On Being Passionate

There are many things that I love to do! I love to read. I love to write. I love to spend time with family and friends. But the one thing that I’m passionate about — that makes me excited and happy and drives me to always do my best — is teaching. I am one of the lucky ones: every day I get to do something that I love. Every day, I get to teach.

As my vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, reminded me in a tweet tonight, being passionate is a good thing.

2013-11-28_18-51-08Today had me really thinking about this, as my passion for education leads me to …

  • Think differently about we can do to help ALL students succeed.
  • Be vocal about what students need and why they need it.
  • Work closely with colleagues to problem solve together.
  • Always consider students with special needs.
  • Remember that ultimately, first and foremost, we’re here for the kids!

My passion for education drives me to constantly look at ways to improve my own practice, and I think this is a good thing. It also has me considering everything I do in the classroom, and how each activity can work for each student. One of my favourite educational quotes is, “If they don’t learn the way you teach, teach the way they learn.” This is the signature on all of my school emails, and it’s the quote that I think about every day as I plan each lesson. 

As I sit at professional inservices, I often think about this quote. I thought about it today. This afternoon, I was at a Board inservice on proportional reasoning. We read and explored this monograph, that had me thinking about proportional reasoning in ways that I never had before: really seeing how it’s a major part of all math strands. After reading and discussing the monograph, we worked in groups to explore different proportional reasoning problems from all five math strands. Before January, we’re going to give one of these word problems to our students, and then we’re going to meet with a neighbouring school to discuss the results and plan next steps. While we went through the problems together, I thought a lot about differentiated instruction. Some of my thoughts are actually captured in the tweets below.

My problem is that I’m not just looking at these questions as a teacher or as a teacher of some students with various special needs. I’m looking at these questions as a teacher with a learning disability of her own. I’m looking at some of these questions and realizing what would happen if you gave some of them to me.
  • I’d shut down.
  • I’d see myself as a failure.
  • I would stare blankly at the paper and not know what to do next.
  • I’d probably cry.

I’m a teacher. I’m a person that sees value in hard work and loves a challenge. But I want to know, I have to know, that there’s a chance of success. I understand the value in failing and trying again, but I know what failure means to students, and at the risk of generalizations, I especially understand the impact that it can have on students with special needs.

Today I struggled with these questions that I struggle with often as a math teacher: how do I not let language overtake math? How do I create word problems that will challenge ALL of my students: from those that are working well below grade level to those that are exceeding curriculum expectations? How do I consider the emotional and academic needs of my students, and balance both?

It was with these questions in mind, and it was with the image of the students in my head, that I fought for a change in our math problem selection (for our school and for a neighbouring school). Maybe I should have stayed quiet. Maybe I should have attempted to create a parallel problem. Maybe I should have let the students struggle and possibly fail. I couldn’t do that though. I strongly believed that the more open-ended math problem would lead to greater success for all. So I spoke up, shared my views, and stood behind my beliefs. We picked the new problem, and I’m happy about that. We view the other problem differently, but we’re continuing to discuss it, and professional dialogue is a good thing.

Today I was passionate. Yes, this passion made me somewhat emotional: partially there and partially later as I reflected on the day. Being passionate often makes me emotional, and I don’t love that, but I’m still glad I’m passionate: that makes me a better teacher. What are you passionate about? How do these passions benefit your students? I’d love to know your thoughts on this!


22 thoughts on “On Being Passionate

  1. Great post! I too am very passionate about the things that really matter to me. In the last few years I’ve found my passions exstinguished as I took on the new role of a teacher/mom. I found I just didn’t have the time to dedicate to my teaching practice that I once could and I’ve really be struggling with it. This September I decided to not sweat the little things and to focus on the ideas and concepts that really matter. I wanted to create a group of learners that are excited to come to school that questioned the things happening around them. I have jumped head first to Inquiry Based learning and having SO much fun with it

    • Thanks for your comment, Shivonne! I love how you’re making students excited about learning and coming to school. This is so important! Inquiry really helps with this. It also gives all students an entry point, which increases student success. I’m definitely passionate about that! 🙂

      I so appreciate your perspective, not just as a teacher, but also as a mom. Thank you for sharing how you’re addressing balancing both (and still staying true to what’s important to you)!


