A special thanks to Teacher Alejandro Cisneros for this Post Through the CTA's Institute for Teaching, teachers at Loma Vista Middle School in Riverside's Alvord Unified School District are actively seeking to disrupt the status quo and reframe the way ...


Teacher Think Tank Member Leads Staff Collaboration Around Student Strengths at Loma Vista Middle School and more...

Teacher Think Tank Member Leads Staff Collaboration Around Student Strengths at Loma Vista Middle School

A special thanks to Teacher Alejandro Cisneros for this Post

Through the CTA's Institute for Teaching, teachers at Loma Vista Middle School in Riverside's Alvord Unified School District are actively seeking to disrupt the status quo and reframe the way that they see their students.

During staff meetings, teacher Alejandro Cisneros, a member of Moreno Valley Think Tank, facilitates strength-based activities that aim to counter the deficit perspectives that pervade some school cultures.

At the first staff meeting, teachers were asked to identify the strengths of typically marginalized students like ELL’s, homeless, and SPED students and to give examples of why they wrote the strengths that they did. (See photo above)

When asked to reflect and discuss what they took away from this activity, teachers reminded each other that every aspect of a student's personality can be viewed in a positive light and leveraged for academic gain. A teacher said that even though we do our best to treat all students with respect, the negative narrative can become toxic if left unchecked. 

At the next meeting, teachers were asked to examine the ways that they respond to students misbehaving and whether these responses work to support the goals that we have for our students. Teachers discussed whether their reactions to students who broke rules were restorative or retributory.

In reflection, a teacher shared that we often forget that we aren't dealing with little adults; we are dealing with children and should be keenly aware of and intentional with our actions.

When these students don't show strengths and test teacher's patience, our hope is that the staff will take a second to align their response to a perspective that heals damaged relationships rather than doling out punishment.

These conversations will be held at every staff meeting with the end goal of making our campus culture one that values students for the wealth of strengths that they bring.


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Capturing Your Classroom's Strength-Based Energy! by Dr. Tricia Gee

Know your teacher talents. With the new school year approaching, consider making a commitment to Strength-Based Teacher-Driven Change by fully knowing your own, personal teacher talents. For example, if your principal walks into your classroom and enthusiastically tells your students, Your teacher is great and let me tell you why,  what would the principal say about you?  Would your principal say you are super analytical? Or, maybe you are an achiever, connector or maximizer?

What are your personal teacher talents? When are you most successful in your career? 

I know for me it was the day the past Director of the Institute for Teaching (IFT) asked me, What talents do you bring to the table today? —- that gave me the opportunity to tap into Me; my personal, heartfelt talents. 

It was a CTA IFT Think Tank meeting, and I had no idea what the expectations were, why I was sitting at the meeting, or how I would contribute.

Especially during the first weeks of school, our students feel that way. They wonder and question what the teacher's expectations are or whether or not they will be successful in the classroom.  Focusing on their talents can reduce their uncertainty and amplify their joyful reasons for being in your class. 

Embrace student talents. Make sure that you have access to the free website, Thrively.Com. Join right away, take the assessment yourself, and then, set aside a 40-minute block to assess each of your students, too. It would be a good idea to talk to your students about the WHY on talents, strengths, and passions before they take the assessment, plus you might want to remind students they need to ask questions if they do not know what certain words mean. 

Additionally, let them know certain parts of the assessment require movement (at their seat) so remind them not to fret if they see other kids tapping their heads or rubbing their stomachs. After the students take the assessment, hold a discussion about whether or not they felt the assessment accurately represented their talents. 

Group students by talents. Try to group students into pairs or teams based on talents. For example, students can sit together by talents, "All students have received the 'fun-loving' talent, group together near the whiteboard," or, "Make sure you have 3-4 people in your group, and each of you needs to have a different talent to contribute to the group!" Make sure that while students work together in their teams, the students embrace their personal talents, share their talents with their teammates, and find ways they can creatively use their talents to add value to the team.  

Especially at the beginning of the school year, it is essential that students have time (a lot of time) to think about and reflect on their talents. Several students might feel uncomfortable talking about talents because they think they have "none."Others will wonder and will not be able to make up their minds, yet a few students will know their talents right away because they have powerful role models, mentors, and coaches who are constantly informing them of their talents. 

