The Power of Knowing Your Passions

What are you passionate about?

This can be a difficult question to answer. Being passionate about something can lead a person to be totally immersed into a topic or activity to the point that it takes over life! However, I would encourage you to seek a broader understanding of passions as a deep journey into an activity or topic that can last for a short time or a lifetime.

“Do you want to work as a cook at a summer language camp?” I asked my daughter this spring. My daughter is not an experienced cook. She has a short list of things that I have seen her prepare in the kitchen with Ramen Noodles being at the top of her list.

However, I asked her this question after talking with a colleague about my daughter’s recent experience as an exchange student for a semester in Denmark. “Would your daughter be interested in cooking for the Danish Language camp this summer? The camp is in need of kitchen help,” She told me.

Just asking my daughter the question related to her interest in the job has led her to have an enjoyable experience at camp this summer. Through her experience, she has learned more than just cooking skills. This summertime experience has fueled her interests in cultures, language, and meeting new people.

This deep dive into the Danish culture and language through her recent exchange and currently spending time at the language camp has fueled her passion for international travel. She wants to know more about languages, people and cultures of the world.

In my past two posts, I have talked about the power of knowing your strengths and values. Knowing your passions is the third component of helping yourself and learners to develop a path for self-directed learning and possibly careers.


When helping young people discover and deepen their interests, supportive peers and adults are the keys to encouraging the development of the activities into something deeper.  All the adult needs to do is add a small amount of kindling to the fire, to ignite the passion. Maybe it’s offering multiple exposures to an activity or encouragement  to try something new. Parents and teachers can nurture the spark of interests through fun and low stakes experiences.

However, a word of caution for the supportive adult: just like placing a log that is too big on a fire that is just starting to burn, the flame goes out. Similarly, if the supportive adult becomes too serious about the activity and take away the sense of choice from the young person, the spark of interest will more than likely die out.

The Search Institute describes a spark as a hidden flame within students that lights their fire, gets them excited, and taps into their true joy. In a past post, I described more about knowing your teen’s spark.

Identifying, developing, and deepening a student’s sparks can lead to greater purpose, autonomy, and mastery, all elements needed for motivation and accomplishment of new skills and internal development.

Ways to support Sparks

Teachers, parents and other supportive adults can help young people find their sparks through a number of strategies:

  • Short conversations asking questions about what they enjoy doing or are really good at doing.
  • Teachers’ classroom observations wherein teachers discover which topics interest the young person.
  • Developing engaging experiences where young people execute a project motivated by what has sparked their interest.
  • Self-reflection with the young person on what what about the activity caught his/her attention, or not, and why.


Other ways to embed the interests of the young person into learning is through the simple activity of show and tell. Even in the upper ages, show and tell is a great activity to have in a classroom that will give insight into a young person’s interests.


Spark Interest in a Career


Incorporating a student’s sparks into the curriculum through project choices and real-world experiences can help a student develop and deepen an chosen activity. Informal and formal experiences can also help young people develop a path that might lead to a future vocation.


Informal experiences such as interacting with different cultures, travel, volunteering and trying out a new endeavor can create a sense of excitement that can spark greater interest.


Formal experiences such as jobs, apprenticeships, or courses can create skills and knowledge that can, again, lead to an interest in an occupation. Both informal and formal experiences are meaningful and needed in supporting young people in developing a path for the future.


When working with older youth there are many resources toto help them determine their interests and identify career paths that might support those interests. My Next Move is a website that helps look at the interests of youth and pairs the interests with potential occupations based on the Holland Code. This website is chocked full of helpful information when looking at different professions.


20 by 20 is an activity done with youth that helps brainstorm dreams for the future. It’s a simple activity wherein students are given a short period of time to brainstorm 20 things they would like to do by the age of 20. Let the students dream and not edit the list. Then have each student write 1-2 of the activities on a note card with their name. Post the notes on the wall or collect for use when developing projects and activities that could engage their various interests.


These are just a few ideas on how to support a young person’s interests both inside and outside the classroom. The young person’s interests may turn into a career or a lifetime hobby. Whatever the path the interests take, it is important to remember that caring, supportive adults like you are the power to helping youth find their passions.


Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

The Power of Knowing Your Values

A few weeks ago, my daughter graduated from high school. We held the traditional graduation party to honor her achievement. As she stood by the entrance greeting the well-wishers to her party, I heard a variety of questions being asked:

What’s next for you?

What do you want to do?

Where are you going next fall?

All these questions had to do with her future, however, I believe there is one question we rarely ask of graduates,

Who do you want to be?

