The conversation about changing our minds, our schools, and our nation to a paradigm that focuses on strengths begins with parents and teachers. Parents, teachers, and students can begin to form a strength alliance between the home and the school. If you are a parent and use this book at home, share it with your school. Likewise, if you are a teacher and practice these exercises and philosophies with your students, waste no time in sharing them with your students’ parents. Here are some exercises to help advance the strength alliance.
* Draft a one-page letter to your child’s teacher if you are a parent, to a child’s parent if you are a teacher, or to both your teacher and your parent if you are a student. In the letter, describe the Learning Strengths of the child in question in as much detail as you can. Include how he — or you, if you’re the student — likes to learn, what things he enjoys doing most, what type of environment works best for him, and what he finds difficult. Share this letter with the person for whom you wrote it. If you are a parent, bring the letter to parent-teacher conferences.
* Read the following case study and answer the accompanying questions.
Yolanda’s Day in School: Yolanda is a focused student. She takes everything she does in class very seriously and listens very well to the teacher. She does not like to participate in group activities, and she does not raise her hand much or contribute to class discussions unless the teacher calls on her. Although she completes all her assignments, sometimes her work is not correct. At recess, Yolanda likes to sit in the shade and read. She has a few friends that sit with her, but she does not like to join in the large group activities on the playground.
Given what you know about Learning Strengths, create a learning profile of Yolanda. Ask a teacher or another parent to do the same, and then compare your decisions and insights.
* Arrange for a conference with your child and his teacher during which you discuss only the positive aspects of his or her learning. Bring the Strengths Profile to the conference.
Whether or not your child struggles in school, he or she will need his or her strengths to find success, happiness, and fulfillment in the future. Whether through conferences or phone conversations, you should be in touch with all your child’s teachers; not just the ones whose classes present a challenge. Consider spending more time talking to the teachers in whose classes your child does well. They will provide you with greater insight into your child’s strengths and therefore deserve your attention. Many parents of students who do well in school skip the conferences altogether. This will certainly not guarantee that you, your child, or the teachers will comprehend and develop your child’s strengths.
“Good grades” are not a conduit to your child’s finding work he loves and relationships that are meaningful. Your attention is. When you go to parent-teacher conferences or call to talk with teachers, ask what your child’s strengths are. You may have to phrase the question several ways. You may ask, “What things does my child do that he really enjoys doing?” or “What activities does my daughter feel most successful doing?” Remember, history is not a strength; it is a subject of study. Do not ask the teacher what your child is good at doing; you can figure that out easily. Instead, inquire about what your child likes to do in the classroom. The next question can be, “How is your class engaging my child’s strengths?” If the teacher does not know, you can offer to help. Teachers dislike confrontation as much as anyone, so keep in mind that these questions are not meant to be accusatory or confrontational. They are designed to shift the focus of the conversation from weaknesses to strengths.
* Ask to see your child’s assessment — which is another word for tests, quizzes, and projects — as these are all the ways a teacher determines, what your child knows. Have the teacher show you the way she or he breaks down the components of your child’s grade. Is the bulk of the grade based on only one way of demonstrating knowledge? A school that focuses on student strengths will assess your child’s knowledge in a variety of ways, not just pen and paper recall. You can ask your child’s teachers to assess understanding in a variety of ways and have those different ways count as much as the traditional way. A teacher should be able to explain the way she or he came to grade your child and show you how your child’s strengths were reflected in that grade.
The above is an excerpt from the book Your Child’s Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Jenifer Fox. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Your Child’s Strengths
Copyright © Jenifer Fox, 2009
Jenifer Fox, author of Your Child’s Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, is an educator and public speaker who has worked in public and independent schools as a teacher and administrator for twenty-five years. She is currently the international leader of the Strengths Movement in K-12 schools. She holds a B.S. in communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.A. in English from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English, and an M.Ed. in school administration from Harvard University.