The classroom conversations that wrap around talents will foster and support a strength-based culture of success for every student. Student-led teams, student-led projects, and a student-led culture will undoubtedly move the year forward in such a fast, exciting way, that the start of the school year will, in no time, be the end of the school year!

If you are interested in more #strengthbasededu lessons and activities for your classroom, please email: strengthbasededu@gmail.com


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IFT Interview of Dr. Al Rabanera, Teacher Advocate, Education Leader and Visionary

Dr Al Rabanera is the epitome of Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change and is a leader in moving the agenda of the Seven Factors to create a culture of success for all students.  Never satisfied, Dr. Rabanera is constantly looking for new teaching and learning strategies which emphasize student strengths over deficits. A major advocate for the teaching profession, Dr. Rabanera is committed to taking action and finding a resolution to the challenge of teacher shortages in our community.  With 14 years of teaching experience, Dr. Al Rabanera is a passionate advocate for growth, stability, and success for those who are currently in or considering the teaching profession.  Through his work, Dr. Rabanera actively assists in the development and implementation of new programs that promote the retention of current teachers and encourage new generations of students to pursue careers in teaching.



IFT - We are delighted you have agreed to participate in this strength-based interview and we are especially interested in learning about your strength-based teaching and learning ideas and vision for the future of public education.  Tell us a little about yourself as a classroom teacher.  Why did you enter into the teaching profession?  Describe some of your best teaching experiences.

AR - Before I became a teacher,  I had multiple leadership experiences that set the stage for my teaching career.   I have always had the talent to organize and plan; talents which I have applied to my teaching.  I enjoy coordinating activities and events, raising funds, and helping others to succeed.  Basically, I have been driven by three basic themes:

  • What can I do to help others to improve? 
  • Everyone is here to serve. 
  • Opportunities come when you are ready to receive them.  

These three themes have grounded me, both in my teaching career and my personal life. For example, while I certainly had high regard for the teaching profession, my decision to pursue teaching was more or less based on a close friend’s decision to go into teaching. My regard and respect for this person helped to clarify my decision to become a teacher.   Equally important, I decided to become a math teacher based on the recommendation of my advisor; it seemed to be a good fit as I had always been pretty good at math.  

I have always been a continuation math high school teacher, where I serve as the Math Department Chair, Guidance, and Curriculum Leader.  I have been teaching for over 14 years and I am proud to say that teaching at a continuation high school has been extremely gratifying.  While a number of reasons exist, the most important is that I am able to see my students grow academically and socially.  For example, I regularly see my students blossom and come out of their shell. 

As a continuation high school teacher, I have the unique opportunity to really know my students; to see them mature and become responsible young adults.  As an educator, it makes me really proud to watch kids that at one time had very little focus mature into college-bound, responsible students.   

IFT - Now to the IFT, why did you get involved; what motivated you?  

AR - I actually was introduced to the IFT through the ILC at a CTA Service Center Council Meeting. Dick Gale, the IFT Department Manager was the guest speaker and I was sincerely impressed.  Specifically, I was most interested in the IFT Grant Program.  This seemed like a great opportunity for obtaining funds and I was intrigued by Mr. Gale’s IFT presentation. 

I was interested in developing a teacher mentorship program and discussed the topic with Dick.  I was pleasantly surprised at Dick’s reaction and support.  

Short story, I received IFT funding and my program was off and running.  Soon I became a strong advocate for the IFT, doing workshops and supporting the IFT whenever I could.  However, I am most proud of my involvement with the IFT Think Tanks.  As the IFT Think Tank Facilitator for North Orange County CTA members, it has been a real privilege and thrill to work with colleagues who are so committed to enhancing the teaching profession and teaching.  

IFT - Let's dive a little deeper into your interests around the IFT.  What is it about the IFT that you find most unique and how does IFT match your professional interests?

AR - Obviously, the seed money I received from the IFT was gratifying;  it certainly grabbed my attention and provided me some new and great opportunities.  And the think tanks are something very unique for teachers and the teaching profession.  But the thing that really separates the IFT from so many other organizations and initiatives is IFT’s ability to change on a dime.    

The IFT is able to move quickly; you don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get something accomplished.  If a CTA member has an interesting idea, you can apply for an IFT grant, seek special IFT funds, or join a think tank to get your idea going.    

CTA members can move from idea to idea, have the support of other teachers, and be part of a movement with few restrictions and very little red tape.

For me, it’s pretty simple. I was always looking for something to match my interests.  I was looking for something more — IFT helped me focus and get to work. I am able to create my dreams on my own terms.

IFT - Let’s talk about Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change (SBTDC) and the Strength-Based Model.  How has SBTDC and strength-based thinking influenced you, both personally and professionally?   

AR In many ways, I thought the public schools and teaching were basically moving the numbers  — get kids to pass exit exams.  Pretty basic stuff. 

With the strength-based approach, I have a new lens; a new way to engage students. It’s not just about content or soft skills; it’s about students identifying and understanding their talents and strengths and building on them to be successful.  First with Gallup and then to Thrively, students build on their natural talents and produce their own success. 

The strength-based movement says, let’s focus on what kids are good at and then let’s move forward with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. As a strength-based teacher, I provide a context — interests, knowledge, and skills to create a successful learning environment for my students. 

IFT - Has your teaching changed?  What has been the reaction of your students?   

AR As a strength-based educator, I am more reflective.  I do a lot more thinking about my teaching and I believe I am having a real impact.  I just don’t move through lessons.  I am able to view the totality of my students; I have a real sense of how they are developing as people. 

When we focus on strengths, students are more engaged in the learning process and as their teacher, I have so many more opportunities to connect with them.  For both my students and myself, we no longer focus on just mastering something. We are developing a teaching and learning relationship based on my students’ strengths, I simply know them better.  It makes them better learners and it certainly makes me a better teacher.  

IFT - Speaking of SBTD Change, as the teacher facilitator for the North Orange County Think Tank, what are some things your team is working on right now and what do you hope to accomplish?

AR While I am the official think tank facilitator, every teacher in our group is a facilitator; a leader, reframing topics as strength-based ideas.  In a highly collaborative manner, think tank members drill down on issues to determine where they want to invest their time.  Topics discussed and worked on include:  

(1) Exploring student-centered pedagogy, (2) Developing and participating in strength-based CTA presentations, conferences and workshops, (3) Showcasing IFT grants and the Grant Program, (4) Creating a new educators cohort  and supporting the New Educators Conference (teachers teaching teachers),  (5) Supporting new educator workshops and conferences, (6) Creating a strong connection with the NEA Foundation, and (7) Developing and coordinating the teacher pipeline where we recruit potential and aspiring educators. 

While it feels like we have accomplished a great deal, there is still so much to do.  In many ways, we have just started to understand and explore a strength-based pedagogy and what it means for teachers and students.  What is most interesting, the more we learn about SBTD Change, the more we know that there is so much more to learn and do.

IFT - With that said what are IFT Think Tanks doing to change the face of public education?  

AR Every member of our North Orange County Think Tank is unique with special gifts.  Everyone is eager to see change.  I think it’s fair to say we don’t have a lot of patience.   

What is also great about the think tanks is that we have the ability to influence public education statewide.  By presenting at CTA conferences and workshops we can inform CTA members on what we are doing, get feedback, and begin to connect the dots among the various groups and interests within CTA.  In a sense, we are helping to create a strength-based infrastructure for public education. 

The North Orange County Think Tank is continually looking for ways to support new and experienced teachers.  Working closely with the IFT, CTA, and NEA, we have leveraged the strength-based model to help and support teachers. 

While some might suggest I am a leader in the IFT Strength-Based Movement, I really don’t think of my self this way.  Rather, I do my best to keep all of the balls in the air.  I have a sense for who needs what and I try to support and make sure everyone has the necessary information and resources to be part of Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change.

IFT - I know you are very familiar with the IFT Grant Program and the Seven Factors for Creating a Culture of success.  What are your overall reactions to this program?  

