Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Using Social and Emotional Learning to Guide Students From Passion to Purpose 

Teachers can use SEL to encourage middle and high school students to discover what they’re passionate about and tie it to a larger sense of purpose.

January 4, 2023
Ground Picture / Shutterstock

I was recently invited to speak to educators at a Computer Science Teachers Association event. I initially struggled to think about what I could discuss with these folks regarding educational technology (edtech). 

I reached out to my friend Victoria Thompson, who works at Microsoft and is very up-to-date on all the latest edtech. I explained that my work is currently steeped in pedagogy and asked, “What technologies should I focus on in my advice to educators?”

Considering that many young people today are dissatisfied with education, she advised me to provide the teachers with strategies for helping young people to identify and develop their passion and bridge it to purpose. 

After mapping my own journey backward, I came up with a five-step activity that teachers can coach middle and high school learners through to help them find their passion and then move from passion to purpose.

5 Steps to Finding Passion and Purpose 

Step 1: Assess what causes you to feel happy and stressed. Before getting straight to passion, begin by explaining ways that learners can gain better self-awareness by gauging what brings them happiness and stress. This is a critical point of reference for youth—especially if they consistently experience high levels of dissatisfaction. 

There’s plenty of research about what makes people happy, but don’t complicate this—stick to what youth can do right now to help and know themselves better. State that happiness and stress can come from within—which can be experienced in these ways: 

Now, have them consider what brings them happiness, and recommend that they do more of those things to feel happier. Responses may vary among youngsters—for example, some may enjoy being in nature, playing sports, or family bonding. 

Also, advise them that we sometimes have to do things we don’t want to do. For example, driving in the rain and getting a flat tire is stressful but only temporary. Therefore, it’s critical also to better manage uncomfortable situations. 

Step 2: Consider your passions or interests. Now that learners know what makes them happy, we want them to also consider what they’re passionate about. We want them to explore intellectual passions that may activate a purpose for them. Here are some good question prompts to get them thinking: 

  • What do you think about often?
  • What do you want to change so much that you lose sleep over it? 
  • What makes you lose track of time? 
  • What do you want to be known for when your name is mentioned? 
  • What do you love doing more than earning money?  

If some kids are stuck and can’t pinpoint something they’re passionate about, inform them that passion can be cultivated by pursuing interests. And if they can’t identify an interest, have them go directly to step 5 in this list. 

Step 3: Pursue a passion or interest by goal setting and manifestation. Students should pursue their passion by setting a goal of something they would like to accomplish. I steer learners toward developing expertise and long-term goal setting. For example, if they love coding, gaming, advocacy, or botany, they should learn those skills well enough to solve problems in various contexts. 

Accomplishing long-term goals takes time and is challenging. As students set out to achieve their goals, there are powerful manifestation tools they can consider adapting to ease their journey.

How manifestation works. Manifestation occurs by creating or turning something from an idea into a reality—there’s even research to support ways of manifesting things we want. I’ve outlined these three steps to manifestation to help students get started: 

  • Pay attention to intuition. Intuition can be measured and is something one considers or knows from an intuitive feeling rather than from deliberate reasoning. Others call it a sixth sense or an inner voice meant for helping to guide us. Paying attention to our recurring thoughts and doing something about them is essential to accomplishing goals.
  • Discuss and map out your steps to goal attainment. When discussing it, only seek advice and mentorship from someone who’s already accomplished what you want to achieve. It reduces some of the guesswork and learning curves.
  • Implement the steps you set. As you implement your steps, it’s critical to monitor your internal positive and negative energy—based on the emotions you experience. For example, if we’re pursuing our passion and failing forward in tandem with doing things we love to do (see step 1), we will most likely experience positive states. If we do not see little successes, have bad days, or feel off, we will most likely experience negative states. We must find ways to get positive as quickly as possible. 

Step 4: Master your passion. If something is genuinely their passion, students should master it by learning everything about it. Mastering passion, like anything else, takes time. But this pursuit may blossom into fulfillment, purpose, entrepreneurship, and a career pathway.

The book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, can provide youth with a simple-to-understand framework for developing expertise in any topic by adopting the research-backed 10,000-hour rule for receiving instruction and practicing. That’s three hours a day for about 10 years. If something is truly a passion, dedicating that much time is possible. 

Step 5: Use your passion to help others. Your passion makes you feel fulfilled, but it’s typically about the individual. Encourage learners to use it in the service of others as they develop expertise in specific skill sets. Research supports the idea that helping others can make people feel that their lives have more meaning and purpose.

There isn’t just one way to discover passion or purpose; some of us are fortunate to travel paths that help us identify it. The abovementioned steps have worked for me—I hope they do for your students as well. 

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  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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