#3 – Passions: A Tale of Two Types of Teachers

About today’s show.

In today’s episode, we talk with Dr. Ben Schellenberg of the University of Manitoba. Dr. Schellenberg studies passions and explains to us how different types of passions can lead to vastly different outcomes for the same habits or actions. We’ll explore how this applies to our teaching and see what the best way is to begin incorporating small elements of nature education into any subject material at any grade.

Essay Transcript

Passion might seem like a strange topic for an Outdoor Education podcast, but if you’re listening to me right now, I’m confident in saying that you are passionate about education, about helping children reach their potential, and especially about being outdoors. You are passionate about nature. You might consider yourself a weekend warrior, or simply a lover of good walks, but you all have this one thing in common: at one point in your life, something sparked in you a deep connection and love for nature, and that love has never wained. We all hope that our children, our campers, scouts or students, will develop this connection that we cherish. In many ways this connection has enriched our lives, been our solace, confidante even at times; it’s our ever present source of inner-calm and peace. Maybe it began when you were roasting marshmallows over a fire, or maybe it was the first time you summited a mountain and looked down onto the landscape below. Perhaps it was gliding silently in a canoe over crystal clear water only to sneak up on an unsuspecting moose around a bend in the waterway. It may even have been an experience as simple as the first time you caught a frog when you were a child. Regardless, whatever kindled that spirit within, I’m confident in saying that as camp councillors, scout leaders, teachers and environmental educators, we all seek to help our youth see the world as we see it… which may very well be the problem.
We’ve all been guilty of this, myself especially… but have you caught yourself asking a kid a question, only to answer it yourself before giving them enough time to reflect on it?
Alongside Outdoor Ed, I teach a lot of science, and us science minds love facts & objective truths. I often have to remind myself that truths weren’t simply learned, rather they were discovered; often by curious and especially creative minds. So how do we teach or foster creativity?
Let’s take a trip back in time and place ourselves in 5th grade. Now let’s go for a nature walk with mom & dad, and when mom says “Why do you think that tree fell?”, what does your 5th grade brain think of? I’ll give you a second to think.

Now before you get your answer out, of course Dad goes ahead and explains the concept, and 5th grade you never got to say what you thought happened; that is, if you even had time enough to give it any thought at all.

I hope you see where I’m going with this. We love being outdoors, and we likely learned a lot about the outdoors because we’re passionate about it. But allowing kids to think, to be creative and to wonder about the outdoors may very well be more helpful than giving them the answers, could ever be. There’s a popular quote often credited to Socrates that says “Wisdom begins with wonder”. We want our students to become wise. I suppose we are all somewhere on a journey toward wisdom, but people become teachers because they believe in the power of young minds. The reason we’re in the situation we’re in when it comes to things like climate change, nature preservation and conservation, is because we haven’t yet discovered the answers to our problems… So when you prevent a child from making his own hypothesis, from answering the question you posed… ask yourself for whom you answered the question. I would argue that by preventing our students the time to hypothesize, we’re preventing our kids from thinking creatively. We’re teaching them that adults have the answers; when the truth is, we often don’t. We don’t need answers to problems we’ve already solved, so next time you ask a question, don’t answer it. In fact, just listen to the answers you get, and when you think “No… it’s actually this way…”, stop yourself and keep listening.
You might be thinking to yourself that this is totally a bogus answer. But, one day it won’t be a bogus answer; it will be the right answer, we just didn’t know it yet.

So don’t let your passion for and your knowledge about the outdoors become a barrier. Be an adventurer with your students. Make discoveries with your students. Learn with them. Get onto their level and get excited about the small things they discover; rediscover them along with your students. Do not be discouraged if you don’t think you’re having the effect you wanted. As Edward Osborne Wilson wrote in his memoir The Naturalist, “Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming.”. What the famous biologist, naturalist and Faculty Emeritus at Harvard University was trying to say, is that there is no substitute, at a young age, than simply exploration, curious play, wonder and hands-on experience. To cultivate passion for nature, we must allow students to discover it on their own. Your own passion should absolutely be your guiding light, and the fire the keeps you going. What it should not become, is a source of frustration if you aren’t achieving what you’d set out to do.

Be passionate about every one of your students’ small discoveries. Each one is a new bud on their metaphorical tree of life as a nature lover. Your job isn’t to make it flower… but simply to water it daily.


Dr. Ben Schellenberg @ University of Manitoba

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