Thursday, December 29, 2011

Great Article: The Importance of Taking a Strength Based Perspective by Mary Beth Hewitt

As my role moves from being in my own classroom to supporting my students in other classrooms I am finding that I need to step back and analyze things that I do and believe in so that it can be projected in to my students new environments.  In a self-contained classroom it is easy to take a strength based approach because we do not have some of the same pressures that exist in a classroom full of 30 students who all need to get through the same curriculum in the same amount of time.  It is making me stop and think. I found this great article on the CPI website and wanted to pass it on.

Link to Article: The Importance of Taking a Strength Based Perspective by Mary Beth Hewitt

For some reason the article is cut off at the end and the "Eight Behaviours of the Strengths Based Teacher" table is not included.  It's a great table that lists the eight behaviours as well as examples of framing things from a flaw and strength focus.  The 8 behaviours are:
  1. Focus on what the student can do.
  2. Make realistic appraisals and avoid the use of overgeneralizations.
  3. Look for and give credit for evidence of progress. Don't minimize or discount the positive.
  4. Positively reframe behaviour.
  5. Look for the "silver lining" in the students behaviour and start there.
  6. Work with the factors that you can control.
  7. Look at the whole picture.  It is as important to focus on factors that are present when the misbehaviour does not occur as when it does.
  8. Be aware of the labels that you use and the projections that you make.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman

Although this is a business book there is much in here that applies to education on all levels - at the administration to teacher level but also at the teacher to student level.  It's a great read and examines what it is about some leaders that make others better and smarter.  It speaks to the need to step back and let others grow rather than stepping in and managing.  It is based in the idea of "growth mindset" that seems to come up again and again in the things that I'm reading.  It is based in the idea that we are always asked to do more with less... which means we need to find ways to leverage the assets that exist because we can't add anymore.  It is about letting people live their passion which means that work will not be work.  It is about growing other people's intelligence by engaging it.  It sometimes goes against what we want to do as teachers - as we want to impart wisdom or help or make things easier by laying the path.  It is worth the time it takes to read.

The book speaks to two types of leaders: Multipliers and Diminishers and the five disciplines that each have.  These are continuums that we move along.
  1. The Empire Builder (Diminisher) to The Talent Manager (Multiplier)
  2. The Tyrant (Diminisher) to The Liberator (Multiplier)
  3. The Know-It-All (Diminisher) to The Challenger (Multiplier)
  4. The Decision Maker (Diminsher) to The Debate Maker (Multiplier)
  5. The Micro-Manager (Diminisher) to The Inventor (Multiplier)
The book does talk about the fact that although multipliers make people feel good about themselves they are not "push-overs" as they demand a lot from those around them.

The book also talks about the "accidental diminisher" which is what I found most valuable as it is an opportunity to step back and look at the things that might be done as a way of "helping" but in the end it is a way of stopping progress/movement.  This is a particular challenge for me as I move from teaching in a self contained classroom to having to "hand over" my students to general education classrooms.  Staying too involved and helping too much can take on diminisher effects.  We aren't looking to just move what we did in the self contained classroom to the general education classroom which means that the disciplines of a multiplier take on an even larger significance. 

As the book moved through each of the disciplines it becomes evident that we are all going to have areas of strength and areas of weakness.  The suggestion at the end of the book in regards to moving towards being more of a diminisher was to find which discipline is your largest strength and to grow that at the same time as ensuring your biggest discipline is neutralized.  Don't focus on bringing you lowest area up to the top as you will probably not be strong in all five areas - you just want to ensure that one area doesn't do harm.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Strength Based

Let's start with a link to an amazing video of Scott James at his 2009 X-Factor Audition on this one...

Alberta Education through it's Action in Inclusion movement is looking to move from a "deficit based model" to a "strength based model" for serving students with "special needs".

