Sometimes Strengths-Based education is difficult to describe, because, really, it sounds simply like good pedagogy. That is one of the reasons that this site was created - we wanted to share how, yes, Strengths-Based education does involve doing things that good teachers and schools are already doing. We wanted to also share, however, that the true benefit of Strengths-Based education comes when it becomes explicit in everything that a school does. A school that is fully committed to Strength-Based education is, at each turn and at each decision, looking at strengths rather than deficits. Much of our work is informed by the work of Margaret Lumley, professor of psychology at the University of Guelph, who we are proud to work with on this project. Click here for an article that speaks briefly about that relationship.
In the coming blogs, you will hear about specific things that we are doing in our schools and within our school board, along with reflections that we have along our journey. To start the blog project off, however, I thought that it might be helpful to share a few resources that help explain our vision. Both resources can be found to the right of this blog post.
The first resource is an article that was published in the November 2009 edition of Canadian Teacher, "Strength Based Classroom Strategies for Teachers". It is largely about creating a positive classroom environment using student strengths. It aligns well with the direction that the Ontario Ministry of Education is taking with an increased focus on each individual student (differentiated instruction and assessment, etc.). Each teacher should know the students as early into the year as possible. This is really only possible by taking strength and interest inventories and doing other forms of assessments. The benefits of knowing the strengths of students are considerable. Consider the example that is given in the article:
For example, if a struggling student identified playing soccer as one of their strengths, the teacher could encourage the student to view the classroom as a soccer field and the teacher as their coach. They could be encouraged to show “good sportsmanship” in the classroom and “show respect for the other team” when dealing with other kids who are bothering them. Identifying positive character traits in students gives the teacher the ability to encourage the student to use his/her natural propensities to help them make healthy decisions throughout the school year.
Good pedagogy? Absolutely. Many good teachers would be doing this already. A Strengths-Based school would encourage this, of course, but would also encourage this type of thought process in every aspect of the school, from the classroom to extra-curricular activities to how administration deal with staff members.
The second resource is an article from Educational Leadership. Another example of good pedagogy where the focus on dealing with students with exceptionalities is on strengths rather than deficits. When strengths are the focus, there is a much greater degree of respect and human dignity given to all students. In the article, the concept of neurodiversity is explored:
The neurodiversity paradigm suggests that we take the positive attitudes and beliefs that most people hold about biodiversity and cultural diversity and apply them to differences among human brains. We don’t look at a calla lily and say that it has “petal deficit disorder”; we appreciate its beautiful shape.
What a beautiful concept - and long overdue! Despite the best efforts and intentions of most teachers, I think that most students with exceptionalities still feel inadequate, feel "less than". A Strength-Based model, if done constantly and explicitly, can help espouse human dignity in each student.
Great Resource #1:
To get to know more about the concept behind Strengths in Education, take a look at an article published in Canadian Teacher from November 2009, "Strength Based Classroom Strategies for Teachers":
Click here for the article.
Great Resource #2:
Another great article; this one specifically speaking about using the strengths model with special needs and exceptionalities.
Click here for the article.
By Steve Gulyas, Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School