Recently, our team at AWS Foundation went through the Gallup Strengths Finder training. The premise of this training is that people should focus their time and energy on growing their natural strengths as opposed to remediating their weaknesses. The training itself was empowering and has caused many team members to begin identifying their strengths in the work environment.
With the timing of our training coinciding with the start of a new school year, it made me wonder how school experiences and outcomes could be different for so many of our students if schools took this same approach. It is certainly evident that the consistent and frequent use of standardized and achievement testing forces educators to focus on the deficits within our students; in particular those with a disability or other learning challenges. The focus is on remediating those deficits in order to pass the test. But taking into consideration this nationally-based Strengths Finder training which is used by many in the workforce, how can school staff be intentional about helping students of all abilities not only identify but also grow their strengths?
A strengths focused approach starts with encouraging an inclusive classroom environment. Before we jump to count the number of ways a student doesn’t fit or belong in the classroom, I encourage teachers to seriously take time to reflect on what each student can add to the classroom community and environment. Who can say what is in store for the future? For many, our lives may be directly impacted through a disability lens, whether that be a tragic accident that leaves us disabled or a future family member who may end up diagnosed with a disability. Someday, for all of us, there will come a time when we cannot do or think as we once could. Are we creating a society for our future focused on strengths or deficits?
AWS Foundation is using a unique opportunity to help special educators in Northeast IN build upon their strengths. Using an application process, AWSF is providing funding for 25 special educator scholarships for attendance at this year’s national Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Convention. The intent is to allow these stand-out teachers the chance to attend a national training to refine their classroom skills and sharpen their instructional strengths in order to take back to their schools and classrooms. This is a new grant endeavor for the foundation, and we encourage educators to also take a chance on a new thought process and Think Differently About Disabilities.