I had two or three topics in mind for today’s letter, but a message this week from one of my past learners galvanised my thinking and led me to share some ideas about passion as the indispensable ingredient for quality learning and teaching.

I’m interested in passion because, like you, I’ve felt its effect in some very special classrooms; I’ve seen it in many an underserved school principal’s office; and, like you, I’ve witnessed how it sets learners and their subsequent trajectories apart.

Just look back on your own schooling and reflect on how the quality and passion of a teacher who made something come alive either in a field of interest or within your own sense of self. Passionate teachers achieve this sort of response because of who they are, what they know and how they teach – a mixture of values, attitude and professionalism.

My past learner is Margo. She was in Matric in 1999. Ten years later, a qualified medical doctor, she suffered a near fatal accident when she mistimed her 263rd skydiving parachute jump, landed hard and broke multiple bones in her body, including her back in two places, her hip, her pelvis in seven places and a compound fracture of her thigh. She was in hospital for six months and learned to walk again thanks to 30 hours of surgery, well over 3kg of titanium plates and screws and a driving passion to lead a full life. She did, too. She married the man who sat at her bedside, became a highly respected psychiatrist and gave birth to a son. Two weeks ago, she had surgery again; this time to give her brother the kidney he needs to live a full life.

Passion, our CEO Keith Richardson would say, comes from the Latin word ‘to suffer. True passion demands sacrifice and a degree of suffering so that the end result is worth it.

The interesting thing is that passion is not just natural to some. It’s something you discover, something which you can learn from others and which you can replicate. It’s a love of teaching, a love of watching learners succeed and thrive.

My memory bank’s screensaver is filled with passionate teachers. I just love a teacher who cares about the learners, not just on occasion, but as every day’s default response. I love the way learners speak about passionate teachers and their influence on personal motivation and on subject and career choice. Learners remember the way a teacher made them feel – comfortable, supported or valued. Incidentally, how do we, as principals, make our teachers feel?

I love the way a passionate teacher enhances engagement with the learners. That infectious enthusiasm or focused discipline or intellectual connection is passion in action in the classroom. It’s that willingness to experiment with a different approach; one which is perhaps clearer, less boring, more active. Or one that you tackle as part of a teaching team.

I like to connect my passion to my purpose. Why do I teach? And why did I choose to be a principal? And why at this school? Do I realise how important a role I play in the school and in the lives of its learners? That passion, that dedication, that lifelong learning is what makes us role models. And good role models are in short supply in our time.

I’m humbled by the passion I encounter in underserved schools because I recognize both how complex the circumstances are and how critical and precious a commodity that passion is to those so reliant on the hope it brings.

The three stand out values I notice in the passionate principals I partner with are tenacity, resilience and perseverance. They may sound like one and the same. That’s because they are. That’s what passion is in a school and its classrooms. Especially in the most needy communities.

We all worry about a system which is failing the majority of our children. But how many of us regard ourselves as part of the problem?

Passionate teachers make their professional development their own business. They are competent and confident in the specifics of their subject and in the most effective teaching methods to take that majority to the proficiency essential for a decent education.

Passion is the driving force in a school that works. It is the driving force of a life that works. We don’t have to donate our organs to bring schools to life. We just have to add much needed value by giving of ourselves – personally and professionally. I just wanted to share that word – passion – with you today. Til next time.


Coach/Mentor: The Principals Academy Trust


Keeping in Touch in Tough Times No: 14/23
04 September 2023