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How often are you in your Element? April 27, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Musings.
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1 comment so far

Have just finished reading the “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” by Ken Robinson. If you’ve ever seen any of the thought-provoking (and often entertaining) online footage of Sir Ken, you’ll already be aware of his point of view, if not then this TED Talk is a good place to start and the recording of his visit to the RSA gave him the chance to talk specifically about this book.

So what is “The Element?” Well it’s the place where the things you love to do (personal passion) and the things you are good at (natural aptitude) come together. When someone discovers their talents and passions and enters their Element, they’re more likely to enjoy a more fulfilling life and contribute more fully to society. Robinson contends that all of us have an Element (or more than one!) yet the majority of adults fail to discover what it is. Yes there are indeed things we enjoy doing, but it is much more rare to find those things about which we are so passionate (and at which we excel) that when engaged in them we lose all sense of time, are energised rather than exhausted and find ourselves in what Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of flow. Finding your Element requires exposure to opportunities  where your aptitudes can be manifest, then seizing the moment and nurturing emerging talent. Sadly for many, that never happens.

An article in this week’s TES, “In Praise of Slow Starters,” features five high achievers of which only two reached their potential as a result of their school experience and more specifically, due to the encouragement and support of a particular teacher. The many individuals to which Robinson refers also suggests that most people find their Element in spite of, rather than because of school and that school, or more accurately, education seems to have little impact on helping young people find their Element. Whilst education may indeed be about much more than helping people find their passion, perhaps if it did serve that need, far more people would leave with a sense of purpose and achievement rather than resentment or apathy?

Even good schools probably don’t set out (overtly) to bring out the passion in each student, but by providing a broad and rich curriculum (formal and non-formal) they expose their charges to more opportunities through which nascent talents have the chance to emerge. Sadly recent trends and interventions by the Government have caused the (whole) curriculum to become restricted and narrow, rather than broadened and enriched. Schools and the people in them have become accountable by measuring student progress using crude baseline data generated by assessments which assume a rather narrow view of intelligence. Robinson charges us to recognise that intelligence is diverse, dynamic and distinctive and we need to generate conditions within which that diversity and dynamism can be nurtured and flourish. To find out what someone’s Element might be and help them to recognise it, we need to understand who they really are. Left to their own devices, what are they naturally drawn to? What kinds of activities do they engage in voluntarily? What absorbs them the most? what sorts of questions do they ask and what points do they make? Now seeking to do that whilst attempting to cram in a bucketload of content and raise someone’s grade from a D to a C (because that’s how we’ll be judged) may not be easy … or even possible? But if we continue to ignore what might be possible, will we simply continue to accept the student disengagement, disenchantment and disenfranchisement that often preoccupies teachers and schools?