Passionate Learners’ Chance to Shine

We’ve always had a population of students who’ve been passionate about learning certain subjects or skills. When those subjects or skills are aligned with what’s offered in traditional schools, we often point to them as our model students.


Because when they’re passionate about what they’re learning, and when what they’re eager to learn is what we’re committed to teaching, and when we’re teaching in ways that work well for them, there’s a high probability that they’ll do well.

There is positive reinforcement from them and from us every step of the way. The system reinforces itself.

What about the population of students in our schools who are passionate about subjects and skills that we don’t teach? We can’t teach everything in traditional schools, but what gets taught is typically what’s valued, at least by the decision makers, yes?

Well, with the growing options for learning – online, in person, open course, etc. – I can’t help but wonder how our image of a successful learner is going to change (has changed?).

As traditional venues for learning fall by the wayside, it’s going to be the passionate, self-directed, resilient, eager, creative, social, collaborative learners who will begin to shine. In many cases, these learners are the very ones we would have classified in a whole host of ways other than high performing, mainly because they haven’t functioned as well in our traditional systems.

It’s exciting, and it’s also daunting. Why? Because traditionally successful learners and teachers won’t / don’t look so successful anymore. External motivation will still play a role, but internal motivation will most likely prevail. Our new learning systems will require it.

Obedience. Linearity. Pleasing. Characteristics that have served traditional learners well in traditional systems won’t be as important anymore. Learners will have to / have to determine what they want to learn, and they will have to / have to go after it. They’ll also need to combine reflection, thinking, and study with collaboration and doing.

I’m excited to enter an era where teaching and learning looks different. It’s challenging because it’s less formulaic, but it’s exciting to see how our passionate, non-traditional learners are getting their change to shine.

I wonder if we’ll be labeling our formerly successful traditional learners as “learning disabled.” I also wonder how long it’ll be before the whole notion of successful performance on standardized tests only serves to indicate disability rather than ability.

I hope we have enough foresight to lose the labels and, instead, find ways to reach all of our learners. With all the options available and all the innovators who care, I have to think we’ll get there.