A Passion for State Education (Inspired by the Olympic Opening Ceremony)
Watching the Olympic ceremony yesterday evening was one of those rare moments when people in Britain could collectively, and shamelessly, flaunt their national pride and passions without fear of social unease and our famed British reserve. What was so inspirational, and emotional, was how the ceremony combined the passions of a nation – national pride, a fierce love of sport and sporting competition, a pride in our great literature, with a timely celebration of perhaps our greatest invention – the National Health Service – all presented with charm, humour and a peculiarly British originality and genius. The tweets and hash tags heralding the NHS were particularly poignant given it is in a precarious position at this time, as the core universal freedom of access is under threat from privatisation and market forces, masked by the ConDem government under the chimera of ‘choice’. My thoughts turned appropriately to our state education system – under similar threats to the NHS – on the very day when the status of teachers, and our very professionalism, was undermined with the announcement that QTS status is no longer required in Academy schools.
The very concept of passion is something we all recognise as a crucial quality that we understand is central to our vocation. Yet, I think that many of us would struggle to articulate exactly what this essential passion is when asked. I know it is the first description I would want my students or colleagues to use to describe me as a teacher. I know it is the first quality I look for in a colleague. I know that in my own previous job interviews I have tried to articulate my best qualities, with passion being first and foremost in my mind – but I am pretty sure my descriptions and definitions have met with mixed reviews! I then read what I consider to be the most important and best book about education, and teaching and learning – ‘Visible Learning: Maximising Impact Upon Learning‘, by John Hattie, and I was enlightened. Hattie brilliantly articulates the concept of passion better than I could. Not only that, he explains how passion has a huge impact upon learning by linking it to a vast wealth of evidence. Passion for Hattie wasn’t some amorphous quality, but a more deliberate act. It was actually a deliberate act that could be subject to mastery through skilled and informed practice. The description was so powerful I have decided to quote it in full:
“As I noted in Visible Learning, we rarely talk about passion in education, as if doing so makes the work of teachers seem less serious, more emotional than cognitive, somewhat biased or of lesser import. When we do consider passion, we typically constrain such expressions of joy and involvement to secluded settings not in the public space of being a teacher (Neuman, 2006). The key components of passion for the teacher and for the learner appear to be the sheer thrill of being a learner or a teacher, the absorption that accompanies the process of teaching and learning, the sensations of being involved in the activity of teaching and learning, and the willingness to be involved in deliberate practice to attain understanding. Passion reflects the thrill, as well as the frustrations, of learning; it can be infectious, it can be taught, it can be modelled, and it can be learnt. It is among the most prized outcomes of schooling and, while rarely covered in any of the studies reviewed in this book, it infuses many of the influences that make the difference to the outcomes. It requires more than content knowledge, acts of skilled teaching, or engaged students to make the difference (although these help). It requires a love of the content, an ethical, caring stance deriving from the desire to instil in others a liking, or even love, of the discipline being taught, and a demonstration that the teacher is not only teaching, but also learning (typically about the students’ processes and outcomes of learning). In the current economic climate of many countries, property values have plummeted, leading to fewer resources available for the education budget. As Doug Reeves pointed out to me, passion may be the only natural renewable resource that we have.”
Another great mind, Ken Robinson, is rightly famed for his brilliant treatise on passion in ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything‘. The title is self-explanatory and very true. If you haven’t read it already, I would recommend you read it. I would also strongly recommend you then read Hattie’s ‘Invisible Learning: Maximising Impact upon Learning‘ to understand how passion can be channelled in education. Then use your passion to continue to master your craft, to hone your skills as a highly trained teacher and ceaseless learner, and with slightly less grandeur than the Olympic Opening Ceremony, to celebrate being a teacher in our marvellous state school system! Ignore that seemingly ceaseless torrent of negativity surrounding our schools as best you can (remember, politicians are ephemeral and most appear only to pursue individual vanities of little intrinsic value, being quickly forgotten and little mourned when they depart their stage). We in state schools have a much more important and valued job than career politicians – we are passing the flame onto the next generation. We will endure and succeed through a collective spirit that outlasts any political career. We will succeed because of our driving and transformative passion for the education of the next generation.
Here’s to passionate public sector workers across our great islands – keep flying the flag high!