People talk about 'starting with the positives' but strength based means not only starting with the positives but also ending with the positives.  When Scott James got to the point of not leaving his house they could have focused on ways to get him out of the house - social skill lessons or a behaviour support plan to reinforce leaving the house or addressing his sensory challenges by giving him tools to help him cope.  Instead they looked to what he could do and what he loved - singing - and they grew that.  They found him a teacher/mentor and he found himself a goal to shoot towards and in the end he left the house not because of any intervention but because grown his strength had grown his person.

When we build on our strengths it ends up neutralizing or eliminating the things that are challenging to us.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Five Things that Resonated With Me at the Linda Burkhart P.O.D.D. Workshop This Week

I had the amazing experience of not only attending a workshop delivered by Linda Burkhart this week but also of being able to do a morning long consultation with her related to one of my students.  It was an amazing learning experience and I'm excited to start using P.O.D.D. communication books with my students.  I could see within minutes of her working with the student we did the consultation around how having this method of communication is going to open up a whole new world for this student.  I'm sure that I will be writing more about this as we go through the process of figuring out how to use this tool with our students.  Right now I'm just very excited.

There is much to say and think about but I think I will start with a "Friday Five" and just go with five things that resonated with me during this learning experience...
  1. "Input before Output": In order for students to learn we need to provide the input before the output and sometimes we need to provide the input for a very long time.  When we are teaching students to use an alternative communication system we need to talk to them using that system.  Traditionally we have been providing intervention based on what we expect a child to understand but a child can only know what we have presented to him/her so it becomes a catch 22.  Bottom line is what a child will do is dependent on what we given and show them.  The caution here is that when we test children to find out what they are capable of we are testing what they have been exposed to but we are not testing what they are capable of.  We need to be careful not take the test results and set things up in a way that doesn't allow us to explore what they are capable of.  It's logical... but we don't necessarily do it.  I know there are places where I need to be far more cognizant of this.
  2. Independence vs Autonomy: At one point during the workshop Linda talked about the difference between "independence" and "autonomy".  Independence means being able to do something alone while autonomy is about having the freedom to determine one's own direction.  You can be autonomous without being independent.  You can be independent without having autonomy.  Bottom line for me is that autonomy is a far more important goal than independence for my students.  It is also a far more important goal for my own personal development as there are times that I need to be interdependent as opposed to independent to achieve my goals.  I have been focusing on autonomy but defining the difference and making it more explicit helps to focus what my job is.
  3. Assume Competence: This is something that I believe deeply in - yet at the same time I find myself getting knocked down a peg or two often on this one.  I see again and again how my ableist views can come in play on an unconscious level regularly.  Seeing my student so quickly pick up the process needed to communicate with a P.O.D.D. book made me realize that I need to diligent in this area.  I can see what he is capable of goes way beyond what I've been assuming.  We really have no idea what our students are capable of and we can so easily limit what they are exposed to by making the wrong assumptions.
  4. Scaffolding Process: This P.O.D.D. system is such a perfect example of the scaffolding process and I found myself thinking about it a lot as we went through this workshop.  What we do and set up around a child affects how a child grows and develops.  If we can meet them just a bit above where they are and challenge them forward they will respond.  These books are amazing in that the idea is that we model receptive language above the expressive language the child is using.  This is done naturally if we communicate with our voices... but without us modeling the communication system a student is using we are not doing the same thing for them. 
  5. Understanding of How Language Works (Pragmatic Branch Starters):  This was the key to understanding this whole system as it is based on pragmatic branch starters (the reasons we use language) and it gives the student autonomy around choosing which branch to start from.  From there some of the things we are doing are similar to what we have done in the past.  The difference is related to who decides what we talk about.  This system gives that responsibility to the student... which is exactly what I had been looking to do.
I'm very excited about this and can't wait to get started.  I'm sure I will be posting updates as we go along.  If you ever get a chance to hear Linda J. Burkhart speak I would recommend that you go.  Although she speaks mostly about students with multiple complex disabilities what she has to say is so applicable to all students.  She resonates respect for all people.  Truly amazing experience!