Thoughts on Passion-Driven Education from a TED-Ed Club Facilitator

Final Jenn Scheffer TED-Ed Club

Before officially launching TED-Ed Clubs last week, 125 schools participated in a pilot program. Balancing student autonomy and guided learning was something we heard many TED-Ed Club facilitators thinking about as they led students through the 13-session curriculum. TED-Ed Club Facilitators are teachers, guidance counselors, coaches and administrators who work tirelessly to uncover opportunities for students to explore new ways of learning. For these facilitators, letting their students choose an area of research and craft a TED-style talk to express an idea was a totally new experience.

We caught up with TED-Ed Club Facilitator Jenn Scheffer, the Instructional Technology Specialist at Burlington High School in Burlington, Massachusetts, whose TED-Ed Club experience allowed her to find a new trust in her students and their ability to find their own way.

How was this club different from other clubs you have facilitated?

The students worked so hard outside of our formal meeting time, which is what impressed me so much. I’ve advised clubs in the past — ones that are resume-builders — where you have triple digit students show up in the first meeting, and the next meeting, there are 20 students. It was different for me to go from those big numbers to five [students]. But it’s not about quantity — it’s definitely about quality with this kind of program. This is an experience that those students will definitely have to differentiate them from their peers, now and in the future. It’s an experience that they will be able to share, and it’s going to be something they can leverage no matter what career path they choose.

What did you learn about yourself as an educator through this process?

I’ve learned that when a student is truly passionate about a topic, the potential for success is limitless. Passion can’t be taught, but you can plant a few seeds. Sometimes, finding a balance between structure and autonomy has been a struggle for me as an educator. With this experience, I really let the kids be autonomous. I gave them a lot of freedom, a lot of flexibility. I don’t know if it was because it wasn’t part of my curriculum, but I think that approach really helped. I trusted them. I just believed in them. And they told me, “We’re [going to] do it. Don’t worry. It will be okay.” And I believed them.

How did it feel to watch your students give their final presentations?

I have five students that participated in the pilot, and you know – you read about passion-driven education, self-directed learning, and independent thinking – but last night, I saw it. I just felt very privileged to be watching these kids…it’s hard to articulate. I talked to a colleague on the way home last night, and she said, “How did you get them to stay after school?” And I said, “I didn’t!” They just had that passion. From the get-go, the students that gravitated toward this experience were the ones who already had a passion for something.

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Hoping to get those passions ignited in your own students? Apply to be a TED-Ed Club Facilitator here >>