How Do We Nurture Passion?

Earlier this week, I shared this video of sixth grader, Greyson Chance, singing a cover of Lady Gaga’s song, Paparazzi during his school’s festival.

Feel the Passion…

This video astonished me for many reasons. One reason is the passion that this sixth grade boy shows. He clearly loves playing the piano and singing this song. He has an emotional connection that demonstrates how much this song impacted him. This passion was so strong it translated to this video having over 19 million hits, even though, this is not the highest quality of video. His passion was so strong it overcame his insecurities about playing in front of an audience of his peers.

How many students do you know would exhibit so much pure emotion and passion in front of their peers?

We also have to imagine how much more powerful the experience was if we had been present. Some of the emotion is lost through the video. We do not get to observe his face, which is why at the end of this post I included another Youtube video clip of his performance on the Ellen Show. In this performance, you can watch his face as he sings the song.

Notice the Transformation in the Audiences’ Reactions…

Watch the video a second time and just pay attention to the rest of Greyson’s peers and their reactions. At the beginning, you’ll see girls giggling and chatting. Perhaps, they are making a guess of who Greyson is singing about. You’ll see another girl obviously bored out of her mind with her hand on her chin. You’ll see others who are a bit uncomfortable. These are real reactions from adolescent girls and probably how we would have reacted at that age. I’m a little disappointed not to be able to observe the reactions of adolescent males. At the end of the performance you can observe how Greyson’s passionate performance impacts all the audience. The girls stop giggling and chatting and the bored girl wears an interested expression.

What Does a Passionate Educator Do?

These observations have raised some questions for me. How was this student so inspired to be great? Who gave him that support that made him believe in himself to take this bold step? Was this his parents, teachers, friends, or a mentor? Greyson accomplished a feat many of us have yet to figure out. How do we get our passion to transform our audiences? How do we get the child who is bored to be interested within 5 minutes? How do we get the students gossiping and laughing to reflect on what we are teaching within 5 minutes? How do we get millions of people worldwide to support our passion?

I believe some of us have tapped into this. There are the Seth Godin’s, Daniel Pink’s, Sir Ken Robinson’s, Alfie Kohn’s, Alan November’s, and Chris Lehmann’s of the world who have found the formula. How about us? We read the books, attend the webinars, and watch the live conferences. Now, it is time to begin translating our passion to our students. We have to try and help them find their passion but we know students have to first see our passion. How can we translate passion when we teach our subjects as if we were bored? I have seen so many teachers stand in front of students, lecture in a monotone voice, and give the most uninteresting materials to accompany their lessons.

Passionate educators take the time to create a lesson that demonstrates their passion. If you’re going to lecture, then make sure every lecture is like you’re giving a TED Talk. If you’re giving homework, then make sure it is something you’d be so interested in doing, you would forgo your time with family and friends. If you’re going to give assignments, make sure they are the ones that would spark passion for your subject. This includes higher thinking skills, such as research, problem solving, and critical thinking. If you’re bored creating the assessment, then the students will be bored taking the assessment. I know when I have developed a great assessment, because I am excited about giving it to my students. However, I have never been excited about having students take a multiple choice test.

We also have to help our students find what they are passionate about and help them connect the learning in our classes to that passion. If a student wants to be a famous musician, then show them the math involved if you’re a math teacher. If your student wants to be a famous singer, then help them discover the figurative language that will help them express their emotion. In some way our subjects connect with students’ passions or we wouldn’t have to teach the subject. In some way, our subject connects to the world the students live in. Let’s find a way to bring passion into our classes everyday and help students tap into their own. Imagine if most of our students were like Greyson Chance at pursuing their dreams!

You may also want to check out these posts on assessment and passion:


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What is preventing you from being passionate about your teaching? How do we help our students discover what they are passionate about?

Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell),, and on her blog,, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at


  1. Hi Shelley,

    I used to think ‘passion’ was so easy to transmit. But I’m teaching in a state primary school where teachers refer to their children as the ‘ni-ni’ generation. ‘Ni trabajan, ni estudian’ or something like that. The children seem so hard to reach. I’m so glad there are people like you writing posts like this, as it gives us the push we need to try again and reminds us that we can!

    Thanks Leahn

    • Hi Leahn,

      I definitely see how educators can struggle with being passionate when so many kids are not. I have seen this happen especially with older students. The problem is they have been beat down by the system that tries to shove learning down their throats. The system drills them and attaches high stakes when they don’t pass standardized tests. We definitely need to address the system so that way our students don’t get burnt out.

  2. Thanks for your post, Shell. I generally agree with you and I’m regularly reflecting on how passionate I come across. I strongly disagree with one point though:

    If you’re going to lecture, then make sure every lecture is like you’re giving a TED Talk. …

    This is the road to burn-out, IMHO. And it’s not necessary, as far as I can tell. You don’t have to be a super-human for students to realize that you’re passionate about learning and about their advancement. It’s perfectly fine to have a bad day now and then, to have “standard” lessons regularly, to have some routines.

    Where I teach (Germany), groups are getting larger, administrative tasks are increasing and – generally – preparation time is diminishing because of it. I want to keep teaching (and have to keep teaching) for at least another three decades – I don’t want to be used up in five years’ time.

    • Andreas,

      I agree there is burn out from everyday tasks. Some of our administrators do not make it easy. However, I think we should aim for greatness always and if we are always aiming for greatness. I think too many teachers are okay with standard or what gets by, but I don’t believe this is fair to our students. If we do not always give the best lessons then at least we tried and gave students something they probably were missing from the rest of their education. Too many settle for the standard and so that is what are students get, in my opinion, they get the standard.

  3. I always feel rejuvenated and encouraged by your posts Shelly. I think that getting to know our students and their strengths and passions helps us find ways to make our teaching relevant to them. You ask what gets in the way of passionate teaching? There are many factors, some of which include inept leadership, extra burdens placed on skilled teachers who can “handle” challenging students, and a school structure that makes it more of a challenge than a norm to use creativity in planning lessons. I do agree with the last comment that every lesson cannot be the quality of a TED talk. We must strive to be our best, but it’s easy to burn out. Thanks for the inspiring post.

    • Hi Joan,

      Thanks for dropping by. You are right about the factors that prevent us from being so passionate. I have yet to burn out from planning great lessons. I feel rejuvenated through the students’ learning and enthusiasm. However, I have found the lessons I did that were not filled with passion were my worst lessons. In these lessons the students misbehaved or were bored. These lessons would burn me out, because I spent more time trying to force the kids to pay attention to lessons they were not interested in. Their negative energy wore me down. However, with a great lesson I do not feel this way.

      At my institute I have a lot more freedom than most. The previous situation I was describing was at a high school. Therefore, I can understand what Andreas and you are talking about. There are more time constraints, more students, and more administrative burdens to deal with. This does cause stress and burn out. However, I don’t think giving a great lesson does. Sometimes, a great lesson doesn’t have to involve a lot of planning. Sometimes, a great lesson can involve students contributing. I don’t think we should always lecture, but have students contribute.

      • @Shelly Terrell,
        Yes, you make a great point Shelly that great lessons don’t have to be a burden! I hope it didn’t sound critical. My world, as a teacher of young children, often feels like a series of so many lessons in one day that some definitely get more preparation and energy spent. You are so right that when we get energized and excited to teach a lesson, the kids usually catch our passion. I do have a couple kids, though, that even if I gave an Academy award winning performance, they might still disrupt and cause issues due to the emotional baggage they bring to school. Thanks for inspiring.

      • @Shelly Terrell,

        Sometimes, a great lesson can involve students contributing. I don’t think we should always lecture, but have students contribute.

