MultiTalented Education: To See Things as They are*
- MultiTalented Education restores public education to its original intent of providing opportunities for all students to be successful adults.
- MultiTalented Education gives teachers the freedom to unleash the potential of greatness for all of their students.
- MultiTalented Education creates a teaching and learning environment where the millions of dollars being spent on educational bureaucracy can be redistributed to the classroom.
- Through MultiTalented Education, the classroom teacher, partnering with parents and school community members, orchestrates the learning process so student talents are transformed into strengths.
Restoring Public Education to its Original Intent - MultiTalented Education is a pedagogical process built on the American ideals of independence, self-reliance, and resilience. Most of all, MultiTalented Education is framed around the natural talents possessed by every human being. Through a MultiTalented Education, we are able to achieve a new social contract, where society benefits as individuals create their own personal culture of success. To understand the importance of a MultiTalented Education and how its roots are woven into the fabric of the United States, we must take a long view of American history.
The American Founders established a political, economic, and social culture based on natural rights, human potential, and the self-worth of all people; ideas and concepts composed as a new standard for the human community. This framework was driven by the singular ideal that everyone has the natural liberty to order her/his life “without interference from other people.”
From its inception to the present day, America and the American people have struggled to make this ideal a reality. Today, many Americans believe they do not have an opportunity to achieve their potential and public education has failed them. Advocacy groups, politicians, bureaucrats, and academia are quick to point out the problems in education, calling for increased funding, legislation, and programs to make opportunities more equitable.
MultiTalented Education suggests an alternative approach, where public education is community-based, student potential is a priority, and parents and teachers direct the teaching and learning process. When organized in this fashion, public education is locally controlled and sufficiently flexible so that every student is valued and ultimately contributes to society.
In the MultiTalented school, connections, relationships, and patterns replace regulations, mandates, and dogma. Education, as our Constitutional Republic suggests, is a means to create successful opportunities for all Citizens. MultiTalented Educators believe it’s time to restore public education to a place where every student’s journey to find success begins with a discovery of their potential for greatness.
Unleashing the Potential of Student Greatness - It’s time for a serious discussion on what a school culture of success looks like, with special attention paid to ensuring all students have an opportunity for greatness. Obviously, every educator wants all children and young adults to be successful. The question is can we accomplish that by requiring students to learn a rigorous, demanding curriculum? Can we create successful opportunities for all students through a set of high standards or expectations?
Education in America has always had some form of a curriculum. From a curriculum, heavily based on the bible, to today’s common core, a deficit-based pedagogy has mandated what students are required to learn. Often ignoring the natural talents of our children, those with the most power and influence have determined the overarching goals for public education. Certainly, an argument can be made that as the government has grown, parents, teachers, and school communities have had less influence over the education of America’s children. MultiTalented Education does not just reverse the growth and dominance of a centralized and mandated education, it makes education student-centered.
Student-centered in a multitalented environment begins with the discovery of student talents which leads to a rich and highly dynamic learning process. As students discover their natural talents, they learn how to transform their talents into strengths and as a result, do what they do best every day. In a Multitalented public school, we define talents as “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” And when talents, interests, knowledge, and skills are practiced in a rigorous manner they become strengths, where strengths are defined as “the ability and confidence to consistently perform near-perfect performance in a specific activity or endeavor.” (See: Now, Discover Your Strengths by M. Buckingham)
The Redistribution of Resources - Bureaucracy in education is growing, not shrinking. The education of our youth is dominated by thousands, if not millions of bureaucratic regulations. And instead of real innovation, public education has become a wasteland of rules designed to fix deficits or problems which have been around for generations. Ironically, the only thing produced by the educational-bureaucratic complex is the problem-solution-problem feedback loop. Millions of tax dollars are allocated to researchers and consultants to explore problems previously identified as obstacles to student success; obstacles that are then recycled as if they were new problems which required new research and consulting. The end result is less money for teaching and learning.
A Multitalented public school system ends all of this through a common sense approach to educating our children; an approach that partners the school and community with the goal of transforming student talents into strengths. When you consider the expertise and experience found in most school communities, teachers will have the resources to orchestrate a broad-based learning environment that creates a culture of success for all students.
With the redistribution of financial resources back to the classroom, endless possibilities exist for reframing the teaching profession. Possibilities include:
- Teachers working a full year with a significant improvement in professional compensation
- Teachers orchestrating the learning process, collaborating with parents, school-wide staff, community and business members, and strength-based coaches and mentors
- Teachers being assessed on how well student talents are transformed into student strengths
Other changes in a strength-based setting might include: (1) A new class of paraprofessional as strength-based coaches, (2) A new class of certificated strength-based mentors, (4) School-community coordinators, and (4) Community and business resource volunteers. Also, how teachers work together and collaborate will dramatically change as all teachers and school-community members will be responsible for the success of every individual student.