The underlying element of the “who” question is asking young people to communicate their personal values. Values are the foundational beliefs that we hold and that often shape our choices.

When a young person identifies such values, articulates these personal values, and has the capacity to act upon the specified values, the impact on learning can be significant. Here is a short exercise you can conduct with a young person to assist in identifying values that are personally important.

Identifying Values

We all have stories in our lives where we have felt proud of our accomplishments. Maybe it’s a story about overcoming an obstacle, working with a group of others to finish a project or setting out to do something never attempted before. Whatever the story that comes to mind, your values are hidden in that story.

This activity works best if you can tell your story to a friend or family member. The person listening to your personal narrative can help you identify the values within the narrative. If you need a list of values to look at while listening there is a list on the VIA Character Strengths website of 24 values people hold.

After you finish telling your story, ask your listener to help you identify the values you talked about in the story. Write those values down in a journal or notebook and write further descriptions of how each value shows up in your life. VIA (Values In Action) Institute on Character has a free online assessment tool for both youth and adults that can help identify your top 5 values.

Impact of Values on Learning

When a young person knows the values they hold, and is able to talk about their personal connection to these values, the result of this simple action can impact learning performance.

Dr. Claude Steele, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, conducted a study involving white and African American Middle School students. In the experiment he had half of each group write about values that were personally important to them and why. In the control group, he had each of the students write about which values they felt were the least important.  This exercise was performed periodically throughout the school year, and the student’s work followed. The results, especially for the African-American students, was a significant increase in student performance in the group that wrote about their personal values. There was no change in performance in the control group or in students that were already performing at a high level.

There are several reasons why students who affirmed their personal values did better at school:

  1. Students were reminded of the number of resources available to them.
  2. The activity broadens the student’s perspective on themselves through a different lens. When a student identifies her values, maybe a test didn’t look so threatening when looking at the big picture of her life.
  3. Affirming values allowed students to take on challenges that aligned with their values.
  4. Teachers had a greater insights into the students by reading through the essays, and they were able to build positive relationships with the students.


Values and Relationships

Positive relationships can be formed with young people when they know their values and the adults that surround them can tap into and align with those values. This process allows young people to feel like they are seen and heard. In addition, adults can provide the support needed for the youth, and a positive cycle of affirming values can improve confidence.

Using the power of shared values can have positive and lasting outcomes for young people, leading them on a path to finding success.

The next time you are talking with a graduate or young adult about ask a simple question:

Who do you want to be?


This post is Part 2 in a four-part series. You can find Part 1 here.

3 Easy Steps to Spotting Strengths

A “chatterbox” child can sometimes be viewed as a distraction in a classroom.

However, what would happen if that negative behavior was reframed as a potential strength?

How would your attitude towards the child change?

Spotting strengths in a child or youth can be easy when you use the three suggestions in the video.

Strengths spotting can be one tool you use to bring personal learning to yourself and the children you interact with.


The Power of Knowing Your Strengths

“How do you feel?”, I asked my daughter after our conversation.

“I feel totally awesome!” she exclaimed.

My son was not as expressive with his feelings as his sister after our conversation. However, in his easy-going way, he said, “I feel good.”


The conversation with my young adult children was about their talents. Talents are the lens that each of see the world through, it’s the thoughts, behaviors and feelings that naturally come to each of us. When time, knowledge and skills are put towards talents, then strengths are developed.


As a parent and educator, I am always excited when I learn a new skill that can benefit both myself and my family. The Strengths Communicator’s training with Leadership Vision has taught me a deeper understanding of the importance of knowing your strengths. I attended a two day training session in January and in March in Minneapolis. In between the training sessions I conducted six strengths conversations. After the last training session I completed six more conversations. The six-month training has allowed me to be a professional “story listener” as I listen for the behavior of strengths through the stories people tell me about their lives.


The Clifton StrengthsFinder is a tool that I have used with youth and adults over the past eight years. I first learned about the tool through leadership training and have used it extensively with the Girls Lead program.


The training gave me the privilege of having conversations with twelve people about their top five strengths. I was able to talk to family members, friends, colleagues, and complete strangers about their unique perception of life through the lens of their strengths.


The training allowed me to practice my listening skills and improved my understanding of the inter-dependency of the various strengths Each strength cannot stand alone. I imagine knowing your strengths is like the iceberg model:at the top of the iceberg are your top five strengths and the basic understanding of each strength. However, below the surface, the commingling of behaviors of each strength is supported by the culture, context, and environment. This commingling influences the perspective of each person to see the world through their own unique strengths lens.


