Bring Out Your Strengths

Educate: …from the root word Educe – to bring forth what is within      (Aimee Mullins)

Our school goal: For each student to master basic skills, recognize and develop his/her unique talents and interests, and to become a confident learner.

Embedded in this goal is a mission to help students find an area in which they have a strength or passion.  Too often we, as educators, focus on the deficits of students and develop strategies on how to help create more success in these areas.  What we often miss is the fact that students are already successful, they DO have a strength but it may be in an area not recognized by our education system.  As a staff, through recognizing each student for who they are and not what they do, as well as offering students opportunities to explore areas outside the curriculum, we are trying to help students to find and develop an area of strength or passion.

This TED Talk by Aimee Mullins, The Opportunity of Adversity (see video below), further emphasized to me the importance of bringing out the strengths from within. Although this is a truly inspiring lecture, the direct links to education are mentioned by Mullins in the second half (about 13:20 onward).  She speaks about how we need to be opening doors to students and not putting lids on them; “All you need is one person to show you the epiphany of your power”.  Who was that one person for you?  Have you been that one person to any of your students?

How often do we, as educators, take away a student’s strength to focus on their weakness (see Sir Ken Robinson)?  I am not saying we ignore the struggles of our students but how often do we see areas like the arts or physical education, which could be an area of strength, missed so that students can complete their unfinished reading or math.  How often are athletes prevented from playing their sport because their marks have slid (please see Brian’s post on this here); would we ever ban a student from Biology class because they received a yellow card in the soccer game the evening before?  During budget cuts, what are the first programs to go – arts, athletics, outdoor ed, field trips, etc.  We really need to reflect on what doors we are opening and what lids we are closing for our students.  The learning outcomes need to be lessened and the academic hierarchy needs to be flattened so students are provided with more opportunities to showcase their talents.

Environment is key to providing students with the mindset that they can bring out their strengths.  Mullins references a 1960′s case study in which the A-level students were told that they were D-level students and D-level students were told they were A-level students.  Teachers were also told the same thing about the students.  After 3 months, the students that were originally A-level students became D-level students.  They were taught differently and expectations were lowered because of the perception that they “could not”; conversely, the struggling students who were perceived to have A-level ability rose to those expectations.  How much harm occurs when we focus on the perceived educational deficits of students, rather than focusing on their strengths?

As educators, we need to begin to truly educate students by bringing forth what is within; we need to celebrate the strengths and passions of our students and support their individual needs in a way that instills confidence in their learning.  Only then will we know the true capability of our students.

Please join the movement to recognize ALL students.