Strengths in teaching
It is the end of another academic year, a time for reflection. What went well? What engaged and energised the students? What do I need to adapt, abandon, create?
Why do I reflect on how energised students are? This is because it is a sign that they are using their strengths. It is widely accepted that we need to work on our weaknesses and that goes for students too. However it is only through developing our strengths that we can excel and thrive. Using our strengths can help us to develop in two ways. Firstly when we use our strengths we feel more energised, which means we can stick at a task for longer, we are enjoying what we are doing and this increases our perseverance. Secondly, as stated by Alex Linley, Director of CAPP (Centre for Applied Positive Psychology), we are also more likely to fix our weaknesses when we are using our strengths.
When applied to learning this means that students are much more likely to focus on a problem or a difficult task if their teacher can provide the right conditions for them to use their strengths. This increases students chances of reaching their full potential, the ideal of any teacher.
Strength spotting is a skill that that takes time and practice. As teacher I develop an in-depth understanding of my students’ needs, this is part of my job. However this task has been greatly enhanced through my conscious use of strength spotting. Looking at each student, watching for those times when they are energised and absorbed gives me a strong indication that they are using their strengths. Listening to them too helps me to identify their strengths, what do they say they enjoy, when does excitement, interest show in their voice?
Working with students’ strengths
Is a student’s strength methodicalness? If so, I aim to provide time and space to work through things systematically, at their own pace.
Is a student’s strength that they are a connector/bonder who likes to see the group work cohesively? If so, I aim to provide the opportunity to lead group work.
Is a student’s strength creativeness? If so, I aim to provide time and space to create novel explanations and revision activities that can be shared with the rest of the class.
Is say, ‘I aim’ because the classroom is a busy place and it is not possible to tailor each lesson to develop all students’ strengths. However, ‘I aim’ to include strength based learning opportunities across a term.
This is individualised learning taken to another level. It is an additional way of viewing each student and of assessing their needs and as a teacher I find this an invaluable tool. This means that students not only learn better, but they also feel more valued by having their strengths recognised.
Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+. Coventry: CAPP Press.