The Teacher as an Orchestra Leader - A Multitalented public school system is created to be a high-performance organization. It is high performance for two reasons:
First, the goal of the school is to create a teaching and learning environment where every student has the opportunity to transform their talents into strengths and therefore achieve excellence
Second, teachers, the school staff, parents, and community and business members collaborate and pull together to help every student create their own culture of success.
While numerous metaphors have been applied to our schools, the Multitalented public school system is more like an orchestra with a diverse team of school-community members partner to create successful opportunities for all students. The teacher as the orchestra leader, facilitates the school and the community working together, pooling their resources to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to transform talents into strengths.
In this sense, the teacher is no longer the consumer of an externally mandated curriculum and instead is producing a curriculum that is aligned with the talents, interests, and passion of her/his students. Equally important, the teacher is leading the charge on creating a public school system that is truly student-centered by emphasizing the potential greatness of all children.
In Summary - It’s time to value our children for the talents that are naturally theirs. With Multitalented public schools, we create a new narrative for public education; a narrative which ends the dependency on curriculum consultants, bureaucrats, and politicians and recognizes the power and potential of a strength-based pedagogy. With the elimination of deficit-based education, we free-up the strengths, wisdom, positive experiences, and untapped knowledge of all community members. As a result, the Multitalented public school system will expand and deepen support for public education by connecting and partnering with the entire school community.
But to change our public schools we must first change ourselves; we must be part of the transformation and free ourselves from our own psyche, deficit-based prison. To do this we must come to grips with the words of Anaïs Nin.
“We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
Through a Multitalented Education, we create successful opportunities for all students, reestablish families as partners in the education of their children, and increase the value of the community as an important resource for the teaching and learning process. We hope you will join us and be part of this transformation. Your comments are appreciated.
* The views expressed do not necessarily represent the CTA or the CTA IFT
Wishing Won’t Make It So
Decades have passed since the US Supreme Court decision struck down "separate but equal" educational policies [Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)]. But today, according to a variety of measures, opportunities for student success are anything but equal. A growing number of Black and Latino parents believe American education is failing their children. Despite trillions of dollars and hundreds of programs, numerous politicians, advocacy groups, and education leaders believe we are losing the battle in creating successful learning opportunities for all students. And despite efforts to create a more rigorous curriculum, increase expectations, and redistribute educational funding, inequalities continue.
Albert Einstein told us "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is a form of insanity. Therefore, it’s time to examine new approaches to creating a culture of success for all our children and young adults. Instead of repeating the deficit-based policies of the past, where we keep trying to solve educational and social problems, it’s time to consider strength-based strategies which have been successful in overcoming intractable problems in a variety of domains.
Specifically, one approach is to create a MultiTalented teaching and learning environment where student talents drive the curriculum. Every student is born with natural talents and these talents create a positive, strength-based foundation where opportunities for success can evolve.
Talents are an objective standard when compared to the subjective nature of an externally developed curriculum. Focusing on student talents is an objective process for measuring success. On the other hand, a mandated curriculum is measured against a set of subjective standards, where student talents are rarely considered.
If our goal is to create successful opportunities for all students, a subjective curriculum is counterproductive. In this sense, information may be power but mastering a curriculum may not necessarily lead to empowerment or success.
Even for those students that are considered “school-wise,” the curriculum may have little or no relevance. The only sure way to connect and involve all students in the learning process is to increase the value of learning and the best way to do this is by emphasizing student natural talents.
Here’s an example of a talent-based learning conversation (TBLC) between a young man and his teacher.
(T) Good morning John, I was looking over the assessment you took yesterday, and it said that you are a very passionate person.
(S) Not sure what you mean Mrs. Jones. What do you mean by passionate?
(T) Well, John. I listened to some of your conversations with your friends in class. You are sometimes really excited about some things. You show tremendous interest in certain topics.
(S) Right, Oh, I see, that’s true. There are certain things . . . I'm just not very interested in school.
(The teacher ignores the deficit response and stays on the strength-based track)
(T) So, tell me, John, if you had to name one thing that really excites you, what would that be? What do you think about most of the day?
(S) That’s easy, the Warriors. I love basketball — Watch it all the time.
(T) What about the Warriors? Why? What interests you the most?
(T) So, John, let me ask you something. If I gave you some assignments around the Warriors, what you would say?
(S) Wow! That would be great.
The simplicity of the above TBLC should not be dismissed too quickly. Teacher-student conversations can be very powerful when they are based on talents, especially when talents are sincerely valued and appreciated. Strength-based questions are asked by teachers, with the goal of having their students assume responsibility for the learning process.
With the identification of talents, teachers and students co-construct curriculum options which include the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to begin transforming the student’s talents into strengths. Through this process, talent-based learning conversations focus on a student's opportunities for success rather than present or past deficit-based learning experiences.
TBLC are in part based on the work of Viktor Frankl. Frankl suggests people are motivated by a search for their life’s purpose or meaning. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, Frankl believed we have the opportunity to change ourselves and therefore our situation.
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances."
