School: Friend or Foe?

Yesterday, I received an email from my principal sharing this inspirational story:  http://thelgroup.com/p_TheLetter/242.asp?v=play#video

The story of Anthony Robles, the one-legged wrestling champ, brought me to tears.  Like so many other inspirational stories, Anthony overcame a serious setback- being born with one leg- and ultimately achieved greatness.

In the video, a quote by Anthony’s mother is emphasized:

“Don’t let what you CAN’T do get in the way of what you CAN do.” 

Just about every teacher I know would nod their head in agreement, and proudly agree that this is their dream for all students.  But is it possible in schools today?

Society today has a tendency to focus on fixing what is broken, rather than celebrating what is good.  This same attitude is embedded within our schools.  I don’t believe it is intentional, but it is an unfortunate side-effect of using high stakes testing to evaluate the worth of teachers and students.

In our schools, much less time is spent developing and honing skills that students are naturally good at- the skills that are most likely to bring them enjoyment, satisfaction, and align with their future goals- while the majority of our time in school is spent trying to “fix” what is “wrong” with students- leading to frustration, resentment, and feelings of worthlessness.  I don’t know about you, but if this isn’t the ultimate example of letting what you can’t do get in the way of what you can do, I don’t know what is.

If Anthony’s mom would have focused on trying to get him to function as a two-legged individual, he would not have had the opportunity to develop into the wrestling champ that he has become.  If he focused on trying to repair the weakness in his lower body, instead of developing his naturally strong upper body, where would he be today?  Probably living life as an average individual who can generally function in society.  Or possibly worse- living life as a frustrated and hopeless individual who feels he has nothing to contribute to society.

I shudder to think of the wealth of resources that lay dormant inside the heads of frustrated, disenchanted, depressed students who have not had an opportunity to develop strengths because of the time required to “work on” weaknesses.  How much has our society been held back by our continuous focus on fixing what’s “wrong”?  What amazing contributions have we missed out on?

Alone, I don’t have the power to change the focus of our schools from weaknesses to strengths. And to be honest, I haven’t yet fully developed a tangible solution to accurately measure the success of students with such a wide variety of strengths, but I think about this often. I strive to be an example by building upon the strengths of the students I impact.  And I sincerely believe that I have made a difference with the few students I have been able to reach.  It is my dream that within my lifetime, our schools become places where we foster the strengths of each individual and capitalize on the value of our greatest resource- our students.

Do you think this is realistic?  What do you think is needed to shift the emphasis from weaknesses to strengths?

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2 Comments

Filed under Student Achievement

2 responses to “School: Friend or Foe?

  1. Paige Roberts

    I love your insight Jenie. As a reading coach, I have discovered that we can identify MANY weaknesses in our students, become so overwhelmed by that and not even know where to begin. This has ALWAYS been the barrier for me to help my teachers–sheesh, where do I even tell them to begin. What a wonderful epiphany that if we had started to focus on the student’s strengths and build on that, we could hone in on what IS working, not feel so overwhelmed, help the student feel successful and move forward from there. I’ve watched over and over again, teachers work with students targeting their areas of weakness (or “concern” as stated on a Tier 3 plan through RTI) and becoming frustrated that the students weren’t making any progress…well DUH:)

  2. Good Point Paige! Focusing on what IS working is certainly not as overwhelming for teachers as building on strengths. It’s a win-win situation for both students and teachers 🙂

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