In successful force observation, you will ask questions, expect unconventional answers, and experience the world of students. Finding your students’ strengths may seem intuitive, but it’s not. Since most of us educators have been trained to identify students’ deficits, we need to work actively to identify their strengths. Pay attention to the following:
- Does the student work best alone or in a group?
- When does the student show excitement, boredom, more or less energy, frustration, or sustained concentration?
- How easily do they initiate tasks, switch between tasks, and stay focused?
- Do they inspire or motivate others?
- Are they creative in their approach to a given task?
- Are they leveraging resources or social capital in a meaningful way?
- What was difficult for the student?
- What seemed easy for the student?
- What patterns did you notice throughout the observation?
After the observation, review your findings with the student. Specifically, share the strengths you have identified. For example, if you observed a student during a math lesson when they had to maintain their attention for a long time, you might say, “Your attention to detail is strong and you were able to focus on the whole job to get the job. Done.” Perhaps you observed a student who did not contribute much during the brainstorming portion of the social studies group activity. Yet this student captivated his peers and kept them on edge. from their seats during the group presentation to the whole class.
Next, ask the student to offer their thoughts on how they perceive their strengths. Ask them if they agree with your assessment. This is an opportunity to get feedback on how your observations match up with how the student sees themselves – and it also helps students learn more about themselves!
To go further, help students reflect on their strengths by asking questions such as:
- What do you think you are good at?
- What do you like to do?
- What comes easily to you?
- Are there any activities that make you lose track of time?
Progress rather than perfection. Identifying and using strengths can be difficult because most of us are not used to tapping into our strengths. The key here is to help young people understand the importance of progress. The reality is that regularly using your strengths is a skill. LeBron James is arguably the greatest basketball player of our generation, and he practices his craft on a daily basis.
We can also practice our strength-seeking skills every day. Some days will be more difficult than others. The key here is to progress towards the goal, not perfection. Help your students find new ways to use their strengths and improve every day.
Opportunity to shine. When students use their strengths, it gives them a chance to shine and they are more likely to experience success. This builds self-efficacy and gives them a reason to persist, even when tasks are difficult.
Simply put, when students have the opportunity to use their strengths and shine, they experience positive emotions and feel good about themselves.
Imagine a child with perseverance as a strength that only has one chance to succeed at a task. If they don’t get it right the first time, this child may become frustrated and learn that you have to be perfect, which will contribute to anxiety. Imagine if a student has a strength of perseverance and you give him several chances to demonstrate his mastery. The student may not pass on the first try, the second try, or even the third. But giving a student who shows persistence the opportunity to work on the task until they succeed will help them feel accomplished and keep working on it even when they face adversity.
Creating opportunities for students to use and demonstrate their strengths is a great way to build self-confidence. Students will begin to believe in themselves, realize they are capable, and leverage their strengths in a meaningful way. Additionally, it is useful to help students recognize and identify missed opportunities to use their strengths. The idea here is that if students can identify these missed opportunities, it could help increase their awareness of future opportunities to use their strengths.
Teach, try and tap into your strengths. Teach students to explicitly name their strengths. Help them build their strengths-based vocabulary and show them the power of “for now.” Instead of a student saying they’re not good at math facts, encourage them to say, “Maybe I’m not the best at math facts—YET.” Encourage young people to try their strengths in new ways. If their strength is “focus,” ask them to try a new task, like finding a solution to a problem no one has solved yet.
Help your students find ways to tap into the strengths of others. Why? Because the best schools, communities, teams, and organizations know how to leverage each other’s strengths, and you can help your students do the same.
This means helping students adapt well to their strengths and limitations and learning to work with others with different strengths and limitations.
For example, some people are fantastic at making decisions quickly and efficiently. Others are good at seeing all the possible consequences of a decision. Some find inspiration in unexpected places. When you have a team that knows each individual’s approach, you can create a culture where everyone feels comfortable contributing what they do best. This leads to bigger and better ideas than if everyone were working alone, and it also leads to increased confidence in the team – which makes them stronger overall.
One way to help people tap into the strengths of others is to ask them, “How could you use one of your strengths to help someone else?”
Dr. Byron McClure, D.Ed., is a nationally certified school psychologist and founder of Lessons For SEL. He uses research and human-centered design thinking to develop empathy, imagine, co-create solutions, and design equitable resources that put people’s needs first. While previously the vice principal of school redesign at a high school in southeast Washington, DC, he reinvented social-emotional learning within an inner-city community. Her job is to influence systemic change and ensure that students from very poor communities have access to quality education.
Dr. McClure has extensive knowledge and expertise in mental health, social-emotional learning and behavior. He has done considerable work in support of fair and equitable disciplinary practices for all students, especially for African American boys. He has designed and implemented school-wide initiatives such as SEL, restorative practices, MTSS, and trauma-informed practices. Dr. McClure has presented as a panelist, guest speaker, and keynote speaker across the country. He believes in passing from what is bad to what is strong. Follow him on Twitter @SchoolPsychLife and Instagram @bmcclure6.
Dr Kelsie Reed, PhD, is a nationally certified school psychologist who works at the elementary school level in Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2020 and received two university awards for her thesis entitled “Investigating Exclusionary Discipline: Teachers, Deficit Thinking, and Root Cause Analysis”. Dr. Reed has also received awards for his thesis work through the Society for the Study of School Psychology (SSSP) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA).