Testing the Waters

Testing… testing… Is this thing on?

After two years of silence, I’ve probably lost most of my loyal followers, but that’s OK. I’m here now because I need to write and process ideas again, and this is a good place to do that. I always lose the spiral notebooks I scribble in.

If any of my former readers are still following, here’s my life update in a nutshell: The nomadic lifestyle is done for good. I’m now the mother of two sweet girls, the wife of a practicing optometrist, and a part time middle school language arts teacher – yes, I am a teacher “for real” again!

I’ll be honest – this job isn’t my ideal niche, but I’m happy to have it. I enjoy the students, the schedule is fantastic, and I have more autonomy in my curriculum than I’d ever imagined possible. I do miss working with high school students, though.  

But the autonomy is amazing. I’ve spent so much of my career filling in for other teachers. Even the best jobs I’ve had were spent teaching curriculum someone else chose and outlined for me. I finally get to pick my own stuff, and aside from budget constraints, I have free reign to pretty much pick whatever I want. Which brings me to why I’m blogging again.

My input-gathering mind spent the summer listening to podcasts on innovation in education and preparing students for the future, not just more academics. Turns out, I’m not alone in seeing the huge gaps in our current educational model, and there are some truly incredible movers and shakers out there trying to do something about it. So cool!

Despite my bravado in the early years on this blog, I don’t actually think of myself as an innovator- more of an early adopter. I can see the problems and ask the right questions, but I like finding people who have great ideas and joining my skills to their foundations rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Early on it was Brett and Alex Harris and Marcus Buckingham who inspired me. Lately I’ve been listening to Don Wettrick, Bernard Bull, and even the Gallup Strengths Coaching podcasts, even though I’m not a certified strengths coach (yet), and I think about what I can do with my class of 8th graders to help get them excited about life and learning, not just getting good grades.

And I’m doing it, ya’ll! I’m dipping my toe into the sea of strengths-based education! All those ideas I rambled on about for years, dreaming of “some day” – I’m finally taking some action. It’s just baby steps, but it’s a start.

I started this school year by doing the StrengthsExplorer curriculum with my 8th graders. It’s similar to StrengthsFinder in form and idea, but the content is directed at kids ages 10-14. The assessment is shorter, revealing a “Top 3” age-appropriate version of the Strengths Themes. And the curriculum itself is short, too. It takes just take a few days. But if it goes well, I can see myself revisiting it a few times a semester just to help encourage long-term application.

I can already see that the application piece is going to be the challenge. The assessment and self-awareness conversations have gone great! The students see themselves in their Strengths Themes Reports, oohing and aahing over how accurately it describes each of them. It’s been great to talk about how they’re uniquely naturally wired — some are more competitive, some relational, or organized, or confident, or caring, and so on. And all of those are good things! Last year we battled a lot of negativity and students putting each other down, so it’s been cool to start the year focused on the positive. It’s not a total cure for the school culture issues, but tangible, definable positivity is a good counterbalance to the mean jokes that have become their default means of communicating for some reason.

I can already see some things I would do differently if/when I do this again. I need to become more knowledgeable about all the strengths themes myself, and maybe set up some one-on-one time to discuss their results. Right now the talkative kids are getting the most out of it. But I plan on having them write a personal essay next, so maybe that will help the quieter kids dig into it more.

So that’s why I’m back on the blog. Looking around, a lot of it is in serious need of an update. My profile picture alone is six years out of date, much less some the “about me” content. Ah well. I’ll tackle all that one piece at a time. For now, I’m trying new ideas and need a place to reflect on their successes and challenges. I can still do that here. There’s also a bit of accountability in putting this out there publicly. Now I have to see it through.

I find that I’m hesitating to publish this. My current students could find it so easily. I have a private class blog set up for them on WordPress, so it wouldn’t be much of a leap for them to find their teacher’s public postings. I don’t want them to feel like guinea pigs in my experiment. But that’s not how I see this. I firmly believe in the value of strengths-based education, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out in their class.

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9 thoughts on “Testing the Waters

  1. Could you provide some reading about strengths based education. Never heard of this approach before.

    Cheers,
    Mr H.

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    • In a nutshell, strengths-based education is the idea of focusing on what’s right with students, rather than what’s wrong. The driving force behind it is the Clifton’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment and book. The Gallup organization is in the middle of rebranding their educational publications, and most of it is directed at the college level. It used to be StrengthsQuest. Their new book is titled “CliftonStrengths for Students.” You can find out more about it at strengthsquest.com. There isn’t a ton out yet for younger students – mostly just the StrengthsExplorer workbooks and educators guide. (strengths-explorer.com)

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      • That’s a wonderful idea.

        Not sure it’s applicable to secondary maths education in the UK. I love celebrating students strengths, but they need to know a very specific set of skills to be successful in an exam. Therefore, it’s much more valuable to dedicate time to their weaknesses. This isn’t right, but it’s what teachers and students have to work with at the moment.

        UK education needs reform.

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  2. Pleasantly surprised to see your post in my blog feed today. I’ve been out of classroom teaching for several years now (just tutor part-time at a center), but I still like to follow what’s going on in actual classrooms and really enjoy your thoughtful posts.

    Like

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