  2. I too have little control over my emotions when I am passionate about something. I used to think it made me weak but I’ve come to realize that is what makes me strong. I may shed a tear but the tear is about control over what I think, not about losing control of myself.
    As for teacher inservicing, I too have been in inservices when I have thought, if I taught my students this way I would loose them. I doodle in an attempt to stay focused and on task. Why is it we do not DI our inservices. While my signature block is different, I believe in the educational thoughts that What is good for one is good for all. Why do we think teachers come from the same mold? We don’t. Just like our students.
    Good for you today. Inservicing should have some light in reality. Our classrooms are not full of university bound students. So, inservices should reflect our reality.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tammy! Your thought on “emotions” is an interesting one, and not the way that I would have thought about this before. I like your perspective, and I can definitely see how this would be the case.

      As for the inservice, I think that the concept of proportional reasoning is one that’s important to address with all students. Some of the questions were very open-ended ones, including the one that we eventually chose to use. For the other questions, I’m glad that we entered into a discussion about the merits of using them or not using them in the classroom. While we may not have all agreed, rich conversations are good and tend to result in change. I’m all for that! 🙂

      Looking at the needs of ALL of our learners is always important, and while this is not always the topic of an inservice, I think that it’s always something to consider. I’m glad that we discussed this today. I definitely applaud the inservice team for creating a Twitter backchannel that allowed for some DI for me, and gave me a chance to talk about my questions/concerns with people online and offline. I guess this was like my form of doodling, and it worked! 🙂


  3. Yes the team does a great job. My point is more about remembering we all have needs. The back channel worked for you but distracts me. I always feel like I should be putting something there so I tend to stop listening. Oh the vivacious circle……so I doodle. Just shows adult learners are just like student learners.

    • A great point, Tammy! What’s awesome though is that you figured out this need and determined a solution on your own. I kind of did this today too. We were supposed to complete a placemat activity today, but the placemat didn’t work for me. I tweeted out my thinking instead, and managed to engage in some conversation with a teacher from another Board as well as my peers from around the table. As you said, differentiated instruction is good for teachers and students! 🙂


  4. Couldn’t agree with you more Aviva. Passion is everything and it is a good thing. One thing that I have to keep in mind is that not everyone has the same passion or the same degree. It doesn’t mean squash yours it means you have to learn to express your passion without getting worked up. Inquiry learning and more importantly, problem based mathematics has been mine for the last eight years. I have dedicated my whole teaching career to learning mathematics, from taking my specialist to my Masters. I see the potential in it, but I have to realize that not everyone does. This year I have tried to remember that. I have engaged in dialogue with every member in the staff and beyond. Instead of pushing I just ask questions, much like is would in class. This approach has worked a lot better then before.

    As for differiantiating for learners, you will find as you explore PBL it is I itself for all learners. A good context that brings students into the problem makes them not think about the numbers but the actual problem, that is mathematics. Mathematics happens in life, in context and it in itself is a language. If course you will still have the accommodations, read the problem to the students, change numbers, scaffold learning. But within a community of learners and a safe environment students will flourish. I think back to one of my research subjects. In a pre assessment, she balled her eyes out because she couldn’t do fractions. I told her how is it that you can do something g if you have never explored it. By the end of the unit, she was right in there. Arguing, debating asserting her thinking, it was a truly remarkable thing to watch.

    One last thing, there is nothing wrong with disagreeing as long as we are all open and ready to listen. Thanks again for sharing your learning I really wish I could write and reflect like you. Great learning.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jonathan! I almost feel as though I share this blog with you now, and I so love getting into discussions with you here. You push me to think more deeply about different topics, and that’s such a good thing!

