“The world has changed, and it will never move backward. In order for the next generation to be successful, they will need to think differently, and that begins by knowing what their strengths are. The concept of strengths development is the unifying element that flows through all efforts at school reform. It makes sense in every arena that is focused on raising healthy, productive, and happy children.” Your Child’s Strengths by Jenifer Fox M.Ed.
I was a star student for most of my elementary school. I breezed through my classes and loved most subjects, with the exception of science. I loved school and it was imperative that I was liked by my teachers.
As I went into grade 7 and 8, things started to change. Although I knew I was “smart”, my friends became much more important than any teacher. Grades started to slip, and my attitude towards school dipped with it. I know that I was one of the worst behaved students from grade 8-10, and if I could go back, I would apologize to all the teachers for my utter awfulness. It wasn’t that I was bad for all teachers; the ones that I connected with I was a saint. But if I did not feel that connection, I was a totally different person.
Then something happened in grade 10; I had a new chemistry teacher (where I struggled most) who had a different outtake on learning. Now in most universities, you need science up until grade 12, and I knew I would struggle to get this. Although I never was good at science (nor am I now), this teacher saw things in me that many did not. He knew that I was very social, and he understood that this was something that could be hugely beneficial. We had great conversations about what I was going to do with my future, and he stuck with me even though I struggled in his own class.
“Children need to know that adults believe in them even if their actions are not always strong.” Jennifer Fox
I never received higher than a 60% in any high school science course (although I did get 100% on my “name the parts of a microscope” test!), but seeing my teacher in Chemistry was always my favourite course. He believed me and he conveyed that every day. Was I much better after meeting him in high school? Yes. Was I an angel? No. I did however significantly improve my attitude in school. Playing basketball, connecting with people, were things that I loved, and someone was encouraging me to build upon these strengths.
There are so many individual teacher stories that we hear like this; about the one teacher that really changed everything for someone. What we need to do as educational leaders (note I did not say administrators as we all need to do this), is create a system where this is the norm for our kids. Where our teachers have the opportunity to work and create an environment where students are able to pursue their passions (read the work of Angela Maiers if you need some fantastic ideas and inspiration). Using this strength based leadership is something that is definitely helpful in our work environment.
“We must really start believing in the inherent worth of each child if we are to have any hope for their healthy future. If we could do this, school could become a journey, an exploration, rather than an evaluation that lasts eighteen years. Think about it—sixteen years of someone telling you what is right and what is wrong about you. And throughout, you’ve never had an ounce of input into the discussion. Imagine if this were happening to you in your workplace; imagine if you never set any of the goals or expectations, and you never had the opportunity to disagree. We could never fathom success in such a repressive environment for ourselves, so why do we think it is healthy for our children?”
We need to create more opportunities for our students where we not only find their passion, but they have the chance to really display. Things like Identity Day and giving students the opportunity to explore their own learning are going to be hugely beneficial to our school environments. Do you notice that we spend less time on classroom management when students are highly engaged in what they are learning?
This is not to say that we get rid of things like literacy and numeracy in school, but we need to also ensure we DON’T get rid of things like art and sports. We just need to ensure that time is created or given for students to pursue their passions and build upon their strengths. Our schools, and our future will be much better off.
Every day more people realize that focusing on strengths is the answer to creating a life that is truly worth living. We all stake our futures, our health, our livelihoods on the promise of the accomplishments and decisions of the next generation. They will need to develop their strengths to care for us as much as they will need them to care for themselves. Children cannot do this alone. They need adults—parents and teachers, especially—to guide, teach, and serve as their role models. Strengths are for everyone, and the sooner people realize we must overturn the deficit model, the better off we’ll be. Jennifer Fox
Here are some great resources on this topic:
Title quote by Doug Floyd