Posts Tagged stories

10 Ways to Start With Strengths in Schools

CC Image by Frank Wuestefeld https://flic.kr/p/7yvVKy

CC Image by Frank Wuestefeld https://flic.kr/p/7yvVKy

I sometimes struggle with the volume of posts that give lists of  ”5 ways…” or “10 reasons…” but I have recently been asked a few times how schools could get started using a strength-based model with students.  This list is by no means the end but more about the start; these are thoughts that have worked in schools I have had the privilege of working in; however, the context of your school is different so the ideas will vary depending on the school.  If you have further ideas or examples, I would love to read them (and steal them) so please leave them in the comments below.

Shifting the lens in schools to a focus on strengths rather than deficits… a focus on CAN rather than cannot… has been one of the most significant changes for me as an educator, formal leader and parent.  Where do we start?  What can we do this month? This year?  (there are links embedded in the list if you would like further detail on some of the stories and ideas).

  1. Shift from MY students to OUR students.  A previous teacher or a teacher in a different subject area can have knowledge of a child’s strengths and a positive relationship with the child.  Do we embrace this relationship or do we shut it out?  If we shift our focus from being classroom teachers or subject teachers to school teachers, can we better tap into the strengths of other adults in our building? Relationships are not zero-sum in that if one person has a strong relationship, it does not mean that others cannot as well.  Students need at least 2-3 strong, positive relationships with adults in the building.  These strong relationships often come with the knowledge of a student’s strengths… embrace these.
  2. Make the first contact about the strengths.  Make that first contact a positive one.  When we start the year, inquire into the strengths of our students – inside and outside of school and tap into these throughout the year.  Run a class or school Identity Day. Make the first contact with parents a positive one.  It doesn’t have to be about something the student has done but more about sharing that we value him/her and we know who they are.
  3. Schedule in time for a child to use his/her strengths in school.  If a child has a strength in the arts, technology, or with helping younger students (for example), provide time in the day or week for this to happen.  A student who struggles will often flourish when given a purpose or an opportunity for leadership beyond the classroom.  The important thing is to not use this as a punishment or reward.  If it is important to help change the story, schedule it in… but do not use a child’s strength as a carrot/stick to have them do the things we want them to do.  If we use it as a reward, we may get some short term compliance but the student will soon figure out that his/her strength is not valued.  Having said this, I do know that students will try to get out of doing the things they do not want to do and things in which they are not successful (adults do this too).  This is why it is scheduled in to the day/week/month so the students have to continue to work on areas of struggle AND they continue to get opportunities to use their strengths in a way that helps the school community.
  4. Teach parts of the curriculum through the strengths/interests.  Start with one lesson or one unit and ask how we can include the strengths and interests of our students.  It doesn’t have to be a big shift like Genius Hour but can be smaller shifts that include the curriculum like guided inquiry, writing assignments, reading reflections, and different ways of demonstrating student learning.
  5. In meetings, start with the bright spots.  If we are having a meeting about a child, start with the positives and see how these can be built upon. We need to acknowledge the struggles and look to how we can tap into the strengths to build confidence and change the story.  As principals, we can model this in staff meetings as we start each meeting/topic on sharing the bright spots.
  6. Start the conversation on how we honour students in schools.  Are there certain strengths we honour over others?  How do we honour the strengths of students that fall beyond the traditional awards and honour roll? Are traditional awards ceremonies the best we can do?
  7. Reflect on our assessment practices.  In our assessments, do we build on what students CAN do or do we focus more on what they cannot do?  Do our assessment practices build confidence or strip it away?  I know it is not a black/white practice as we need to support the challenges too but we need to reflect on the balance of strengths/deficits in our assessment practices.
  8. Watch those labels.  Do the designations of our students define them?  I realize there is a need for designations but I wonder if sometimes these work to put lids on kids.  A designation should come with a plan on how to embrace the strengths of the child and help us to support the deficits; it should not BE the story for our students.
  9. Start with strengths of staff and the school community.  Are we embracing the strengths of the adults in the building?  Do we tap into the strengths of parents and families in the school community? Once we know a child’s strength, how can we use the aligned strengths in our school community to help?
  10. Share the stories.  Share the stories of strength in your classroom and schools.  When you look for the bright spots and you share these beyond the classroom walls, you shift the culture of the school.

We find what we are looking for. When we start with strengths, we change the lens we look through and see the strengths in our students more than the deficits. When we change this lens, we change the stories of our students at school.  For many, this change in story can be life changing.

In BC, we have many schools that are already making this shift and we have a golden opportunity to create more space for us to bring in the strengths. This list is just a start.  If you have other ideas, please write them in the section below.  Hopefully, I can tap into YOUR strengths which will help me and others through the stories and the comments you share.

Click here to access a FORCE society “In The Know” series webinar on the topic.

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Social Media in Education: Who is it REALLY About?

Who is it all about?
CC Image from camknows http://flic.kr/p/bmXv1d

Number of followers. Klout scores. Lists of “top” people to follow. Twitter grades. Likes. Branding. Edublog Awards. Bammy Awards. Blog hits.

Social media is filled with passionate educators that are trying to learn and grow together in a way that benefits their districts, schools, classrooms and students. My worry is that I am seeing some things that make me question if some people have altered their social media strategy to be less about sharing and learning stories of OTHERS to being more about sharing stories and ideas about THEM.  Getting attention feels good and can often distract from purpose so when you look at the list above, who are these scores/lists/ideas really about?

