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Wednesday
Dec072016

Ten Ideas to Consider When Creating a Strength-Based Teaching and Learning Culture of Success

Please Note:  For mobile device users, go to www.teacherdrivenchange.org to connect with the links below. 

Overview - A Strength-based system is a comprehensive, coherent framework for transforming public education from a deficit-based teaching and learning environment to a culture of success for all students.  In a strength-based system, strengths are emphasized over weaknesses and opportunities over obstacles. A strength-based thinker focuses on (1) past successful experiences, (2) what’s working and why and (3) envisions all great things that are possible.  In contrast, a deficit-based thinker focuses on (1) past mistakes, failures and mishaps, (2) what’s not working and why and (3) envisions how political, economic and social forces can be changed to prevent problems from continuing or recurring in the future.   

IFT Strength-Based Tools - Based on extensive research and investigation, the IFT has developed a set of strength-based tools teachers can use to help create a culture of success in their classroom, school or school district. These tools are the seven factors that drive a culture of success. Click here to see the seven factors.

Student Talents are Primary - As a strength-based teacher, you view everything through the lens of your students’ talents. In a strength-based student-centered environment, student talents drive the learning process. This approach contradicts a deficit-based environment where students are required to learn a body of knowledge that is externally imposed. 

In a strength-based environment, the responsibility of the classroom teacher is to apply the necessary skills and knowledge to help transform student talents into strengths. In this sense, the teacher is empowered to combine art and science to create a broad-based curriculum; a curriculum which matches the talents of each student. 

Creating a Culture of Success - Let’s be clear, however, strength-based thinking is not some pollyanna approach promoted as a a simple alternative to deficit-based thinking.  Rather, strength-based thinking is the recognition our schools, families and communities create a culture of success for all when they join together and focus on talents and what works and not on weaknesses and obstacles.

Most important, we understand the way we interact and respond to children depends on how we view them - deficit-based or strength-based. 

This same line of thinking can be applied to teachers, parents, school employees and the community.  In a strength-based teacher driven public school, the entire school community is viewed as a diverse and multifaceted pool of resources to be used and applied to transforming student talents into strengths.  Every member of the school community has strengths, knowledge and skills that teachers can use to build a curriculum grounded in student talents to create a teaching and learning culture of success. 

Turning Public Education on its Head - To build a strength-based teacher driven learning environment requires turning public education on its head; making students, their parents and teachers primary.  This will not be easy but it is beginning to happen. More and more CTA members, leaders and staff are recognizing the potential and power of strength-based thinking.  Other CTA members are experimenting and applying strength-based thinking in their classroom through IFT Grants.  Finally, CTA chapter leaders and IFT Think Tank members are exploring new strategies and approaches for how strength-based teacher driven change can create a culture of success for all students.  

Ten Ideas - Below are 10 ideas to jumpstart your thinking about strength-based teacher driven change.  The ideas below can be initiated right now or act as conversation starters.  

Number One: Strength-Based Faculty Meetings - Instead of focusing on problems, identify and describe what is desired.  Focusing on problems often leads to debates, arguments and frustration.  The faculty meeting should be a place that is energizing, where teachers hold conversations on “what might be”: a time for teachers to explore their hopes and dreams for their work, their working relationships and their students.  The faculty meeting should be a place where teachers engage in thinking big, thinking out of the box, and thinking how to build on what has been successful and meaningful in the past.

Number Two: Organize the Teacher Day to Increase Collaboration - Most districts and schools organize the day around things that don’t matter.  Using the industrial model, teaching and learning is often driven by schedules which isolate teachers and conflict with the learning process.  What if we started with a “blank slate” and decided to organize the school day around “teacher collaboration.”  In other words, let’s make sure teacher collaboration is central to creating a great learning place for children and young adults.  

Number Three: Encourage Cross Age Student Collaboration -  Students design multiple collaboratives to share and build on each other’s talents with the goal of understanding various topics and subjects. Overcoming and understanding challenges, students seek out the talents and strengths of their peers to produce solutions. When a highly diverse set of students, work together, build on each other’s strengths and have the freedom to learn on their own terms, they are more likely to create a pathway to success.

Number Four: Showcase School Community Strengths -  Have you thought about using the entire school community as a strength-based resource pool?  In many respects, the potential for school community involvement and collaboration is limitless. Community groups can be established by interests, strengths, subject areas or a combination. Groups can be linked-together through key individuals to ensure the exchange of information and possible actions. Acting as temporary scaffolding, the framework of school community groups would evolve and likely change the nature of school community relationships. 

Number Five: Strength-Based School Resources - Develop a strength-based audit of your school community. Strength-based information could be collected in the form of a survey, personal interviews or a public forum.  School districts often send out newsletters and community bulletins.  Why not ask members of the school community to identify their talents and strengths. Find out how school community members can help support and play a role in student learning.  Once the information is collected a data base can be created and used by teachers. 

Number Six: Emphasize Learning from Within - Is learning internally or externally driven?  For many, the answer is obvious.  Just watch a young child at play; their entire learning experience is based on a natural curiosity to understand their world around them. Learning is from within. Simply speaking, we learn best when we are interested and attach value to the learning process.  Strength-based learning begins with the learner.  The teacher’s responsibility is to create the conditions which encourage excitement and passion for the learning process.  

Number Seven: End the Bell Shaped Curve - While a growing number of teachers reject bell shaped curve thinking, it remains, in many respects, part of the education fabric.  The bell shaped curve represents what statisticians call a “normal distribution.”  This model assumes we have an equivalent number of students above and below average, and there will be a very small number of students at the extreme ends of the curve (two standard deviations above or below the average).  Strength-based thinking recognizes all of our youth are born with natural talents and that these talents have the potential to become powerful strengths.  Therefore, it makes more sense to emphasize the natural talents of all children then to focus on externally driven standards which often create a frustrating and dysfunctional teaching and learning experience for teachers, students and parents.  

Number Eight: Involve Parents in Everything - In a strength-based school-community, parents and families are responsible for the cultural and social development of their children. Independence, self-reliance and accountability, all essential features to strength-based learning, are taught in the home and reinforced in the school. Teachers and other school-community members act as a resource for parents with the objective of strengthening school family relationships that support students success. 

Number Nine: Strength-Based Celebrations - Celebrations are part of a strength-based teaching and learning environment.  Celebrate when student talents are identified and strengthened. Showcase those students that provide strength-based support to their peers.  Recognize parents as part of the strength-based celebration and be sure to include school-wide staff when they have contributed to the success of a student. 

Number Ten: So Now It’s Your Turn.  What are you going to do to create a culture of success for all of your students?  How can we create strength-based teacher driven CTA Chapters?  What needs to happen to turn your classroom, school and district into a strength-based learning environment for all students?  The call to action is out.  

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