It All Matters

Analytical Creativity in Progress

Creative Analytics in Progress

Inspiration Matters.



Every time I discover inspired learners in a school both the vibrancy of their projects and interest in their work reflect congruence with their educators’ value for passion-driven learning. No two spaces are quite the same and the learners’ work doesn’t follow formula.

For a couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting upon the inversely proportional relationship between passion for learning and standardization in schools. It’s pretty simple to observe as passion increases standardization decreases and vice versa.  We live in a time in which outcome metrics, fidelity to replication, and scalability of “evidence-based programs” are supposed to lead to growth in achievement as measured with precision by batteries of “objective” tests. This approach defines the education game of the day in almost every public school in this country – but not everywhere.

And Engaged in Serious Play

A Gathering of Educators Hard at Work


Teachers matter.



Despite standardization pressures, creativity and passion still grow and thrive in some learning spaces. Some of these creative educators, one-offs in their schools, live in an underground, often virtual, network where they draw upon each other to sustain each other’s vital signs as teachers. But, what a loss to our profession when these creative educators must live as independent contractors in their schools, never fully realizing the power of learning when an entire staff of educators is on a passion-driven mission.

Educator-Centered Principal Leadership
Learner-centered Principal Leadership



Leadership matters.



Others are fortunate members of communities where principals support and facilitate the work of teachers and learners as creators, designers, builders, developers, and inventors. Here, teachers become master artists at work in schools that are more like studios than factories. Their learners engage in learning how to learn through deep, engaging, interesting work rather than the drudgery of one too many worksheets or multiple-choice tests. Such models are few in number but they do exist in both poor and affluent communities. And, that tells me we all have the potential to realize rather than deny our dreams for contemporary learning spaces where every child can find their interest and passion niche as a learner.

foster intensity at any age

The interests of engaged learners

The work matters.




Educators in some learning spaces are choosing to transition toward less standardization. They reflect creative work in progress. I’ve observed a school transform from mostly blank walls to one that’s full of life, light, and color. The change reminds me of a day spent watching a painter at work along the Seine. She began with a perfect, white canvas that was altered with daubs of colour into a rich landscape teeming with life.  She stayed with this project for hours, refining each stroke of the brush to catch the light, the shadow, a child kicking a ball, lovers reclined on the river’s bank. I marveled at the passion and commitment it took to sustain such attention to her work, despite distractions all around her.

The Window as Learning Wall

The Foyer as Library

Learning Spaces Matter.


exercise ball as seat
lying and standing work spaces


Seating under table, in chairs, on floor

Recently, I walked a once-perfectly tidy school that’s in transition. I noticed signs of change in children’s drawings and writing on glass windows in the library a study in mirror writing. Another day, I returned to find children sprawled on a classroom floor working away on a project to redesign their room – a study in concentration. In another school, the librarian painted a still life with plants, benches, and tables onto the once-blank foyer outside her library. A few weeks later, the still life was landscaped with children, 2nd and 4th graders, reading together under the tables, on benches, and gathered together on the floor a study in multi-age learning.

the messiness of design think described by principals

Teachers in a third school “walk” their classes together discussing the dual importance of a safe and comfortable space as prerequisite to challenging learners to engage in rigorous, creative, and critical thinking/doing work. To shift toward multi-dimensional learning work, educators have to work hard to effect changes in practice. It demands a concomitant shift from the dominant use of the frontal teaching wall to systemic use of multi-dimensional spaces inside and out of the classroom. Design changes. Teaching changes. Work changes.

Team work as life skill

Collaborative experiences matter

Community of multi-age reading buddies





The distance between the painter at work on the banks of the Seine and educators at work adding color and life to their world isn’t so far really. Artists seek out each other routinely in formal and informal ways to share their work, “steal” ideas from each other, reflect on changes in technique, ask questions, and push the boundaries of their art.  Creative teachers connect for many of the same reasons.

the science of passion


the art of passion

Passion matters.

I want to learn.. passion

When teachers create, adopt, and adapt their work, they function similarly to artists. They share and learn from each other. Like artists, they fuel themselves with their own passion and, in doing so, create a contagion of creativity (borrowed from @irasocol) that fuels learning passion among the young people they serve. They’re not cookie-cutter teachers and they look for every opportunity to design away from cookie cutter learning work.  It’s routine for their children to ask questions, pursue interests, wonder and search, make meaning, create original responses, and amplify knowledge into deep understanding and growth as a learner. Together, educators and young people alike dream learning that’s writ large through passion, not writ small through standardization.

