See a spark, light a fire

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LIGHTS II When Steven Spielberg was eight, like many young boys, he loved to torture his sisters. Once, caught in the passions of creativity, he cut off the head of a doll, put it on a plate of lettuce, and proudly displayed it around the house. According to Leah Adler, his mother, life with young Spielberg was often unsettling.

Instead of therapists and drugs, however, Adler was patient. When he was twelve Spielberg received his first Super 8 video camera and he was off. He’d found his spark.

Have you seen that spark in a child you know? Do you know a child still searching for theirs?

Picture for a moment, a young person–preferably one you know well. See this youth clearly in your minds eye. Got it? Great. Now let me ask you one simple question: What is your highest aspiration for this child?

Is it to ace a standardized test? Get a good job? Be safe? Make lots of money? Stay out of trouble?

Probably not. We don’t use this kind of language to describe our dreams for our kids. No, for this we use words like: joy, love, compassion, excitement. We want our kids to fall in love with life. We want them to be generous and passionate with their contributions.

In short, we want our youth to thrive.

The problem, according to Peter Benson, former long-time CEO of Minneapolis based Search Institute, is that only a quarter of our youth are actually on a path to thriving. Which means one in three of our kids, aren’t living with purpose, engagement and joy, but with isolation, emptiness, and confusion.

The solution? Benson believed it’s all about something he called “Spark”–that feeling we get when we’re engaged in something that gives us a sense of unique and energizing purpose. We’ve all felt it. The key, says Benson, is to help kids identify their sparks, and then support their exploration of it.

After interviewing close to 10,000 middle and high school students, The Search Institute has discovered some interesting things:

• Kids get it. When explained to them, 100% understand what spark is. They know if they have it and can point out kids that are missing it.
• 2/3 can immediately name for themselves at least one spark. Another 20% can name a spark after a bit of encouragement.
• Barely ½ say that someone in their family recognizes their spark. 1/3 say someone at school recognizes it, and ¼ say someone else in the community can see it.

According to Benson, child needs three things in order to thrive:
1. A spark
2. Three spark champions who see it, name it, and support it, and
3. Opportunities to express it.

Today, more than ever, our youth need us to see them–to see their unique gifts, to recognize, name and nurture their sparks. It’s a shift from our traditional focus on test scores, college prep, and career readiness. But it’s vital that we begin to realize the genius within each of us–and that creative innovation comes from the inside (of a person) out—not the other way around.

“Our youth are fires to be lit, not vessels to be filled,” Benson says. Our job is to recognize and nurture that unique spark, that inner fire, emerging within each young person today. Our future depends upon it.

Founder of, Chris Wondra is just another Wisconsin public school teacher. Find We Teach We Learn on Facebook and Twitter for daily tips on getting the most out of your brain. Email Chris at: .

Image Credit: Shandi-lee Cox

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