To the untrained eye, a strengths-based approach to education can look much like a weakness-ignoring approach to education. We all want our students to feel positive about their learning experiences, but are we focusing too much on feelings and not enough on the demands of reality?
Some parents and educators think so. I do not.
When we educate in a strengths-based fashion, we are not ignoring weakness. Instead, we are reframing weakness into an opportunity for growth. How that opportunity is organized and shaped has a lot to do with what the student’s strengths are. In a strengths-based classroom, we offer the student a chance to learn what they need in the way that they want.
First, we must identify what our strengths are. Strengths are what we feel good about doing, not only what we’re good at. We may not be the best, but when we engage with our strength we feel calm, comfortable, connected, and curious. Some people call this a state of “flow”.
My personal strengths lie in the visual-spatial realm. I love nearly anything creative and hands-on. I would much much rather build you a three-dimensional timeline of the events leading up to World War Two than write a paper on it. Yet, here I am writing blog posts to you every month. (Funny how things work out.)
But if we’re friends on social media, then you’re aware of my love of knitting, embroidery, sewing, cooking, gardening, and about anything else I can do with my hands. It’s how I unwind after a long day of writing. Sometimes I use the Pomodoro Technique to break up my writing with knitting! It’s one way I’ve learned to use my strength to bolster a weakness.
Some children cannot focus on more than three math problems at at time, despite loving and showing real talent in math. After discussing it with the child and their caregivers, I may devise a plan in which the child will practice solving three math problems with a fifteen-minute “wiggle break” after which the student is responsible for coming back to finish three more and so on. With another student in the same circumstance, I may devise a plan to finish five math problems and then methodically increase the amount of problems over time. Five math problems become six the next day or week, then seven, and so on.
Another way to bring a strengths-based approach into your learning space is to catch your students or children doing something right. Praise them for their efforts in a concrete manner and enjoy the ripple effect of that one positive interaction. Examples of concrete praise include, “I like how you kept going even when things got difficult” or “Your hard work shines through on this piece of writing. I remember when writing was more difficult for you. Look at you now!”
Remember, as Dr. Ross Greene is famous for saying, “kids do well if they can”, and when we set them up for success by playing to their strengths, we’re putting that philosophy into action.
There are many more ways to support children in a strengths-based fashion. Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear your ideas!