This post originally appeared on Starr Sackstein’s Education Week Teacher Column.

Passion gets a lot of love and attention these days. And why wouldn’t it?

People are naturally attracted to positive energy. It affirms an inner joy and creates a pleasant emotion. It’s a beacon in an environment of apathy, a kick in the pants when you’re stuck, and a force of magnetism between people.

Many would argue that there isn’t enough passion in this world. I’m not quite sure. I think there is a lot of passion.

Just look at your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds. Plenty of passion around sports, politics, going to the gym, shopping, enjoying the outdoors, etc. So when we hear someone say there isn’t much passion these days, I translate that to mean they don’t see a lot of enthusiasm and urgency focused around a calling that’s difficult or around selfless acts of giving. A giving of time, resources, and energy into a vision bigger than ourselves.

So why harp on passion? Passion is easy, is often circumstantial, and not only masks insecurities, but can create them. Think about what gets you really excited. So excited you want others to be just as excited as you. Now think about something necessary in life, but boring, mundane, hard, and requires self discipline.

If you had a choice, which one would you rather focus on? Dream about? Spend time doing? If we’re not good at something or have an insecurity, I can cover it up with passion. It’s easy and I don’t have to deal with this other thing over here. Passion, excitement, and electricity can inspire, but alone they cannot create a movement. There is a stronger driving force. I’d argue it is THE driving force: purpose.

Ryan Holiday in  “Ego is the Enemy” says “Passion is about. Purpose is to and for.”

Example of passion: I am so passionate about incorporating new technology in the classroom.

Example of purpose: I am willing to endure the challenges of the teaching profession to help kids succeed.

One is about me and the other is about something bigger than me. Passions wane in the face of difficulties and challenges. Purpose becomes stronger in in the face of difficulties and challenges. Passion has you chasing dreams. Purpose is why you dream. Passion has no true north. Purpose provides direction.

How do you tell the difference between passionate teachers and teachers with purpose? How do you become a more purposeful teacher (or insert leader, educator, learner, etc.)?

Purposeful teachers…

Do things that make them uncomfortable. They do things that scare them.  Just think, if you’re running on passion, you’re steering far from anything that causes fear. Because fear erases passion-induced euphoria.

Get stuff done. Purposeful teachers are action driven and value the hard work it requires to reach a lofty goal. The greatest work comes from blood, sweat, and tears.

Seek mentors. They find fellow educators (principals, instructional coaches, teachers, etc.) who have a compelling vision of reaching all students and have proven themselves successful. Their walk has proven to match their talk.

Are themselves. This doesn’t mean, they’ve resolved to not change because it doesn’t match their personality or wants. Of course they are seeking feedback from trusted peers, examining areas of individual growth, and becoming more malleable everyday to new facts and evidence. But they are also comfortable in their own skin, confident in who they are, and honor their past journey and experiences.

Honestly don’t believe they’re the smartest, best, etc. They humbly seek better ways of teaching and learning, surround themselves with diversity, people who are different, and who think different in hopes of gaining new perspectives and new knowledge. Life-long learning is more than just a catchy phrase. It’s lived out with purpose.

Have you ever noticed when you walk into a rockstar teacher’s classroom (as an observer), it’s as if you’re invisible. The attention is unmistakably on his students. The focus is squarely on the learning outcomes she has established for her students. It’s not a show or performance. There is no one to impress. Just unbridled energy that comes from a wellspring of purpose. Purpose is why we work so hard. Passion is nice, but purpose is the foundation of a compelling vision. A vision far greater than our self-centered passion.


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