I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Finally Realizing My Own Passion

I finally get it.

After hearing Angela Maiers in person at BLC12 (Better Learning Communities, Boston, 2012), reading both Classroom Habitudes and The Passion-Driven Classroom, seeing her work regarding Choose2Matter with high school students, following all the tweets and retweets of her words and work, and watching her podcasts, Google HangOuts, Skype sessions and now my favorite - "Passion-Based Learning with Angela Maiers".......

I finally get it.

I think I listened to this visit with Angela about 15 times now. She explains "passion," as she does whenever I listen to her words. After listening to her so many times and actually thinking about my own life and how I'm motivated by my own passion, I finally get it. Here are the words that have resonated with me this past month, and the message I will be sharing with my students this year.

"Many people think passion is doing what you like to do. And that projects should be wrapped around what kids like to do... But the root word of passion is 'to suffer; to endure.' So, passion isn't doing something that you LIKE to do - that's called a 'hobby,' or a 'project.' It's not even doing something that you're good at doing. That could turn into a job or a career or a project again. Passion is discovering what you MUST do.

"If you were asked to not do _____, what would your life be like? When you talk to individuals who are passion-driven, there is no event, there is no project, there is no beginning and end, and there's certainly no mastery... You're never finished. Passion becomes your energy, it becomes your fuel, your soul, when you think you can't rely on anything else and then passion whispers in your ear and says, 'What choice do you have?' because quitting is not an option...

"This is where the word 'suffering' becomes important... When something gets hard, or when something becomes high risk... when you start feeling the pressure of it... it's at that moment when you decide to cross the line, when something stops being fun, when something becomes incredibly, absolutely, almost sometimes almost excruciatingly difficult, if you stay with it, you are driven by passion. If you give it up...it just isn't true passion."

Just this month, I have realized what my passion is. It is giving students time to pursue their own passions. It was my 40th birthday, in January of 2013. On this date, I crossed "the line." I felt the pressure, and Genius Hour stopped being fun...

There was a parent that had been angry with me throughout the first half of the school year - for various reasons. I remember three specific reasons - Her child did not do as well on the ISAT as the year prior, and nothing I was doing in class seemed to be helping her to do better on the next one coming up in April. I was not giving enough homework, her child didn't have any grammar or vocabulary or root word work to study at home, and class was "too easy." On this date in January, she wanted to meet with me and the principal so she could explain her concerns more. On this date in January, in front of the principal, I also heard the criticism, "Genius Hour is crazy. All the parents think so. You should do more PR for it."
Nope. I can cut through the yard!
Although I had my principal's support, it felt like I'd been punched in the gut. Although I knew that Genius Hour was the only day of the week I saw her child smile in class, I felt defeated. I wanted to go home and cry. It was the first time any parent had stepped on my toes about Genius Hour. I left the meeting, and left my principal to talk more with the parent. I went home and had my birthday meal. I don't remember if I cried or not, but I do know my husband and I talked long and hard about it. One thing he asked me, "Do you think you're doing the right thing?" Yes. "Why do you think so?"

I slept that night. (I'm blessed that I can sleep most nights without trouble!) I woke the next day and wrote this blog post about the changes I'd be making. And then I acted. Out of suffering. I endured. Quitting was not an option. She wanted PR for parents? OKAY! I took the notes I'd been keeping to myself in an Evernote folder, and I put them into an online binder - for all to see.

The LiveBinder was created out of pain. It started because Genius Hour had become something I MUST do with my students. I needed to defend it. I needed to find the stories that motivated others to try it. I needed to let parents know just WHY I was using this time in class on a weekly basis.

It grew. During the #GeniusHour chat once a month, teachers had always been asking - How do I start? How do your hold your students accountable? How does this prepare them for standardized tests? What can I use to inspire my students? What do you do about students who have a hard time with this type of learning? I started making the LiveBinder helpful to teachers, as well. I began collecting, every day, posts and ideas that people were tweeting out about their own trials and tribulations, creativity, innovation, engagement, passion......