TBLC are also grounded in a social constructionist collaboration between teachers and students that follow an inductive route by discovering the best way to transform talents into strengths and opportunities for success. And while the challenges and obstacles students face are acknowledged, students are encouraged to find their potential for greatness in their natural talents.
Through TBLC we begin to redefine school as a place where the goal is to create successful opportunities for all students by emphasizing their talents over deficits. No longer does inadequate resources or funding inhibit student opportunities for success. In addition, teachers are not bound by a curriculum that too often obstructs the learning process. In other words, we begin to break the cycle of deficit-based thinking which has prevented so many of our students from reaching their full potential.
But to create equitable successful opportunities for all students, wishing won’t make it so. If we want all students to believe in themselves, believe they have the opportunity to be successful, we must begin with student talents and not some externally driven curriculum.
Unlike curriculum subjects or disciplines, talents don’t dictate what students should or should not accomplish. There is no predetermination for what success should look like. In other words, talents are not meant to shape a student’s academic or social success. However, talents do support the goals selected by students.
Knowledge, skills, and interests combined with talents create a recipe for the transformation of talents into strengths. This transformation also increases the faith students have in their own potential for success.
In this sense, the distinction between talents and strengths is much more than an increase in knowledge or skills. Talents, when valued and supported, become strengths with special attention to those subtleties that define excellence. With strengths, opportunities are more focused, becoming real-life aspirations.
Aspirations emerge as students visualize how their strengths can be applied in practical terms. Strengths help define success through the aspirations students create for themselves. Thus, life’s purpose and meaning begin to take shape.
It should be noted, however, the MultiTalented teaching and learning environment will not occur without dramatic structural and design changes in public school districts, schools, and classrooms; changes which will not come easily considering the power and influence of the K-12 curriculum. MultiTalented advocates are up against political, economic, and social forces that have a vested interest in maintaining the deficit-based curriculum as it continues to increase their power and control over the education of our youth.
But for those in the Strength-Based Movement we can also be optimistic about the future. The CTA IFT Seven Strength-Based Factors * driving a culture of success have been enthusiastically received by CTA members. The CTA IFT Grant Program (based on the Seven Factors) continues to be a major success. And the CTA IFT Think Tanks are making Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change a reality.
So it’s time to pick up the pace and move the agenda. Our students — all of our students — are depending on us. Let’s take the necessary leap of faith and begin the conversation on a MultiTalented teaching and learning environment; an environment where all children and young adults have the opportunity for greatness.
* Seven Factors Driving a Culture of Success: Student Centered - Work Oriented - Student Relations - Future Oriented - Results Oriented - School-Wide Relations - School-Family Relations
Dr. King’s Vision for Student-Centered Learning
Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned a just America by emphasizing America's promises of the past and hopes for the future: an America where every person has the opportunity to apply their natural talents and achieve success. Rejecting deficit-based thinking and emphasizing the natural value of every human being, Doctor King was hopeful someday all Americans would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
For MLK, the opportunity to achieve success is the essence of a just society, and this opportunity begins with public education. But public education needs to be much more than a place where information is exchanged. Our schools must also be a place where every child and young adult are valued for the talents they bring to the teaching and learning process.
This is the foundation of Strength-Based Justice (SBJ), where the superficiality of outward and physical appearances are subordinated to the natural talents that belong to every person. SBJ represents the destiny we all share supported by a new vision for public education.
Strength-Based Justice starts with talents. Through the discovery of talents, all students begin to realize opportunities for success and through knowledge and skills (curriculum) talents are transformed into strengths. Finally, with strengths, students can develop aspirations to be successful, productive members of society.
Thus, teaching and learning is a discovery process; a process where every student finds their greatness. Instead of focusing on an externally driven curriculum or shifting the burden of responsibility to others, SBJ builds a curriculum around student talents to create a meaningful and purposeful learning experience.
This is the essence of student-centered education and reflects the wisdom of Dr. King when he spoke to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, October 26, 1967, and said: Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.
INVESTING IN STRENGTHS by Donald O. Clifton and James K. Harter
A special thank you to Teacher Hiam Awni, SVEA/CTA/NEA Member, for bringing this important study to the IFT.
It’s not a question of what’s right or wrong, it’s a question of where do we want to invest our time, energy, and resources. The research study below describes a solid framework for moving public education from a deficit-based model to a strength-based teaching and learning environment. Instead of emphasizing an externally driven curriculum, it makes sense to begin with the talents of each student. But this would mean a complete transformation of public education, where CTA members would create a curriculum around student talents. As a result, there would be less dependence on education bureaucrats and curriculum developers that are outside of the classroom. Most important, is that all students would have a pathway to success. Your comments are appreciated.
INVESTING IN STRENGTHS - For more than thirty years, the Gallup Organization has investigated the nature of human talents and strengths. By interviewing the approximately 2 million people in a wide range of roles and industries, Gallup has discovered that our talents--defined as our naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior, that can be productively applied--are our greatest opportunities for success. Further, by refining our dominant talents with skill and knowledge, we can create strength--the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity. Continue reading.