify their passion, supporting their passion, and cheering them on! I know, for me, I won’t rest until my next conversation with Eli…