Fulfilling our true potentials

Uncategorized Apr 04, 2022
Most teachers choose their career because they want to make a positive difference in their students' lives and help them to fulfil their true potentials.
But how do we know what someone's 'true potential' is? And how can we really judge if someone is fulfilling it or not?
The truth is, we can't know - we can't tell someone else what their true potential is. Only they can figure that out. Our job as teachers is to provide our students an environment in which they can flourish, by helping them to develop their own self-awareness, and by giving them opportunities to explore their interests and curiosities, and develop their strengths and talents.
Ken Robinson in his book, 'The Element', said 'The Element is about discovering your self, and you can't do this if you're trapped in a compulsion to conform'.
He describes that a person's 'Element' is where their aptitudes and their passions overlap. In other words, it's when you find something that you are good at and that you love doing. It's something that lights you up, and drives you to get out of bed every morning. If a person can identify their Element, and pursue it in a way that makes their life or someone else's life better, then we can say that they are fulfilling their true potentials (and this may change over the course of a person's lifetime, as they and the world around them evolves).
It's important for our future to have people in their elements, for 3 main reasons. One is personal - it matters to each individual. Another is social - more people in their elements means a happier, healthier, more advanced society, where social, political and environmental problems are more likely to be solved. And one is economic - when people love what they do, they are much more productive, leading to more economic wealth.
The problem, Robinson states, is that our education system and our society has quite a narrow view of what counts as 'worthwhile' aptitudes and pursuits. We expect our students to conform to a fixed set of standards, and if they don't then they are judged and criticised for it. We also often ignore the fact that people learn differently, and that the traditional education system does not suit everyone. This often means that aptitudes either go undiscovered altogether, or they are disregarded as something that is not worthwhile to pursue as a career.
An example of this is the emphasis that is placed on STEM these days. These skills are valued very highly, and if someone has an aptitude for them, they are often led in that direction regardless of if they actually like it or not. If this same person also had aptitude and passion for say, music or drama, they may be dissuaded from pursuing them as these aptitudes may not be valued as highly.
Another example of the way that the education system can get in the way is through the practice of streaming classes. This can have the effect of pigeon-holing students, leading to learned helplessness, behavioural issues, anxiety, and limiting beliefs. Students in 'lower' classes may believe that they don't have the ability to pursue something that they are interested in. They may not discover an aptitude because of these beliefs, and also because their particular learning style might not be catered for well within the classroom. Or they might not be provided with the right opportunities to discover and develop their aptitudes.
Even students in the so-called 'top' classes can often develop anxiety because they dread losing their place and being demoted to a lower class. This can lead to an aversion to take risks or tackle new challenges for a fear of failure. They feel much safer conforming to the norm. This can again get in the way of discovering or pursuing certain aptitudes or interests. 
On top of all of this, students are almost never asked what it is that lights them up. Dr Peter Benson, a world renowned expert in human development, refers to this as 'spark'. He advocates that more discussions within the education system should revolve around a students' spark. He states that students will experience success when they can not only identify their spark, but when they have at least 3 adult champions who encourage their spark and help them to nurture it, and when they are provided with right opportunities for this. 
If we want our students to fulfil their true potentials, then we must give students the space to be who they truely are and value them for their individual traits. We must take the emphasis off standardised assessment based on prescribed norms. We must be cultivating positive learning environments where students feel safe enough to express their opinions and their interests, and we must also be providing opportunity for student voice and choice as much as possible.
This is not only important for each individuals' chance of success, happiness and fulfilment, but it's also critical for society, so that we may overcome our future challenges and make positive advancements that benefit everyone. 
Inside our professional learning community, Transformational Teachers, we explore this topic in more depth, and go through strategies that can be used to help our students fulfil their true potentials. We also look at how we as teachers can identify and pursue specific strengths and interests in order to design a personalised professional development plan and career pathway. 
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