Principals in the Learning Trenches

Principals who Embrace Passion for Learning


Permission matters.




If I could gift every school with the opportunity to dream big, I would start with restoration of passion. From recent conversations with teachers collectively engaged in design thinking, I’ve found one common theme emerging. Educators need support of leaders who’re not afraid when teachers take necessary risks in pursuit of learning as they change the spaces, change the learning, and change the tools. Each step of the way, they diverge along different pathways just as artists also do.

In giving up the safety of mass standardization, they simultaneously sustain an in-common vision that young people can accomplish learning beyond our wildest dreams when they’re inspired, passionate, and interested in the work they do.

It works for educators. It works for those they serve.

Images: Albemarle County Public Schools

6 thoughts on “It All Matters

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention It All Matters | A Space for Learning --

  2. Pingback: Passion driven learning « Passion Changes Everything

    • Eric,

      Thanks for your response- I appreciate the connect to M Scott Peck’s work-perfect in alignment. I worry that we continue to slide down a slippery slope of standardization when everyone in the biz sector has learned that customized options are what people desire. We have for thousands of years as humans worked to differentiate our identity through our clothes, jewelry, art, music, stories, and work. We know that’s a drive for who we are- we are not creatures of habit, really. While the corporate sector has worked creatively to offer customized options for cars, phones, shampoos, dwellings, movies, tv shows, shoes, etc., we in schools are being forced towards standardization of learning product and process. Your response captures why we need to as leaders support passion-driven learning and ensure that those who serve our young people are permitted to customize their work so that learners can energize their own work.

  3. Pamela Moran’s observation regarding the inversely proportional relationship between passion for learning and standardization in schools is right on target. In her posting entitled It All Matters at, she explains that when standardization in schools increases, passion-driven learning suffers.

    The power, good and bad, of standardization involves its appeal to fears and desires. Educators change their behavior in the face of standardization because of fears relating to not satisfying standards, and because of their desires for the positive reinforcement associated with meeting standards. However, the Skinnerian approach of standardization in schools undercuts passion for teaching and learning.

    We should have the courage to design student work that encourages passion-driven learning. In Abounding Grace: An Anthology of Wisdom, M. Scott Peck emphasizes that “courage is the capacity to go ahead in spite of your fear–in the very direction of which you are afraid.” Peck quotes General Omar Bradley as stating, “Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.” Peck also quotes Corra Harris who said, “The bravest thing you can do when you are not brave is to profess courage and act accordingly.”

    So, let’s acknowledge our fears regarding not meeting standards, while professing our courage to “look for every opportunity to design away from cookie cutter learning work,” as Moran puts it. She explains that in the classrooms of teachers who encourage passion-driven learning, “It’s routine for their children to ask questions, pursue interests, wonder and search, make meaning, create original responses, and amplify knowledge into deep understanding and growth as a learner.”

    Some people may find this vision compelling, but intimidating. It’s important to remember that realizing this vision is a journey and that we are at different places in this journey. Let’s celebrate our progress even as we seek to increase the frequency with which we design student work that is engaging and truly rigorous in that it involves analysis, synthesis, and application, not just memorization of large quantities of facts. Let’s also, in the words of Moran, “support and facilitate the work of teachers and learners as creators, designers, builders, developers, and inventors.”

    Passion-driven learning is compatible with students mastering specific content and skills standards. In discussing courage, M. Scott Peck also quotes Cervantes who said, “True valor lies in the middle, between cowardice and rashness.” So, let’s design student work that promotes mastery of the content and skills objectives of our curriculum while also inspiring and engaging students. As Pamela Moran concludes, “young people can accomplish learning beyond our wildest dreams when they’re inspired, passionate, and interested in the work they do.”

    • Thank you- someone said to me recently that children must be in classrooms that are physically comfortable and emotionally safe to engage in the challenges of learning that in itself can be uncomfortable. Learning occurs when we are in tension, stepping from the known to the unknown. That feeling can be scary for adults and children because learning, ultimately, is a risk for us all. Matt, I appreciate your incredible commitment to daily reflection and willingness to engage in that process in a real and heartfelt way. You ask questions. You are willing to accept dissonance and learn from it. That’s worth a lot in a leader.

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