        I agree. I wasn’t only talking about lecturing (which I rarely do anyway). And I also agree that we should alsways AIM for greatness. There’s an important aspect to that, however: we should be aware and unromantic about the fact, that AIMING for greatness is not the same as BEING great. Some lessons will not be great even if you tried to be (and the reasons for that are often beyond your own control). I know a lot of colleagues (especially young ones, fresh from training) who are frustrated because in everyday teaching they don’t have lessons as good as the ones they were giving during training – when their workload was (here, in Germany) about one third of that of a full teaching position.

        My point is: Always AIM for greatness and accept that for, say, ten lessons two or three will be great, the rest will fall somewhere else on the spectrum. Live with it and don’t eat your heart out for the ones that did not turn out the be great.

        This is – of course – completely separate from the issue of personal passion. If you radiate personal passion for your subject, for learning, for understanding and advancing your students, they will not take those “not-great” lessons badly.

        • Andreas,

          This is such a great comment! I think you make a great point about aiming for greatness but not beating ourselves up when we aren’t great. This would burn someone out and we all have our bad days. I remember apologizing to my students on more than one occasion when I let the stress of my job get to me. It is great when students realize their teachers are humans and make mistakes and can admit it to them. The key like you said is passion, because if we have passion our students will be able to tell that. If we don’t really want to be there, they call tell this as well.

  4. Awesome post Shelly. I would love to hear where Greyson’s inspiration comes from. Hopefully it comes from more than just liking Lady Gaga. 🙂 There sure is some creativity there that is just begging to be nurtured. The girl with her head on her hand was such a perfect example. I was watching the audience reaction before you suggested watching it again to do the same thing. It was great to see this girl’s reaction go from one of utter boredom to one of rapt attention. It makes me think of last week’s edchat about fostering creativity. There are so many teachers that are hindering it, rather than fostering it. They think it’s OK to teach every single lesson/unit the same way year after year after year. How can we as teachers just be ok with this?!? We have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone and see what students are capable of. Should there be guidelines? Of course there should. But don’t always have one means to an end.

  5. Wow, I am just amazed by kids who step out of the awkward tween stage and decide they are going to do something great. That group of girls in the background would have had me backing down. I am struck by how contagious his passion is. By the end of the song he has everyone on board and sharing that passion.
    We just had our talent show last week, we had original songs played on drums, pianos, amazing vocals from all age groups, dancing (even break dancing) and a whole grade level who practiced after school to do their own version of stomp. When I asked the kids if they were nervous they looked at me like I was crazy. They ALL requested that I filmed them and put them on YouTube. Is it possible that the passion that we fail to pass on is being passed on by a desire for an even larger audience. These kids aren’t afraid because for many of them, they have never known a world without YouTube and Facebook. Their lives are transparent and they are okay with that. They have seen others make a fool of themselves and the hits on YouTube are sometimes better than if it had been real talent. They haven’t learned the same hesitations to put themselves out there that we have. Interesting.

  6. Oh, Shelly. I can not even tell you how much I love this post and this kid… and kids like him. Lauren Hill in Sister Act 2, the PS22 kids… nothing like all-in young talent to remind us of why we do what we do, whatever our “subject”.

    For me, this year has been all about channelling my passion which is hard to put into words. I know what it is and has always been – helping people find, create, express and share joy and live fully.

    For me, education, teaching and leading have been the vehicles of that passion, but there is so much to be done, all the time that we can be so easily side tracked, and find our energy being scattered all over the place…I’m working on eliminating the noise. It’s been an adventure and a journey so far, and you’ve been a significant guide in more ways than you know. Thanks a bunch!

  7. I remember apologizing to my students on more than one occasion when I let the stress of my job get to me. It is great when students realize their teachers are humans and make mistakes and can admit it to them.

    I agree. I wrote a post about that some time ago: – it’s part of a series in which I tried to apply ideas from 37signals’ “Getting Real” book (software development) to teaching. Perhaps you find some other posts interesting as well (in German):

  8. […] passionate individuals in our online communities, they will feel inspired. We need schools where inspired educators help students find their passions and explore these passions even if it is passion for art, music, a sport, or […]

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