Strength based learning.

Recently I posted about teaching from my identity and learning about who I was as a teacher. My focus this year has been on my students and building them up as learners. This is only possible by encouraging my students to use the skills and strengths to their advantage. I am passionate about encouraging educators to embrace the power of a strength-based philosophy in their practice. While it is extremely important to help students recognize and develop their strengths, it is also important for students to recognize the strengths of others.

I’d like to clarify that strength based education is not about being the best at something. Chris Wejr writes about this in his post 10 Ways to Determine the Strengths of Our Students.

“An important activity is for students to understand that each and every one of them has strengths.  These can come in the form of activities (ex. dance, hockey, math, etc) and in the form of character strengths. It is also important to share what these strengths could look like in each student; strengths are not something that a student needs to be the best at but more about personal skills, qualities, traits and virtues that students have developed”.

When I look at my students, I realize that we did not get to where we are by accident. We started slowly by getting to know who we were and what our stories were. I believe strongly that storytelling is the best way to connect. Together, the grade 5 team of teachers developed an inquiry to learn about our identities. We explored how our families came to Canada and/or how our family’s history has shaped who we are by where we live. We got to know ourselves and each other. One of my students shared with me that in his culture adults don’t ask each other about their jobs rather where they are from. It’s how they break the ice. He said it’s more interesting because it can open up some personal things about a person, but not something so personal it’s awkward. It’s lets you equate someone more with their life as opposed to their job.

As we learned more about our families, we also learned more about ourselves. We learned about the things we love and enjoy. We also learned our our families and experiences help influence those things. This caused me to shift from thinking I was there to teach curriculum to starting to believe that as a teacher my job was to facilitate learning experiences that students could find their strengths as well as develop their skills and abilities at the same time as their passions. I started to find ways to tie curriculum into the things they enjoyed.

Over the year so far, one of the things we discovered we had in common is that we all enjoyed hands-on activities and building or making in a variety of ways. We have started to bring that into science. For example, we are working on weather. I put out the challenge of trying to measure the wind speed and direction. This led to the idea of building our own wind machines. Using the inquiry process we are going to build a machine using recycled materials to measure the direction of the wind. The students are co-creating criteria for their machines this week and it is awesome to see the two science classes I teach take their own spins on the project. The students are so engaged in the whole process but also are trying to find out what roles they will play in their group’s work based on what they know they can each do well. They want each other to succeed.

Strength based learning goes hand in hand with the growth mindset. It is about learning from your mistakes, taking risks and having the confidence in yourself. Relationships are key. Start small and build each day. It can be as little as a 15 minute conversation with each of your students. I’ve learned that creating a community is the most important part. The time we spend coming together makes the world of difference. We are excited about the work we do and take pride in our learning. We want to share. We have realized that together we are stronger than apart.