AR I love the IFT Grant Program; it helps teachers live their passion.  Results have been amazing.  I have personally witnessed and heard IFT grantees present and discuss their grants at the IFT Grant Innovation Expo.  The grants encourage students to be directly involved in their education.  It is also rewarding to see parents and the community involved in the IFT Grant Program.  

The key to the success of the IFT Grant Program is the Seven Factors. The Seven Factors, in a very simple and elegant way, connect teachers to students to parents and the entire school community.  The result is we are all pulling together for student success.  

IFT - How have you used the seven factors?  What suggestions do you have for expanding their use throughout the CTA membership?

AR The seven factors create a perfect framework for Strength-Based Teacher Driven change.  They push you to become a better educator while creating more opportunities to enrich the teaching and learning process. There’s nothing in education that isn’t in some way connected to at least one of the factors.

Getting the message out to more CTA members is critical.  Once members became aware of the Seven Factors, they are enthusiastic and want to learn more.  CTA has many different venues to educate and organize around the Factors.  A few examples include CTA service center councils, CTA State Council committees, chapter-representative council meetings, IPD events, and certainly CTA chapter president meetings.  

Most important is to have a CTA member in every local chapter inform and educate members about the Seven Factors.  And it’s not just the Factors. IFT provides support and resources to members, while always placing teachers first.  More members need to know this.   

IFT - From a broader perspective, how does the IFT influence the CTA and the teaching profession?  What role do you see IFT playing in the future? 

AR I believe IFT has just scratched the surface influencing the CTA and public education.  We are in the early stages of forming a critical mass of CTA members who are connecting and forming partnerships.  From higher education to various education groups and organizations, the IFT Board of Directors,  Grant recipients, and think tank members are discussing possibilities for how we can apply Strength-Based Teacher Driven Changethroughout public education, both within California and around the nation.  To do this, teachers need to believe in themselves as change agents; to message and leverage their strength-based ideas in their schools and districts.  

In terms of the future, we need to create strategies for expanding the great work and success of our IFT grants, why it’s critical for CTA to expand its investment in the IFT Grant Program, educate and organize around our think tanks, and showcase strength-based thinking and models at all CTA events, trainings, programs, and conferences. 

IFT - Let’s say you fell asleep for five years and you just awakened. What does the IFT look like?  What is the role of the IFT within CTA?  What stands out? 

AR IFT would have its own CTA Department and be fully funded and staffed.  The ideas behind Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change would be part of the CTA mission.  Although completely independent, the IFT would be part of a broad-based international coalition of teachers advocating for strength-based education.  

IFT - Finally, as a leader in the strength-based movement, what are your hopes and dreams for the future of public education, for the teaching profession, and most of all student learning?

AR -That’s simple: Equity for all students, the best and brightest in the teaching profession, and the IFT Seven Strength-Based Factors creating a culture of success for all students. 

IFT is unique in the educational world.   Most exciting is that teachers have the opportunity to chase their dreams.


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Creating the MultiTalent Public Education System: Diamonds in the Rough

Within every child is a bubbling array of talents waiting to take hold. Often uncontrollable, usually unpredictable, children do not require a roadmap to play, have fun, practice what they do best, and learn.  Without a doubt, children have little need for the past or future, only the present, where they strive, seek, find, and rarely yield.  Every day is an adventure, with unfolding possibilities as children forge their potential into new real-time experiences. 

Children are sports stars, musicians, police officers and firefighters.  They are mountain climbers, wizards, and superheroes rescuing those in distress.  They require neither experts for guidance, nor judges to tell them the proper path to follow.  And if you try to complicate their lives with boundaries and borders, they will most likely invent an imaginary friend to come to their aide.

Every moment of everyday, young children are unconsciously acquiring knowledge and skills around their natural talents.  Through trial and error, youngsters are learning what behaviors cause success and generally what works.   This is the essence of strength-based thinking where you become an expert on solutions and not problems.  The insight gained from watching how children learn is both provocative and simple with a message clear for all parents, educators, and school community members: Realize every child has potential and with practice every chid can be perfect.

