Bonnie McComb, award-winning teacher-librarian at Parkland Secondary in Sidney, is about to retire. Yet she is just as passionate about her role today, while she’s in the throes of converting her school library into a learning commons environment, as she has always been. When I visited her recently, she was excited to tell me that the new comfy chairs for their evolving learning commons had immediately changed the dynamics of the space for the better!
I witnessed similar passion from Ruth Wadsworth, the learning commons teacher-librarian at Claremont Secondary in Saanich, and her school administrator, Sally Hansen. Both are passionate leaders of creating dramatic change in the enhanced and engaging learning environment for their students. And they’ve seen the dramatic impact of that space with the learners in their school!
Why is it that some librarians are as keen now as they were the first day they walked into a library? Why is it that some librarians, trustees, administrators or library members are as excited about the possibilities of libraries as ever before? A passion for libraries makes all the difference. You either have it or you don’t.
Passion is more than just being good at something. In fact, being good at something is not enough of a reason to do it. Ask any kid who has given up on music or dance lessons at which they excelled: unless they were doing it to satisfy themselves, they lacked the passion to continue. According to Sir Ken Robinson, passion includes a spiritual element — that sense of what animates your life and fuels your energy. When you connect with your own energy.
I’m passionate about the transformative power of libraries to change lives. About the difference a library can make in a community. About the knowledge gained and the connections that are made for individuals, groups and communities, through the library. About how libraries are transforming in new ways to meet the growing demands of our knowledge-based economy. If passion is indeed connected to the concept of desire, then libraries will thrive in this knowledge and ideas-based economy. The role is more significant than ever, as libraries transform themselves to work in a more globally connected and locally relevant and creative way.
Sir Ken Robinson is one of the world’s leading thinkers on creativity and self-fulfillment. A visionary cultural leader, he speaks frequently and passionately on the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy. You may have seen his 2006 TED talk, Schools Kill Creativity, along with over 20 million other viewers — making it the most-watched TED talk of all time. His 2009 book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times bestseller.
I recently watched a talk by Sir Ken delivering a “Sunday Sermon” based on The Element, for the School of Life. (Fittingly, and coincidentally, I watched this video on a Sunday morning!) Based in London, England, the School of Life is “a cultural enterprise offering good ideas for everyday life,” providing a variety of programs and services concerned with how to live wisely and well. Sir Ken’s lecture aligned well with the mission of the School of Life.
According to Sir Ken, people are in their element when they are doing something for which they have a natural capacity – they are energized by it. “One of the ways you know you’re in your element is that your sense of time changes. If doing things you don’t like, five minutes can feel like an hour. If you are doing what you love to do, an hour seems like only five minutes.”
He says the element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at their element, they feel most themselves, most inspired and able to achieve at their highest levels.
In his book The Element, Sir Ken looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the Element, and those that stifle that possibility. He shows that passion is the essential strategy for transforming education, business, and communities in the twenty-first century.
Generally speaking, libraries are the place for self-motivated learning: where you come when you want to learn more about YOUR dreams, needs, future, ideas, world. People use libraries for knowledge that they want to know. As librarians, we see people come in who are buzzing and excited to be there — and when they are pursuing their passions, time flies for them. Librarians are lucky to support people who are in the library because it’s the place they want to be.
We as librarians have to help feed that passion. To do that, it helps if we in turn understand passion and experience it for ourselves – that thrill of being able to do what fuels our energy. One would hope that librarians have a passion for sharing information, for helping others, for freedom of thought, for enlightenment, and for the desire to continually change, learn and adapt to an evolving world. And one would hope that library staff members are finding projects to match their passion; as we know, individuals who enjoy their work will have higher levels of performance.
Kids are not necessarily driven by money and careers, but rather by their dreams and their passions. Libraries need to provide the tools they need — and remember that passion cannot be taught, but it can be nurtured. Sir Ken says that the real role of education leadership is to create the conditions for discovering and learning about our passions: “climate control”, creating a natural learning environment and culture, a climate of possibility. The sort of learning environment that many communities, academic and otherwise, are passionately working to create. (With or without the comfy chairs!)
It is clear that the learning commons at schools such as Claremont and Parkland secondary schools in the district of Saanich are leaders in creating a learning environment to support the individualized needs of each learner, whether a student or a teacher. And that they are dedicated to putting students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions. That doesn’t happen by accident. And the fact that the teacher-librarian, the administrator and other faculty members are passionate about designing and providing the best opportunities for learners is significant.
All libraries, whether school, public or post-secondary, have an important role to play in connecting people with their passions. In fact, all libraries can be leaders, helping to ignite and support the passions of their communities.
The role of a leader is to enhance and enable others — and great leaders have one thing in common: They fuel the passion of others.