Passion and Purpose

"Making People Smile" by David Mega

Today was an incredible day for many different reasons.  It was incredibly uplifting.  It was incredibly sad.   It started with an incredible keynote address by Marco Torres.  And it ended with an incredibly moving funeral service.  Ironically, both the start and the end had a similar theme:  that of passion and purpose.

From the 8:45 a.m. to 10:10 a.m. time slot, Marco Torres had me once again at the edge of my seat during his key note address.  He spoke of meeting Danica, a waitress and coffee artist in Australia.  He spoke of putting love into the things that you do.  In this case, it was making artwork on the coffee.  He spoke of voracious learners.  He spoke of creating chefs not cooks.  He spoke of creating top learners, not top students.  His passion for providing the very best learning environment for students was evident throughout his talk.

From 11:45 to 12:45, I attended a session called “Creating a Film Festival in Your Community”.  This session was hosted by two twenty-something students of …you guessed it Marco Torres.  Rosa and Elizabeth were incredibly articulate when they discussed how running this film festival empowered them to be leaders.  That everyone has a purpose or a role.  They called on the young man, William, who was photographing this session.  He spoke of how his role, of handling all of the equipment, made him feel wanted and part of a community.  Rosa and Elizabeth spoke of how powerful it was to give students, who might not shine academically, a chance to shine.  Feeling a sense of purpose was the thread that was woven throughout this talk.

From 2:00 to 3:15, I went to a session called “Inspiring Passion Driven Learning” by Angela Maiers.  The top two words again:  passion and purpose.  She described passion as “Passion is not fun stuff, it is the stuff that makes a scientist excited about a molecule.  Passion is not a hobby, but it is what wakes you up at night thinking about it.  Would you do this for free?  Would you fight to keep doing it?  It is drive, determination, tenacity.  It is not a project, but it is content and desire to live a life of meaning and to do things that matter.”  Angela spoke of the need to make sure that our students feel that they have a purpose.

Last Self Portrait by David Mega - a Thoreau type of cabin

And then, from 5:45 to 6:45, I was at a funeral service.  A funeral service for the 46 year old brother of one of my dearest friends who had died after a 15 month battle with cancer.  Since I grew up with Jo-Ann, I knew her five brothers and sisters just like she knew my four brothers and sisters.  We were both the oldest, we both had a brother named David, and we now both have lost a sibling to cancer.   Her brother David, who just died, was somewhat of a modern Henry David Thoreau.  He walked to his own drummer.  As his brother said during his eulogy, he never married, he never had children, he didn’t go to college.  Yet, he was a learner. One as Marco earlier described. as a voracious learner. He taught himself to draw.  He taught himself to create incredible culinary masterpieces.  He was a chef, not a cook.  He read the Bible from cover to cover.  He learned about anthropology.

Plaque that was in the lobby of the Children's Hospital

Then, after being diagnosed with cancer, he started a project that speaks volumes to his passion and purpose.  His youngest nephew was in and out of Children’s Hospital with some health issues.  David bonded with this nephew over the bond of knowing the toll that a hospital stay can play on both children and adults.  They discussed, this 46 year old and this six year old, on how David’s art could be placed in the lobby of Children’s Hospital in Boston to bring a smile to patients and their families.  And one month ago, this dream became reality.   David was not a “top student”, but he had heart and as Maiers said, ” it is content and desire to live a life of meaning and to do things that matter. ”  His artwork indeed made a difference to the many people who pass through that lobby every day.

The Chaplain from the Hospice where David spent his last few weeks of his life discussed David’s passion and purpose.  The same two words that started my day where now ending my day.  David described his artwork as “first a hobby that has lead to a lifelong passion and a meaning of expression for him.”  Rosa and Elizabeth described the student films as a way to express themselves as well as giving these students a sense of purpose.

Passion and Purpose.  Two words that on this July day, had incredible significance to me.

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Awake, Passion, and Calm: “I’m So Blogging About This!”

Yesterday morning at BLC11, Alan November told the crowd that Thursday’s keynote speaker was not going to be able to speak, but in her place, he was calling on a friend of his, Marco Torres. That news was wonderful. Hearing Marco speak last year at BLC was a transformative experience for this teacher. Yesterday at one of the sessions that he presented, I went up to him yesterday and thanked him for his words last year that had changed my teaching so radically last year. He was humbled by the compliment. So, I was really looking forward to what he had to say this morning.

Analog versus digital. Staying on the question. His goal to be a cello player in a subway station. A heart drawn in his coffee at a small shop in Australia. Latte art.

True to Alan November’s intro that Marco does a brilliant job connecting the dots, Marco started connecting the dots. The story of Danica, the waitress in Australia who clearly loved what she did, led into that you need to create an atmosphere where you have voracious learners. Not students, but learners. You need to have an interest in learning and a commitment to being a learner. Like Danica’s community of latte artists, your colleagues do not need to be all people at your school. You need to have your own group of Yodas that you can connect with.

Make remarkable moments. Let students grow. Give students options. Bring the world to your students. You can quit, complain, or innovate. Make chefs and not cooks. Turn our classrooms into problem solving spaces. Choose the appropriate tool for the appropriate message. Love what you do and love your students, be resourceful, and find like minded folks. Embrace challenge. In your classroom you have your 23 students to why you need to be better and to be a better person. These words just spoke to me and affirmed to me to continue to look for ways to better engage my students.

But what Marco showed at the end with a series of four pictures was what was truly memorable. One picture showed a jungle, the next a simple path, and another a two lane highway leading to a mountain. He said to ask yourself on the first day of school to look at your options. Do you want to continue on the same old path? Do you want to head on the highway towards the destination that everyone else is heading to? Or do you want to be in the jungle with a machete, a place where not many people are heading? I think I’ll stay in my jungle where I feel is the best place to do the best for my kids, so thanks for reminding me to stay this course.

I couldn’t attend another talk after this, so I stole a line from one of my students, “I’m so blogging about this!”. Stopping to get a cup of tea, there were three specific choices that I feel sums up Marco Torres:

Awake: A tea of boldness, depth, and character, invigorating any time of the day.  Marco once again showed his great character and love of kids, the depth of his passion, and the boldness of his ideas — like why keep changing the question?
Passion: A magical blend  It is quite evident from the standing ovation that he received at the end of his keynote to the way that his students talk about him that Marco is indeed a magical blend of some many great ingredients.
Calm: A comforting blend  To this educator, hearing what Marco has to say is comforting.  His passion will make me want to stay in my jungle.
So, Marco, thanks again for all the inspiration you provide to both students and educators.