As someone who has used social media in education for almost 4 years (long time for some, not long for others), I have built up my personal learning network to a point in which truly makes my learning personal.  I have blogs in my reader that support and challenge my philosophies and I am always looking for new voices from whom I can learn.  I admire those that share stories of their staff and students and the impact that this is having on their education.  I admire those who take risks and share stories of vulnerability in order to help them grow.  I am, though, concerned about the sharing of only MY messages and the “I am right, you are wrong” discourse that I sometimes see in my feeds.  I have  been caught up in these zero-sum style debates and also learned from this; I have made many mistakes and continue to learn from my actions.  I am also concerned that we are having the same conversations over and over again through social media, conferences and unconferences but not really changing much in our practices.

I wonder the point at which social media becomes more about marketing the user than about the learning that can result from using it to connect with others..  We often hide behind the idea that “the intent is good and we are sharing good stories of education” when we participate and promote education and social media awards and “top” Twitter lists.  Do we really need these awards to share stories if social media is already about sharing good stories?  How many great narratives are missed and lost because people are only following the “top” tweeters and only using apps like Zite and Flipboard to read the “top” stories in education?  Do these edu-awards ceremonies create more of an echo chamber and an imbalance of power as those with large number of followers get more followers and a louder voice and those with fewer followers become more silenced? Most of us believe that collaboration is the key to driving education forward so when we set up these arbitrary competitions, what does this do to collaboration?  I see so many tweets and post questioning school/student grades, rankings, and awards and student grades, rankings, and awards… yet we also see people promoting these very same things about educators and stating that this is “good for education”.  How can it be bad when it is about students but good when it is about educators?

I worry about the edu-celebrities that have been created and the branding of people that results.  Tweets like “OMG, sitting next to ________ at ____EduConference – looking forward to great conversation” concern me.  I worry that we seek out those who are popular on Twitter rather than engaging those right beside us.  As Andrew Marcinek said to me:

…we can do great things with these social mediums, but instead, we’re competing against each other for some arbitrary glory.

I realize Andrew often says it like it is but his statement makes me reflect on my social media learning strategy.  I do not believe people intend to be competing with others for messages but if you watch with a critical eye, you can see examples of this on many occasions.

U understand the message is easier to spread with a high number of followers and viewers… but what if getting followers becomes the primary goal?  Much like how grades can take away from the focus on learning, number values on people using social media can take away from the meaningful professional learning dialogue that can occur.

Lately I have seen some people whom I respect start to “weed out” their networks by unfollowing 1000′s of people.  I understand the purpose of this as people want deeper connections with fewer people… but can you not have deeper connections without shutting out those who you once wanted to connect with? I rely on lists in Twitter as my home feed moves awfully quickly to keep up; having said this, I do check in on the home feed once in a while for new perspectives and stories. George Couros recently wrote about this trend and he threw out a great challenge to those unfollowing people in a comment,

If you really want to start fresh, why not just start a brand new twitter account? Those relationships you talk about are important and obviously a two way street so if they were important on the other end, wouldn’t they find you as well? If it not about followers and about connections only, would you be willing to start truly from scratch?

Some of my learning conversations happen through Direct Messages as I need  that one-on-one conversation.  I recently tried to do this with an individual but he/she had unfollowed me so I was not able to tap into his/her insights.  If stories and connections are truly important for education and learning, what message do we send when we shut out people from our networks?  You never know who will reach out or who you will learn from so it is important to keep these connections open.

While at a workshop on professional learning through social media, a fellow educator recently asked me – do you think people who use social media are too much about themselves? My initial response was “no” but upon further reflection and as our conversation continued we began to agree that there are some people that use social media to promote primarily themselves – THEIR blog, THEIR ideas, THEIR “brand” (and some make a great living doing this; their social media strategy is clear – to sell their message).  This conversation made me step back and look at how I am using social media. There is power in humility.  There are many people whom I follow that have grown to have a huge network but maintained humility while sharing important stories about ideas, students, parents, and educators. Here are some key questions I am asking myself:

  • Am I sharing ideas that keep students at the centre… or am I sharing MY ideas that keep ME at the centre?
  • Am I more drawn to those with high profiles or those with powerful stories to share?
  • How often do I get caught up in the attention that social media can bring?
  • Do my education philosophies align with my social media presence?  Do I walk the talk?
  • Am I taking what I learn through connecting with others and applying it to our school and students?

This post is not meant to be critical of any individuals but more to encourage more of us to use a critical eye on how we use social media in education.  We need to question the events and initiatives that may hinder the meaningful dialogue that can occur through social media.  As Alec Couros wrote:

Education needs role models who demonstrate that complex problems are solved by cooperative networks of creative & passionate individuals

Are we REALLY working to use these cooperative networks to solve problems that benefit students… or is it about something else?  I have been caught up in the attention before; I have been caught up in the numbers – but I continue to learn from these mistakes.  For me, social media is about professional relationships that connect and share stories from many different voices; then applying these stories/ideas to enhance my professional/personal life as to ultimately benefit our students.  We need to be careful not to get caught up in the awards, lists, and numbers so we do not contribute to the hierarchy of connected voices in education.  If we focus only on the strong voices in social media, we may unintentionally marginalize people and risk missing so many important stories.

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