As you sit back and watch the NBA’s playoffs or whatever sport grabs your attention at this time of the year, think for a moment about the talent of the people you are watching, and more specifically, when and how that was identified.
For some it was obvious from an early age. For others, they had to work hard at it and wait for a scout to see them in action. In both cases they had the good fortune to see their talent and passion align.
Given the obscene amounts of money that sports stars can earn today, it’s only natural we find more and more parents eager ( sometimes over-eager) to identify sporting talent early and do whatever they can to see a child reach their full sporting potential.
The same can be said about creative talent. However, while we do nurture young talent in music, theatre or art, the opportunities for fame and fortune are certainly a lot of less, even though the occasional “star is born.”
So what about the rest? What about the 99%+ of other kids who are unlikely to make the Back Page as a sports star, or the Billboard on Broadway? What talent do they have that is yet to be discovered?
The truth is of course, we all have talent, it’s just a little harder to find in some of us. And it’s even harder for us to recognize it in so many of our students because outside of sport and performance, students have little opportunity to display their unique talents. For far too many, they leave school with very little idea of where their real talent lies, and that is something we really should correct.
When I meet people for the first time, I have a (bad) habit of asking them about their school experiences, and a surprisingly large percentage have trouble connecting what they did at school with where they are now. In fact, far too many reflect on their school experiences negatively because it left them feeling inadequate as learners.
Across twelve or thirteen years of schooling, wouldn’t you think that helping a child uncover their unique talents should be a prime focus of what we seek to do in our schools? Is it? Sadly, my experience would suggest that in most it’s an afterthought, save for the sports jocks or creative talent that have been ‘spotted’ for stardom, which frankly leaves the rest to ponder the real point of it all.
Surely one of the fundamental goals of schooling should be to expose young people to a breadth and diversity of experiences such that they have an opportunity to shine, to excel…to realize they can be really good at something….and I’m not just talking about high test scores.
So how might we do that?
Well, maybe we can begin with some serious reimagining and start by deciding what we are going to let go of. If we can see our young people coming through the first five years of their school life as literate, numerate and curious, then maybe we should start thinking very differently about the learning experiences for students in Years 5 through 9 which could maybe be thought of as the Discovery Years?
This would then be the time to expose students to a diverse range of experiences that provoke inquiring minds and which challenge them to explore areas that they may not naturally seek in an endeavor to identify their unique talent and passion.
Interestingly, its not a new idea. One of the core principles that Michael Norman put in place during his time as Principal at Woodleigh School in Victoria, Australia, in the 1970s was that students should have a daily activity hour when they engage in interests or activities that help them find their passion. Norman (2003) articulates this best when he says,
The richer radiance of their interests, gifts and skills is clearly overlooked by our standardised outcomes. Many of our most talented and sensitive teenagers are just left out of the loop, even mocked as mavericks. The loss of talent is immense.
Despite initial parent and community concern about the idea, the significance of his commitment to it is reflected in the number of former students who went on to careers directly attributable to what they did in their activity hour. Nationally recognized photographers, marine scientists, and actors are just some of the examples of Woodleigh students whose futures were identified and nurtured during that period, and the program today has been extended to include what they describe as direct experience.
The exciting thing today is there are now a growing number of schools that are seeking to provide similar access for students to discover their hidden talents and passions.
The most prominent in recent times are the Big Picture schools on Rhode Island. Big Picture has an exceptionally strong internship program for ninth-grade students, and its innovative practice to identify interests, passion and talent is evident in many areas within its schools. (Co-founder Eliot Washor’s book Leaving to Learn is well worth reading) Additionally, in last week’s newsletter Will referred to the extended internship/co-curriculum program at Madeira where students learn from experience in a range of settings beyond their classrooms.
School should be places where young people can find their place, find their way, find their talent, and have it nurtured, coached and further developed.
And it can be as obtuse as finding that a talent for working with their hands or making things suggests a trade like carpentry but ends up foreshadowing brain surgery or dentistry.
So why don’t we move this search for talent up to the front of the queue? Why don’t we let it have more influence over the experiences we create for our students and for the opportunities we want them to be exposed to?
Surely uncovering talent is the real moral imperative we should all respond to. If we know what makes us special, what makes us unique, what we can do that others cannot, it builds self-belief and confidence in ourselves as learners. We want every kid to find their innate and hidden talent, that unique ability that we can help them uncover, nurture and develop.
So forget all those reality talent shows, sports talent camps and showbiz talent schools. The most important talent search in the world is the one we should find in every school in every country as they seek to uncover the unique talents hidden inside every student.
Image Credit: Mark Bosford