I am nothing if not passionately passionate about what I do. If you’ve never met me in person and asked me a question like, “What do you think about the state of early childhood education in the United States?” or “What is your opinion about play-based vs. academically oriented preschools?” or possibly, “Can you give me some advice about dealing with crying? or eating? or what gear I need for a new baby?” then you have yet to truly encounter passion. I found my passion by way of the middle school math classroom: a beautiful and fantastic place where I imagined spending my entire career. But life circumstances offered me an opportunity to switch gears from thirteen-year-olds to thirteen-month-olds, and my life will never be the same.
Somewhere in the switch, I defined one of my life passions: a passion for learning about learning, and engaging with learners in their optimal language. I am passionate about teaching others about learning, and help them engage with learners in a likewise manner. Trust me, the smiles are great, the hugs and unconditional love are fantastic, but none of these gifts of childhood would sustain me long term.
So I decided pen the language that the children speak to my soul. As parents and care providers, I would ask us all to consider why it is that we do what we do. Every day is not rainbows and butterflies - we have toilet misses and skinned knees and paint fiascos all while lunch is past due. And don’t mistake passion for excitement and happiness — passion is authenticity, passion is vulnerability, passion is real. If I did not feel passionately committed to the work that I do, these long days would be the end of my early childhood career. Luckily for me, I have found a calling to a career that ignites my passion…and here is why:
1. Children are born problem solvers, and with the right support, I can grow this skill. Children who are problem solvers grow up to be adults who are problem solvers, and adults who are problem solvers can change the world. Take this scene, for example, unfolding entirely without me. The two children are four and five years old.
T: “Let’s pour the milk. I’ll do two, and you do two.”
C: “Okay. I’ll do the yellows, and you do the purple and green.”
C: “You can go first, since I went first at lunchtime.”
T begins pouring, but gets excited and pours three instead of two.
C: “Oh! Now I only have one. You did three and I only have one.”
T: “Oh. Sorry Cadence. Oh, wait, I have an idea. What if I pour this one back in, and then you can pour it.”
C: “Great idea. Make sure to pour it slowly.”
2. Children are driven to connect, and children who are allowed to connect grow emotionally integrated. And emotionally integrated adults can change the world. Consider this conversation we had a few mornings ago…
C: “I had a scary dream last night. A bear punched his arm through my door and tried to come into my room.”
T. “I had a scary dream last night, too. A monkey punched his arm through my door and tried to come into my room.”
S. “I had a dream last night.”
H. “I went to the zoo and saw a monkey.”
C. “Did you see a peacock?”
H. “Yes. He had big feathers.”
Here is what I observed over our breakfast meal. Either the kids were having extraordinarily similar dreams, or something else was at work. (My bet is on the latter.) When the crew and I chat over meals, the conversation tends to flow like a stream – one subject melds into the next, with enough similarity between them that the flow is seamless. As children learn to be in relationship with others, they are strongly motivated to find that thread of connection – where do I end and you begin? What parts of us overlap? If you had a dream about a bear, I want to connect with you in that experience. You had a dream about a monkey? I got to see a monkey!
3. Children are compelled to learn for the sake of learning. And this is probably the single biggest motivator I find. Children who are driven to learn for the sake of learning will grow into adults who are independently motivated, and independently motivated adults will change the world. For a child, there is no will this be on the test? or why do we have to learn this? There is nothing wrong with identifying a motivator for learning new things, in fact, this disposition is what helps adults distill understanding. But for me, as someone who loves learning, I find incredible joy in accompanying children through this process.
You see, my passion is that in connecting with young children, and growing their skills for problem solving, their capacity to connect with others, and ignite their quest for lifelong learning, I am shaping a generation of young people who will grow up to change the world. This is no small challenge, and no small contribution. So on the days when the needs are great, I remember my passion, and my work morphs into something much greater than whatever small task is making me crazy.
May passion guide your work. Share your stories of passion in the comments below.