Bring Forth What Is Within

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.

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. Rob, I look forward to discussing how we can use this perspective in our district conversations.

  2. Chris,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. You are correct when you say 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. Indeed, students must be given the opportunity to discover and follow their passions and strengths. I would like to end this comment with a quote from Sir Ken Robinson:

    “Too many people never connect with their true talents and therefore don’t know what they’re really capable of achieving.”

  3. Well put Chris. One of your phrases that I keyed in on was,”Environment is key to providing students with the mindset that they can bring out their strengths.” So true.
    I have a vivid memory of my Gr. 4 teacher not allowing me to head outside for recess until I finished up my math corrections on a worksheet we had completed. As an active boy, I just wanted to get them done. She told me (and I can see her now saying this phrase) “I suppose running around outside is more important to you than learning this important math. Too bad you won’t be going out with the rest of the class today.” It still stings.
    You and I have talked about celebrating student strengths in the past and I am in full agreement with the notion that teachers can play an integral role in shaping those environments. Colson calls these people “hinge people”, for just as a small hinge can swing a big door, small, but intentional affirmations people give can change the mindset and the vision of the learner. As educators, let’s commit to being hinge people to each one of our student’s main interests!
    I had the chance to sit with Aimee with my kids at the rehearsals for the 2010 Paralympic Opening Ceremonies and she truly is an inspirational individual. What impressed me most was that she had the unique quality of drawing information out of others rather than talk about her own experiences. You’ll find as a dad that adults who take interest in your kid’s interests are people you remember. Truly a hinge person for us.
    (On another note, she also showed us her several sets of legs. As an amputee, she could be a 5’2″ model or a 6’2″ model in a matter of minutes, depending on the situation she was in. Quite funny actually!)

  4. so Very very well said Chris. There needs to be more teachers like you in our education system. Keep up the great work that you do!

  5. Your comment resonates with me, Chris, as did the video. Recall the teacher who was given her class list the first day. The IQ numbers were ALL in the 140-160 range. She was energized to provide that class with extraordinary opportunities and her expectations (to quote Dickens) were great. So were the class’ results. At the end of the year, the principal talked with her about them, expressing his surprise. When she in turn was amazed at HIS reaction, he said “This is an average class that has achieved well-above-average results.”
    It turned out that her class sheet listed the students names, beside which were their LOCKER NUMBERS.
    Attitude is all. Your school is well ahead of the curve on personalized learning.

  6. Brian, you continue to help me to maintain focus on the strengths. Through your tweets around this topic as well as references to Kohn, Robinson, and Pink, you fuel my passion in this area. Thanks for reading and keeping the conversation going.

  7. Brad, love the “hinge people” idea! Too many of us can remember a certain point in our schooling when a teacher or adult placed the lid on us.

    You continue to inspire me with your stories from your family and life. Keeps me going! Thanks for your comments.

  8. Lisa, thanks so much for the positive feedback! There are so many teachers in the system doing amazing things but we often only hear about the problems. Many teachers are not good at showcasing the great things they do. Thanks for reading!

  9. Linda,

    You are one of the most positive educators I know. I truly appreciate the feedback from you and your continued focus on the positives in the district. I love being in our district because of the culture that allows for flexibility and support. It is because of this that our staff can take risks and try things to benefit student learning. Thanks for your continued feedback.

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