STUDENT AS PRODUCERS - Teachers know learning is much more than the deliberate and categorical accumulation of knowledge.  Continually searching for strategies to improve student success, teachers experiment with various models that stretch the teaching and learning process.  Unfortunately, most school change efforts are based on deficit-based thinking and certainly contrary to the way young children learn. Thus, most educational reform approaches have generally been unsuccessful and certainly unsustainable when designed to create a flourishing teaching and learning environment for all students.

Click here to continueal reading.   (Go to www.teacherdrivenchange.org if you are online.)


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LA Teachers Form CTA IFT Think Tank.

What Makes You a Great Teacher?

What are Your Teaching Talents and Strengths?


These two questions generally start the conversation at the IFT Thank Tank Workshop.  As expected, teachers are not exactly sure how to respond.  Rarely, is the subject of greatness discussed and teachers are seldom asked to talk about their own teaching strengths. However, if the conversation is around problems or deficits the discussion tends to be anything but passive.  


The IFT Strength-Based Teacher Driven Think Tank workshop and process is not like anything most teachers have experienced.  First, as the name suggests, it is Teacher Driven.  But equally important it is based on the strength-based model.  What this means is that strengths are emphasized over weaknesses and opportunities over obstacles.  In this sense, student talents drive the curriculum. 


Starting a Think Tank is not that difficult and according to many think tank members, the IFT think tank process is invigorating, energizing, and exciting.  You just need 7 or 8 teachers who want to start a think tank. 


UTLA Members Take the Initiative 


Seven CTA members from UTLA participated in a Strength-Based Think Tank Workshop on May 23-24, 2019.  The purpose of the workshop was to familiarize participants with Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change and the IFT Think Tank Process.  IFT Think Tanks focus on teaching and learning strategies which emphasize student strengths over deficits and opportunities over obstacles. 


A special thanks to CTA IFT Board Member Michelle Ramos for helping to organize and facilitate this workshop.  


Below are reactions from CTA members who participated in the IFT Think Tank workshop.

  • People are attracted to strength. Students would rather spend time talking about their strengths than their weaknesses.

  • If you have a flat tire no one helps right away. People help the person pushing the car.

  • The strength-based approach has allowed me to see areas for change within my own practice. I feel ready to make adjustments in my classroom. It seems daunting to attempt altering the current (deficit) state of education. However, I believe we are fully prepared to try out these ideas and spread the word.
  • This is teacher-driven change, from the bottom to the top. It’s time to go beyond the grades and students need to show up with excitement and desire to learn. If I didn’t grade, what would my students do? What wouldn’t they do? Why are my students in the class? Focusing on the strength-based approach and embracing it will allow others to follow. Lead by example. One follower gaining more followers drives a Multitalented strength-based approach. It cannot be forced. It is a lifestyle and belief system. 

  • The practices described in the Think Tank session are in line with the culture and climate of success that we are trying to create and sustain at Baldwin Hills. LAUSD operates from a deficit model mindset and in our schools we often impart this mindset in our planning and approach to students. I know that this model (deficits) does not have a place in a setting where we are growing and developing the minds of young people to be healthy and productive members of society.
  • Every school year our principal begins our PD with having the teachers to reflect on their way. Why are you here? Why are you in this profession? We know our why but it seems it gets drowned in the expectations and pressure of academic success that the district and state set for us that does not consider our students as individuals. We are in a position to facilitate the changes we know that we need in our classrooms. 

  • I was refreshed and energized by the Think Tank training and participants.  It is a primarily elementary group who have a whole child mentality and naturally gravitate towards an SBTD approach.   As individuals, their strengths seem to create natural synergy. Their current mindset for work centers on differentiating instruction around strengths and creating lesson plans and projects for others to use.
  • Great possibilities and opportunities -- a lot to think about.
  • Why the strength-based approach?  Because it is time to value every child, every person, young and old in society.  It’s not a curriculum; it’s a movement, a way of life.

The LA Think Tank will hold its initial meeting on August 2019.  Topics to be discuss include (1) Differentiating for student strengths, (2) Project based learning across grade levels, and (3) Practical examples of strength-based lesson planning.


IFT wants to thank LATT members for their commitment to creating strength-based opportunities for all students.

Please add your comments below.


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