There are now OVER 400 teachers who have made the Genius Hour LiveBinder what it is today. Call it what you will - Genius Hour, 20% Time, Passion Projects, Innovation Days... All of these days are incorporated into precious school hours because of teachers who are passionate. These teachers know that their students need time to follow their own passions, or be turned off by the institution we call "school." Who to thank for this LiveBinder? A parent who didn't understand Genius Hour - because I didn't explain it. Who else? YOU. We should thank all the teachers who have made the LiveBinder what it is, and all the teachers who will help it grow further.

I received an email from Sherri Stokes this past week. She wanted me to put six different resources on the LiveBinder. These resources are in FRENCH! World language teachers will be so happy to see them. In addition to the resources, she shared with me a lengthly story from a parent who was giving her blessing to Genius Hour, because it had helped her daughter and their family. This is more fuel for me. This feeds my passion in ways I can't describe.

What's next for me? I will continue to be PROactive with parents, and let them know what we're doing right from the starting gate. I will continue to curate resources found on the #geniushour and #20time hash tags. I cannot stop. This I MUST do. I've heard of too many success stories to stop now.

What's next for YOU? Please...
     Keep writing about what you're trying in class, and WHY you're trying it.
     Keep sharing this writing online, and tweet it out for the world to see.
          (Use the hashtags so more teachers see your tweets!)
     Keep trying, tweaking, and trying again.
     Keep doing what you know is right.
     Keep asking others for help. We can figure this out together.

You do your share, and I'll do mine.
Let's keep passion-driven learning alive during school hours.


  1. Thanks Joy for all your work collecting and archiving our combined global efforts - it is the best resource! I love that we contribute collectively and can share so easily.

    I will be starting Genius Hour with my law 12 class this year - wish me luck! I will share our progress. So far I have only done GH in English and Humanities so I am eager to see what my law classes come up with :)

    1. You know I'll be looking for your progress reports, Valerie! ;) You don't need luck - you only need to share your own passion, and those young adults will be infected! Enjoy the new journey!

  2. Hmmmm....
    That was a lot to think about.

    One thing I tell the kids is that you can really care less about something you love to do. I might be passionate about mountain biking, but I could really care less about doing any activity connected to bikes. I find that sometime my intro results in too many kids starting on activities connected to things that they love to do.

    I wonder what the good intro question is...or maybe that is the problem. Any question or intro on my part sends them down a road that I have somehow picked.

    Couple random thoughts...
    The PR for "passion" will not be necessary if we can inject passion learning into the other four days of the week. When it becomes who we are and what we do and no longer a "special project." 8ish years ago, just 8, I was really the only teacher in school using computers full time. I had a parent report me to the State's General Attorney office. The charge, endangerment to a minor for letting her kid use the internet. http://goo.gl/HQG1P1
    After that Joy I did not sleep that summer. I spent the entire summer preparing my "livebinder." The next year I had a parent meeting and did serious PR. I used my binder to show parents that this was the right thing to do, and while we might be alone in our town, there were teachers and kids across the world doing awesome things. I actually found your post after taking a break from prepping my parent meeting presentation. One thing I would recommend with your parents that I have in mine is all the places in the world that have been influenced by your work. Grab those blog posts with your name, pictures of other classes, etc. Parents are more impressed when they know their kids are involved in something crazy that others are copying :)

    Last year a kid came in with a poster and said, "Mr. Bogush this needs to hang in front of your room." It was a big piece of paper in which they had handwritten the following," An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." It still hangs in room, and before I give my presentation to the parents this Friday it will be on my mind.

    1. More to think about now that you kept the conversation going!

      Paul, I think one reason the kids follow our lead is that the group we have is still learning about themselves. For much (most?) of their school career, they haven't been given this chance to work with their passions. But really - do they even KNOW what they're passionate about? Some may, but I think some are still figuring it out, and I think that's okay. They have so many other changes in their lives right now, that doing something they enjoy in school should be enough... I think. I go back and forth on this, but I believe if we had older students, we'd get more true "passion" out of them.

      As for your parent story - WOAH! I need to finish reading your post about Bulgaria, but what a push you received! I will take your suggestions and run with them - do well on your presentation with the parents - if you're passionate about it, your ideas will be infectious! Thank you for keeping the conversation going and for giving some hints!