When did I fall in love with learning? Or, maybe, why was it that I never fell out of love with learning? For me, my most powerful learning experiences have always included people I admired, conversations that mattered, engaging writing, eye-opening films, and most importantly opportunities to put my learning into action.

As a high school student, I had two teachers in particular that opened the way for me to learn in real world settings: Jeff DePew and Ted Munnecke. They saw possibilities for me that I had not yet imagined for myself. Through their support and my mom’s persistent phone calls, I spent a summer volunteering for the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Nearly sixteen, I volunteered forty hours per week feeding small mammals and cleaning their cages. While some of the work was repetitive and physically demanding, the real learning for me happened with the zoo keepers who took me seriously and engaged me in aspirational conversations. Through their questions and guidance they helped me see more clearly my next steps. Through their connections and additional support from my biology teachers, I spent the following summer and volunteering for the Marine Systems Laboratory of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. Here again, the adults in my life cared enough about me to listen to my ideas, help me see the connections to possibility and then facilitated my move into new opportunities. I believed I had partners who learned with me. They fueled my curiosity with real opportunity.

Years later my primary partners in learning became my students. I felt a responsibility to design opportunities for their learning to flourish and I found that my learning did the same. Deborah Meier’s book, The Power of Their Ideas, was the last book I read before my first year of teaching biology in a Norfolk, Virginia public high school. Her stories of empowering students to engage in changing their world for the better deeply inspired me. The adults in my life had empowered me to follow my passions. I believed all students not only could learn, but naturally loved to learn. It was my job to design the conditions in which their love of learning would show up. If I was not seeing a love of learning in the classroom, then I owned the responsibility of listening more carefully to what their love of learning demanded. From these most remarkable students I learned that I could ask what was working and why; I could partner with them in learning how to make classrooms more engaging places; I could trust them to take responsibility for their own learning; we truly could create powerful learning opportunities together; they could help me see their world more clearly and I could help them see possibilities just beyond their view. They fueled my curiosity with real opportunity.

Now, as a university professor learning with aspiring school leaders, I am still learning in partnership with people I admire. The lessons I continue to learn about learning tell me that schools need to be places where everyone’s curiosity is on fire. Real opportunities for making a difference fuel curiosity. How might our educational programs and policies better facilitate each individual’s innate curiosity and love of learning? How might our schools better serve our innate love of learning? How might our innate love of learning lead us to increasingly creative approaches to living peacefully and sustainably within our local and global communities? These questions fuel my curiosity with real opportunity.

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