People want to be listened to and heard. Each person also wants to know they matter and have value. I would end my conversations asking the person if they would like to hear what I had heard in the conversation. I reflected on the parts of the story that demonstrated strengths in action. Very rarely are people given the gift of having another person listen, reflect and identify their genius.


I have been an educator for over 25 years in a variety of different roles. My passion is to work with youth and educators to create positive learning environments –environments where people can thrive. What would our education system be like if we were all able to identify our own strengths and our students’ strengths? Then educators would be able to tap into those unique strengths and use those strengths to the advantage of the learning environment. I believe helping both youth and adults better understand their strengths can be one piece of the puzzle in creating positive learning environments.


The conversation with the people that volunteered has helped me to build a deeper understanding of how each of us sees life. I can now see the strength of Achiever in my son through his hard work, where I didn’t before our conversation. I now know that my daughter uses her strength of Strategic to think through alternatives to problems she needs to navigate in her senior year. I believe that deeper understanding and opportunity to listen to people’s stories has shown me the resiliency and beauty in each person.


If you would like to find out more about my speaking, training and consulting with educators and nonprofits in creating positive learning environments, contact me at for more information.


Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

[Book Review] Differently Wired. Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World by Deborah Reber

I ordered the book, Differently Wired, from my local library based on a podcast interview I listened to on Zen Parenting radio. As I listened to author Debbie Reber, talk about her autistic, ADHD, and gifted son, I became more intrigued and wanted to read her parenting book based on her experiences with her son and her podcast, TiLT Parenting.


I picked up the book at the library ready to hear the typical parenting information about children with her slant on how we “should” be parenting our children. Instead I found something entirely different. The book is an honest and vulnerable telling of her journey of parenting a neurodiverse child. As I read the introduction, I had tears flowing down my cheeks because I could relate to having “square peg children” trying to fit in the round holes of the traditional parenting norms and education system.


I want to share with you a few definitions before I pull out a few aspects of the book that I believe would be helpful to both parents and educators.  Neurodiversity, or differently wired, people is a way to look at brain differences such as autism or ADHD as a result of normal and natural variation in the human genome. According to Reber’s research, on average, one in five children on the whole has a neurological difference. A teacher with a classroom of 25 children, on average has five (or more) children who may have ADHD, autism, giftedness, learning difference, anxiety, sensory issues or twice exceptional. Twice exceptional or 2e children are intellectually gifted and have one or more neurological differences. All these diagnoses can be grouped under the term, “differently wired.”


I am a parent with several differently wired children, and as I read through the book I found myself wishing I had this book long ago. At times I had wished the educators of my children had a better understanding of their needs and were able to adapt to those needs. The author described how her son’s needs that continuously were not being met by the traditional school system model, and therefore, she and her husband decided to homeschool their son.


Reber’s goal for writing the book was to redefine how neurodiversity is perceived in the world and to shift the parenting paradigm to one that acknowledges and includes parents’ experiences.  Debbie tackles this goal by describing 18 different “TiLTs” or shifts parents can consider in their parenting. She uses research and stories, plus providing reflection questions to ponder and tips for parents to put into action. This is a parenting book that many educators can also glean much information and ideas to ponder.


All 18 of the TiLTs were very applicable to a parent (and educators) with a differently wired child; however, here are several TiLTs that I wanted to highlight.


TiLT #1 – Question Everything You Thought You Knew About Parenting

Parenting a differently wired kid is not about being comfortable. Reber asks parents to question their beliefs about education, parenting style, nutrition, child’s social life and the personal characteristics of ourselves and our child. She suggests being curious about what makes ourselves and our children tick. Let go of how we think things “should” be for ourselves and our children. There is no, one “right” way on this parenting journey. I would also say that what works for one differently wired child might not work for another child. Break out of the limits we put up through social norms and imagine what could be for your child.


TiLT # 6 Let Your Child Be on Their Own Timeline

The traditional school system has a hard time with this concept, children learn different skills when they are ready to learn that skill. Neurotypical children can struggle with measuring up, and neurodiverse kids start picking up the messages of, “I am dumb”, “I am not good at _______”, or “I will never measure up.” Such messages can be crushing to a child’s self-worth and spirit. Parents start worrying about a child being able to progress at a certain rate, and teachers start to push students beyond what they are ready for developmentally. When this happens, the child can experience increased anxiety and confidence crumbles under the pressure. This pressure is more pronounced with differently wired kids. To help combat this pressure, Reber suggests that a parent can start pointing out how your child is excelling, in both academic and character areas. Often those strengths are overlooked, when in reality such strengths are the foundation where growth can occur.


TiLT # 10 Practice Radical Self-Care

Parents and teachers all need to practice self-care. If you don’t put on your oxygen mask first, you can’t serve the others around you very well. Self-care looks different for each of us; however, to practice radical self-care, it has to be intentionally good for your mind, body and soul, and JUST FOR YOU! It is very important to plan one (or more) small acts of self-care every day.


TiLT #12 Make a Ruckus When You Need To

Advocate for your child because nobody better understands the needs of your child than you. As an advocate for your child, you need to find the people, resources and schools that will understand your child’s needs. That is not always an easy task. Many times it will take you out of your comfort zone, and solutions may be many miles from home. Reber provides a list of skills you might need to advocate for your child at school. Here are a couple suggestions: building relationships, asking questions, staying calm and knowing your child’s rights. Speaking up for your child intentionally and respectfully for a change or action needed is what advocacy means for parents.


TiLT # 17 Help Your Kid Embrace Self-Discovery

Reber believes that the greatest gift we can give our differently wired kids is the knowledge of who they are, how their brain works and what they need to do to create the life they want. Self-discovery can be an ongoing conversation of helping our children understand they are different and that is great! When a child knows what they need and has the words to communicate those needs, then he can be confident in advocating for himself. Conversations about strengths and challenges on a daily basis can help, plus having communication that is open and honest can support both yours and your child’s self-discovery.


I hope you go to your local library or online bookstore to get your copy of Differently Wired. One of the messages in this book is to let our differently wired children know that there’s nothing wrong with them. Nothing needs to be fixed or changed. We are all just learning. Learning helps us to figure out how we operate and the additional skills needed to work on. The 18 TiLTs are just the beginning of how parents can support their differently wired children, and give them the skills needed to make life a little easier.



What is so personal about learning?


Several weeks ago I attended a hand lettering class at our public library. The instructor pinned to the board many different examples of hand lettering quotes. She had done beautiful work. My first thought was, “I can’t do that!”


The instructor led our group through a step-by-step process. She demonstrated how to hold the marker and how to make the letters so there was enough room on the paper to do shading. Then she showed a simple way to make a banner. As I followed her steps and continued to practice during the class time, I started to get the hang of hand lettering. It was fun and relaxing!


The next week I bought a couple of new pens and a box of markers just for me! Hands off kids! Then I practiced. I practiced while watching TV. I practice while sitting on our bed listening to a podcast. Last Sunday I felt I was good enough at doing several different styles of lettering that I hand letter a quote. The picture on this post is my creation from last weekend. I go for progress, not perfection. I posted a picture of the quote on my Instagram and got a few hearts.


I challenge you to think about a time you learned something new. Something that took a bit of practice before it started to come together. A project where you felt like you were in the flow, could lose time and the action was providing you joy. That is personalized learning in a nutshell.


Personalized learning is not new in the world of education.


Personalized Learning can be defined as learning in which the pace and the approach of learning are adjusted for the needs of each learner. Plus the learning activities are meaningful, driven by interests, and often self-initiated by each learner.


Personalized Learning (PL) may be called differentiated, student-centered, or self-directed learning. Each one of the approaches is dependent on the amount of student choice and voice allowed by the classroom teacher.


I have been a long-time advocate of personalized learning for children because it allows the child to learn through his or her own interests and develop at his or her own pace. I believe learning is a personal endeavor and can be an adventure!


Personalized learning is a great way for students and teachers to lean into strengths! PL is built upon students becoming aware of his or her talents and using the experiences to build those talents into strengths.


PL can be a great way for children and teens to become more self-aware. Self-aware of innate talents, learning styles and environments that support his or her learning. The more awareness by the student the more neuro learning circuits being developed in the brain. Through personalized learning, children can become self-advocates for developing their own understanding and educators can support the students in becoming confident and capable learners.


I come back to my endeavor of learning hand lettering. I know my hand lettering class was PL for me. I made the choice to attend the class, practice the lettering styles and buy the tools I needed for the project. When I was working on my project, I was lost in the flow, having fun, and mastering the process.


Practicing my hand lettering also helps me to learn some vital mindsets such as:

  • Perfect is good, but done is better.
  • I am not good at hand lettering, yet.
  • Keep practicing and it will come.
  • No growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.


Plus I am building my innate talents by learning a new process, developing creative ideas and determining the arrangement of my next project.


Don’t be too surprised that I am on to another hobby or project sometime soon. I am aware I enjoy the process of learning and I don’t feel I have to be an expert to be fulfilled. My hand lettering project has helped me to become more aware of my talents and through spending time doing something I enjoy I am building my talents into strengths.


So as a parent, educator, teen or young adult, how do you support your own personalized learning?