Sherlock Holmes was definitely in his element when he was solving crimes: passionate, engaged, using his natural ability and skills to the maximum. That is why we so enjoy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.

Ken Robinson has talked and written a good deal about the “element,” that place where a person thrives as a creative individual (see for example, his book The Element). Not everyone finds his or her element, but it is proposed that everyone potentially has one.

Mr. Robinson has put into words what I believe is the greatest goal of education: encouraging students to find their element and live in it.

One of the points he makes– a new insight for me–was how specific one’s element might be. Indeed, it is that characteristic that sometimes prevents us from our finding our element.  If your Language Arts teacher asks you to write essays, and you find it pure torture, you might conclude that writing is not your thing. You may well veer away from it the rest of your life when actually you might find that you are in your element when you are writing, say, screen plays.  Maybe you abandoned music lessons on the trumpet after one year; you might however find that the piano is your medium for expression–or the drums. Mr. Robinson’s book is full of stories like these.

I have discovered that although short story writing was not my element, reflective narrative writing was.  I thrive as part of a discussion or seminar, but formal public speaking can send me into a panic attack. When I work with children, time stands still. When you are in your element, you know it.

This insight is particularly important for us all to think about in education—students, teachers, and administrators.

Students should keep an open mind and pay attention to what they love doing, what perhaps even very specific activities seem right when they do them—even something such as telling jokes at the lunch table. They should search for those elemental activities and mediums and see how they start to come together in a way that creates a path for them in life.

Teachers should be observant and supportive in helping students find their element. Ideally all kids should be happy about coming to school each day—there should be something in their schedule that builds on their strengths and passions. If there isn’t, we aren’t doing a very good job as educators.  Most schools need to broaden their elective programs without a doubt. Dance, for example, should definitely be included. What a joyful and expressive experience it is for so many people.

Administrators should help teachers find their element if they haven’t found it and should certainly not move teachers who are in their element already. We need to be careful not to make assumptions about ourselves or others based on general tendencies. I have known administrators who think that if you teach Language Arts, that means you could definitely also teach Social Studies. Some administrators assume that it is okay to move teachers around to different age groups without consulting those teachers. If you are good at 6th grade Language Arts, you will be good at 8th grade Language Arts.  Maybe, but check with the teacher first; it may be that her element is transitioning 6th graders, not preparing 8th graders for high school. Administrators will be much more effective (and more popular as well) if they care to discover what their teachers love and are really good at doing. I am not sure why this is not considered essential in good administration anymore; it seems vital to me.

Education is a people business, and the best thing you can do for work production and satisfaction is to find and keep people in their element. For Sherlock it really was elementary. It could be for us, too.