Terrifically passionate people make wonderfully significant and impactful decisions, all the time, every single day. These people are usually deeply emotionally invested in all that they choose to do. Some might consider them “all or nothing” kinds of people. This is exhausting, but it's essential to the learning process! These people are probably the greatest educators you’ve known throughout your life, whether they are “teachers” or not. Ponder upon those particular reverberations in your past for a moment before reading further. Make note of a few of those people. Write them down or sketch their presence on a mental note card. Perhaps, consider sending them a real note of gratitude. Maintaining this level of passion for the learning of others isn’t easy and requires exceptionally purposeful labor.
Great things…amazing accomplishments, etc., most often happen when phenomena are not typical. Have you ever given someone a compliment in the form of, “Wow, you were so very normal today?” …probably not.
I struggle with the K-12 education world at times when it seems to be seeking to normalize students and teachers. Placing educators and students into nicely packaged, designated, little boxes with a label on top, and a set of strict policies, can make some things easier at times, for sure. However, it also asphyxiates creativity and disregards the potential impact of outliers. This leads to frustration and burnout of passionate people.
In the United States, 8% of teachers leave every single year and less than a third of those are retiring. That works out to about 200,000 teachers leaving the field. The greatest areas of shortage include math, science, bilingual education and special education. The percentage of special educators leaving the field is over 50% within the first 3-5 years of teaching. Additionally, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down about 35% over the past 5-6 years. If we could reduce that overall attrition percentage of 8 to 4%, our problem of teacher shortage could be nearly eliminated.
Teaching is hard! Teaching students who learn differently than we do is even harder! If you’ve ever heard me speak, you’ve likely heard me talk at some length about “creativity, skill, and determination” all being fluid notions of great importance to successful facilitation of the learning brain. It is my experience that when learning isn’t happening or isn’t occurring at the desired rate, one or more of those three concepts requires some adjusting. I realize this is somewhat of an over-simplification. However, by simplifying a complex equation, we begin to make it understandable and approachable. When we couple this simplified equation of “creativity, skill, and determination” with our belief that all students are capable of learning, we can begin to feel empowered to design a plan of action. We avoid stagnating, which leads to abandonment.
Creativity, skill and determination are very much interrelated and dependent on one another. In other words, all three usually have to simultaneously exist within a reasonable median on its respective spectrum of potential. Stifled creativity can quickly degrade determination, for example. Lack of skill can make creativity feel impossible. Fading determination can render both lofty creativity and prominent skill ineffective.
So, how can we begin to be of service to the educators who are working with the learners who often need them the most in order to maintain creativity, skill, and determination? Further, what can we learn from the highly passionate educators who do not become part of the 8% attrition rate in the US?
How can a student pass an end of course assessment or state assessment, but fail class after class? Is it possible that a teacher can fail a student in a class while that same student actually knows the content material well enough to pass the high stakes assessment? It happens! It’s likely that this same teacher has had a plethora of difficulties to absorb in any given day. Focusing on the perceived misfortunes of the day is easy to do and most certainly punches determination right in the guts, but deliberately turning one’s attention to five specific things that went right that day can happen quickly and most certainly can fortify determination!
Celebrate the outliers. Administrators can encourage and prop-up educators who substantiate creativity! Administrators have incredible power to do this right in their hands every day! Calculated risks could be weighted with value on teacher observations and evaluations. Teachers can try to avoid making assumptions about expectations for their students until they've tried at least five ways to present the materials to them, to allow them to interact and respond and to engage them. The PATINS UDL Lesson Plan Creatorcould be a notable place to start!
Research has shown that something as simple as watching kitten videos can cause a rush of dopamine to the brain! Peek-A-Boo Catis another quick place to start!
Similarly, deep interest or passion in other areas can bring about similar reactions in humans. Personally, it’s art, music and motorcycles, in addition to kitties, of course! This biological reaction motivates creativity and can allow the body and mind to refocus on the five things that went right that day, and fuels passion!
I used to believe that this allowed me to maintain balance. However, a highly respected colleague of mine has recently lead me to believe something a bit different. When balanced, you are essentially standing at the fulcrum and moving nothing, changing nothing! I much prefer the ideology of continual movement back and forth on the levers in one's world, creating movement, as opposed to finding balance at the fulcrum and sitting there dormant. Distinctly passionate and effective people exemplify this sort of continual movement on their levers!
Gaining skill can promptly fuel both creativity and determination! Did you know that the remarkable PATINS staff are recurrently hosting trainings that cost you nothing? Check out our training calendarand if you don't see exactly what you're looking for with regard to content, date, or time, simply lets us know! We'll get it scheduled for you! The PATINS Lending Library also offers educators a means of implementing creative ideas when funding may not allow it locally. Borrowing from us costs you nothing. We even cover shipping in both directions!
Determination can wane quickly when an educator feels isolated. I believe strongly in the power of personal learning networks. These can be local or global or ideally, both! Consider joining the PATINS staff along with educators from around the globe on Tuesday evenings at 8:30pm EST for our weekly Twitter Chat! Just search Twitter for the hashtag #PatinsIcam! Your own network could build quickly by simply committing to 30 minutes once a week on Tuesday evenings! Correspondingly, the PATINS Specialists are always eager to support determination by joining you right within your classrooms and school buildings! Let us fuel one another's determination!
Don't allow yourself to be alone if you sense your determination or creativity diminishing! Likewise, if you are feeling creative and determined, but not sure of the skills, resources, strategies, or tools needed to make it happen, remember that the PATINS staffis just a click away! At the very least, make precise note of the five things that went right in your day, every day!
Daniel McNulty is the State Director of the PATINS Project, an Indiana state-wide technical assistance network for the provision of assistive & accessible technologies, the acquisition, creation & implementation of Accessible Educational Materials, and Universal Design for Learning. Daniel regularly presents nationally and locally on these topics and advocates strongly for high expectations for all students with appropriate supports. Daniel holds a BA and MS in Education from Purdue University as well as a current Indiana Professional Educator license in K-12 Severe Disabilities. He’s been a K-6 classroom teacher, a 3-year UDL pilot school leader, and was chosen as Purdue’s Distinguished Young Educator of the Year in 2006. He created and operated a behavioral consulting service for children on the autism spectrum, and has provided respite care in Australia while at the University of New South Wales. Daniel represents Indiana in the National AEM Best Practices Cohort, is Indiana’s NIMAS Coordinator, and serves on the national NIMAC Advisory Council and the national CITES Advisory Board.