Inspired students make for happy teachers

Whether you're currently in high school, or you graduated long ago, there's a good chance you still remember your favourite teacher and, more importantly, why he or she had affected your life.

It might have been an English teacher who unlocked your hidden gift for writing, or a science teacher who actually defied the law and made physics fun. Perhaps this teacher even led you toward a career path you would have never previously considered.

Studies show a good relationship between teacher and student does more than facilitate learning, it actually has the potential to inspire. And according to The Future Project co-founder Andrew Mangino, when students are inspired, their teachers are happier too.

"There's nothing a teacher loves more than to see their students are on fire with ideas and creativity," he says. "With more traditional subjects, like science or math, the problem is that students don't necessarily want to take those subjects because they haven't yet associated those classes with passions of theirs. When students do [find that inspiration] it makes the teachers feel like they're really worth it. And they are."

Mangino's goal through The Future Project is to pair high school students with local mentors and have the students work on a project that means something to them.

The projects can range from organizing a 10 km race in their neighbourhood to writing a book. There are only two requirements: the project must tap into a genuine passion and make a difference for others.

"When someone is inspired about, say, journalism, suddenly there is relevancy in what they're learning in English class, in history class. It's a different mindset when you feel there's something out there that you really love and are really, really good at. It not only gives you great confidence, but a sense of possibility … There's a great ripple effect that happens [in the school and community] as soon as you find your passion and dance with it authentically," he says.

At the heart of The Future Project lies the hope that inspiration will trickle into the core academic classroom and get students excited about being in school. Mangino has already seen firsthand how a group of inspired students can influence the well-being of their teachers and principals.

"We had a summer program with students from New York, and they went from initially saying there was nothing they were passionate about, to excitedly asking their principal if they could start an art club because there were so many students with talents in dancing or painting, and no outlet for them. These were students who were getting Ds and Fs in school and once they started building these projects, they were smiling and just happier to be there. Their principal was almost brought to tears just to see that," he says.

But even for teachers who don't have a Future Project in their school, inspiring students remains a key goal. Flavia Churchill, a special education teacher at McKee Public School in North York, Ont., says when her students get excited about a task, there's a ripple effect that ignites the whole classroom.

"What I see with them when they're feeling inspired is they become much more supportive of each other as well as supportive of their own abilities within themselves," she says.

To foster that environment, Churchill uses an interactive teaching approach.

"If you're teaching about rocks and minerals and you just give them worksheets, they may tune out," she says. "But if you bring in samples and ask them, 'What do you notice? What's interesting?' those things really excite them and they think, 'gee, this is really kind of fun. This is exciting. I want to learn more.' "

Toronto-area high school teacher Nathan Fox agrees. The 30-year-old, who teaches history and geography, tries to incorporate multimedia elements, jokes and even a little healthy competition into his lessons. As someone who was a student not too long ago himself, he recognizes the powerful impact of positive inspiration on his students.

"Once they're really engaged in a topic, they're completely there in the moment," he says. "And we know when we're fully in the moment we can't help but feel good, kind of like it's hard to feel depressed when you're on a roller coaster because you're forced to be in the moment."

When such moments occur, Fox says he can't help but feel inspired himself.

"My students really affect my emotions, and vice versa," he says. "So when they're all excited, I'm more pumped up, more on top of my game, and then it's just a positive cycle upward."

Just like you remember your favourite teachers, your teachers remembers the positive impact they had on you, and feel inspired to bring that into each new classroom. Now there's a cycle worth repeating.

(Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty Images)