When you get up in the morning, what are you excited about? For most of us, the thing that gets us going in the morning is also the thing that drives us throughout the day. It’s also typically something that we feel confident about, that we think we do well, and we enjoy doing. Most importantly, that thing is also something we would identify as a strength.
I feel that often in education, we get drawn into thinking about weaknesses. As a teacher, we have to identify weaknesses in our students in order to find ways to support their growth. As an administrator, evaluations often include identifying weaknesses of the staff in our building, and planning to lead to future growth. We get caught in a cycle of looking for the weaknesses around us. If our strengths are the things that motivate us, isn’t it safe to assume that our learners would be motivated by their strengths?
A few years ago, as an ongoing activity throughout our unit on Ancient Rome, I provided students with a list of possible ways they could articulate learning. These choices involved aspects of Roman society and culture. I was amazed by the projects that students were able to create based on their strengths. I had students designing roman outfits based on research because they were interested in style and design. I had a student write a children’s picture book about the Roman Empire because they felt they were good writers and illustrators. And probably my favorite, I had a student, Patrick, who had struggled all year long but designed and built a scale model of a Roman Aqueduct that was SPECTACULAR (it’s still in my office today) because he liked to build things. While we were doing in class activities for learning, students were also researching for these projects. They were able to select a project that fit their strength, and the results were amazing. Having students present something that they had learned that also fit with their strengths was such a rewarding experience for me, and I’m sure led to a greater transfer of learning for each of them. I would guarantee that none of them would be able to answer any of the questions we had on a summative exam, however I would also bet they could tell you about what they created for that project.
Knowing how strengths can motivate all of us reminds me to be on the lookout for strengths as I am walking the halls. I am challenging myself to look for the strengths or everyone, and recognize those strengths! I challenge you to do the same.
Be thinking about the data that you collect on students. Don’t just look for patterns in terms of weaknesses. Also look at the data that supports their strengths. Give them the opportunity to build upon those strengths. Most of our students will choose a career path based on their interests and passions. Wouldn’t school be a better place if we gave our students the opportunity to accentuate their strengths? I’m not saying we ignore areas where a student needs to grow, but I can tell you that all the time that my sophomore English teacher had me spend diagraming sentences is not what has led me to be a good writer, a good reader, or any of the other skills I have developed. All it did was make me hate sophomore year English (sorry English teachers!).
Take a few moments in the coming days to seek out the positives in the students that are in your classroom. Identify the things you see, and share it with your students. See how they react to some strength-based feedback.