I tweeted this recently:
I struggle with the “school is broken” narrative as much as I struggle with focusing on what is wrong with a student, not what their strengths are.
— George Couros (@gcouros) November 9, 2017
In the past couple of years, I have tried to stay away from this narrative when working with schools. First of all, the people that are in most need of hearing this message, don’t (politicians), and the people who do hear it most often (educators) are the ones making miracles happen in classrooms daily.
It is not to say that there aren’t problems in education, but I love this Dylan Wiliam quote and have tried to shift my mindset toward it:
By looking for, and starting with a culture that builds on strengths and what we do right, you are more likely to have a group of people that feel valued.
I’m often asked if I was to go back into a school as a principal, what would I change first. My answer is “nothing.” The first thing I would do now is to create a spreadsheet with every single staff member’s name. To the right of that column I would write the word “Strength.” Until I can identify the strength in every person in that building, nothing changes. Not only do I have to identify it, but the people I am serving would have to know that I know it. Then we can move forward and try some new ideas striving toward better opportunities for our students. If I change things without knowing and showing the value of the people I serve, they feel like they are trying to be “fixed” and nobody wants to feel that way. If people know they are valued, then it feels like we are trying to help them get better and grow. People will move a lot further with the second option.
This culture we create for our staff is also essential because it trickles down to our students. I have seen too often “response to intervention” meetings where adults focus on what is wrong with the student instead of what is right. How excited would you be to come to an environment every single day where that was the case? Unfortunately, this is a learned strategy that is passed on through practice in how many educators are treated within the school environments, individually and collectively.
If we want educators and students to be excited to come to school each day, we have to create an environment where they feel valued. Feeling valued doesn’t mean we don’t have flaws and weaknesses; it is just that we do not start from that point.