      Your comment on “passions” is a great one. For me, passionate and emotional often go hand-in-hand (to varying degrees). I’ve tried the idea of asking questions, but what if the questions don’t lead to any changes? How do you push without being forceful? Being ready and willing to listen is so important, but what if people aren’t? How do you bring about change if people don’t want to change?

      And then there’s PBL. I so see the value in it, but I’m struggling with some students that have language difficulties (again, to varying degrees). How do you get the students to understand the language? I see the value in different groupings, but I want to make sure that all students are contributing to the group learning. How do you ensure this? I’m also looking at programming for students with autism. Have you ever used PBL with children that have autism? What supports — if any — do you have in place?

      Suggestions are always welcome! Thanks again, Jonathan!

      • I hope you don’t mind that I am constantly reading your blog. To be honest I found it to be one of the greatest inspirations to my own learning and the things that you do are often the same questions that I struggle with. I actually started reading yours because I moved to grade two after years of junior only to find you did the opposite.

        Anyways, your questions are questions I have asked for years and struggled with. I actually commented on the same thing on your vp kristi’s blog. When I first start PBL I was fortunate to have an amazing mentor, who allowed me to debate and talk win her. To be honest we were both pushing are way through it. She created a small four school connection group where all we did was talk math. We had guest speakers it was really amazing. I then moved schools and had to start this on my own. When I did that I would often push my way through people and almost shout that this was the way to do things. I would say, why don’t you see the amazing benefits, look at my class, look at your own reflections, why don’t you get it. During this time I forgot the growth that it took me to get to where I was. This year I once again have an amazing principal who has taught me to look at relationships. Those are the key to change. I realize that I won’t change everyone but slowly the ripples become greater. Everyone is at a different stage of learning.
        As to how to do this, we have done a couple of things. The first is established instructional rounds and team lesson plans. We also devised a lesson template that is consistent in our school. We have done three in service pds on math and problem based mathematics. And I have personally gone to each teacher and asked what can I do to help? We have looked at existing lessons and tweaked them. Yes they may not be exactly what I was envisioning but it’s a work in progress. At this point we almost have the whole school doing at least one lesson a month with PBL in mind and it is growing. Teachers are reflecting on how to use it, and want to do more.

        As for autism, I have had a couple of students. It has been hard. Haven’t come across any resources but what I found useful was community learning. Establishing those norms of collaboration, trust in everyone, and that my students help no matter what. From what I have seen in your class this is happening. I also had a chance to talk to Fosnot and she told me to have small group discussions if needed, almost like guided reading groups. Who says the whole class needs to always be there in congress. That might help differentiate the learning. I also found a basho model to be helpful where you focus on the differences between strategies and models. This is where a good trajectory will help. How do I get from one strategy to the next. I have taught this way with a huge diversity of classes and they always seem to surprise me.

        It also takes time. I remember feeling that at the beginning of the year they would never get it and then come January we were moving like you wouldn’t believe.

        I hope that answers your questions. If not keep asking. I will also send you the fosnot article in a moment.

        • Thank you so much, Jonathan, for always chiming in! I look forward to your comments, and really appreciate how much you push my thinking. (I was talking to a friend and a colleague about you today, and how your blog post comments really helped me out — thank you!)

          I love how you’ve tried to get more people on board. The instructional round and team lesson plan ideas are great ones! How did you introduce this to teachers? What feedback have you received? How did you get everyone to at least give this a try? I’d be very curious to know more.

          Thanks for the information about students with autism as well. This is what I’ve been doing at this point, and it seems to be working fairly well. Open-ended problems seem better (when it’s more about exploring and less entrenched in language). I’m still trying! My students are awesome though, and we definitely have a lovely classroom learning community! This helps a lot! And I do lots of small group sessions in addition to math congresses, which help with supporting those students that need it. Things are coming along! It’s good to hear from you that it does take time, and I’m excited for January now. 🙂

          Thanks again for all of the help!

          • Yes it does take time. As for getting on board, I have a really great staff who want to learn but also have really seen the benefit. Once we gave them time they really have bought in. I wonder if the ministry would fund a cross board project for us to work together?

          • This is great to hear, Jonathan! I need to do some more thinking about this, and I want to share your ideas with my principal and vice principal as well. I’d love a cross board project. It would be AWESOME if the Ministry would fund something like this! 🙂


  5. Passion for learning, passion for wonder, passion for children’s creativity and curiosity. Passion for the love of learning and the culture of life long learners. Passion for world citizenship and character. The passion is what makes us go above and beyond. It’s what drives us to find the ‘how to’ to reach every student under our care. The responsibility of culturing our learners requires and demands that we collaborate, communicate and share our journeys. Thank you for your thoughts. Music to my soul!

  6. Hi Aviva,
    I follow you on Twitter and learn from all the great tweets, and blogs you post. I have tried to look at passion as engagement this year, and I have tried to tie our project-based learning into the math. This way it is a familiar topic already, and they explore it through a math lens. We have been exploring drumming this week, and it tied into mathematics quite nicely. The love drumming, and they feel comfortable in that space, I then try to stretch the comfort zone over to applying it to a mathematical opportunity. I wrote a short blog post about it here: http://goo.gl/NfbhC5

    • Thanks Scott for sharing this! I love what you did, and I love the link between music and math. I’m going to look at your examples in more detail.

      Thanks again!

  7. Aviva,
    As always, I love reading your thoughts. I am passionate about teachers and students becoming passionate about learning. 🙂 I get very excited about trying new lesson/activities/ideas in the classroom. I have a hard time sharing my enthusiasm at work. We have AMAZING teachers but most have a different way to look at teaching/learning than I do. I have found there’s really nothing wrong with that. While I may not think it’s best for the kids, the children learn. Would I do it differently? YES but they look at my classroom the same way probably.
    My point with all of this is that I have make sure I do not get disheartened by those that do not share my passions to make education better. I have had a few days like this past year. Almost to tears because I feel alone. That is why I love twitter to find other passionate teachers who are striving to do things better for students. I still wish we could all teach at one school. I cannot imagine where the learning would go and the type of activities we could create.
    I guess my question is, if we don’t really have others at our school who will plan activities, how can we make it happen through our twitter connections? I would love to do this with pbl or all subjects but thinking small scale. I really wish we had a planning day (chats, google hangouts, skype) to create problems on a couple of math standards/objectives/strands and then we could share solutions and strategies. I think that would be a blast and we could learn so much.
    Thank you for always making me think as always.

    • Thanks for chiming in here, Carol! I love how we can connect with other educators through Twitter, and I must admit, that I’ve exchanged many ideas online (as well as some in-person through school). Your plan to connect through Google Hangouts, chats, or Skype on various curriculum topics is a great one. What a neat way to extend inquiry beyond the classroom. I think this is very doable (if there’s a link in curriculum areas). What do you think?


  8. I do think it’s very doable. Some many possibilites…probability might be fun across grade levels or we could keep it really simple (but rich problem) and do a multi-step addition/subtraction problem but change the numbers for the different grade levels. Just started thinking about this but really think it would be fun. I’ll keep thinking. Let’s think about this over the holidays and maybe try one in January. Are you willing to help me think of good choices?

    P.S.After reading your tweets in your posts, I checked out Marian Small’s site and love her math problems.

    • Yippee!! I’m definitely willing to think, and hopefully we can exchange ideas and try something in January. An open-ended problem could work really well between the grades.

      Glad you found Marian Small’s site too. I LOVE her math problems, and have found them to be great to use in the classroom! She’s a favourite of mine! 🙂


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