How many of us have struggled with starting and/or completing a project because we question whether we have the “smarts” and strengths to do it? I know I have. I wasn’t a great math student all the way through school. I didn’t particularly like writing until I had to do a lot of it in graduate school. Every person has experienced those moments when they “just know they aren’t smart enough or good enough.” How many of our students have these thoughts? How many times a day do they feel they just aren’t smart enough or good enough? What are the negative perceptions and stereotypes that plague our students? How many of our students really know what their strengths are?
There are two things that have triggered this blog posting as I considered our focus on closing the achievement gap. First, I have been wondering if our multi-tier support (MTSS)/response to intervention system has created more of a focus on the deficits of our students than on their strengths. Second, I have been using Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder 2.0 for my own personal growth. The question that came to my mind when these two things merged was:
Do we know the strengths of our students and how are we using this information to guide our instruction and student success?
At the beginning of the school year, we have our Student Interview and Assessment Conferences. Each student and their parent meet with their new teacher for thirty minutes. The purposes for the conference are to build a positive relationship between the student, parent, and teacher right from the start and for the teacher to get to know the student. Along with administering district benchmark assessments, the teacher also interviews the student and the parent to find about the student’s attitude toward school, their strengths, struggles, and interests. We have found the conferences create a strong foundation for communication and teamwork between home and school. They have also helped teachers know their students better so they began the school year in a positive way.
Each classroom holds a classroom meeting (also, called a morning meeting) every day. This has been tremendous in building a community of learners among our students. Through a daily greeting, sharing, and an activity, students get to know each other better and nurture their respect for their peers. Teachers also gain insight about their students, which helps them understand their students much better.
Teachers also learn about their students through observation. Watching students interact with each other, play with one another, and work in groups help a teacher understand students. All the conversations a teacher has with a student about their learning and lives also help a teacher know their students.
The key to all of this information is how a teacher uses it. Some ways are formal and some are informal. Teachers determine how to group students based on how they work together and how they can support each other in the group activity. They know which students need a little extra boost to get started and which need a push to go farther.
They can individualize the learning when needed. Teachers can provide student choice in how they demonstrate their learning. For example, a student who is artistic may draw their understanding of a science concept while another student may act out the concept. This may be the most difficult for us to conceive and implement, I believe, due to standards-based education, the one-size-fits-all approach. It also takes a culture that encourages trust and risk-taking. This is our challenge as we forge ahead!
How are your schools finding your students’ strengths and using this information to support their success?
Blog post written by:
Annette Freiheit, principal
Brownsdale & Hayfield Elementary Schools
Hayfield Community Schools