Is it time to take that leap of faith into the strength-based world? Is it time to take the Strength-Based Teacher Driven cause to new heights? Are we ready to say in a loud and clarifying voice that the deficit-based approach to learning is not ...

 

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Join the LIVE Facebook Discussion

Is it time to take that leap of faith into the strength-based world?  Is it time to take the Strength-Based Teacher Driven cause to new heights?   Are we ready to say in a loud and clarifying voice that the deficit-based approach to learning is not working?   The answers to these questions are not simple. But if you are ready to take the plunge into the strength-based world, join IFT Think Tank members as they discuss these and other mind bending questions and issues.  What makes these discussions unique is that they are live on Facebook  —  so all CTA members can participate in the discussion. 

The next live discussion will be on February 27th at 12 noon.  The Moreno Valley Think Tank will hold a live streaming discussion on creating a strength-baed blueprint for local CTA chapters and school districts.  

So gather around the computer, bring your lunch and participate in what should be a highly engaging provocative discussion.  You will have the opportunity to comment, ask questions and post images.  So take a group picture and post it on Facebook for all to see. 

Again, that’s Feb. 27th at noon. Bring your lunch and gather around the computer.  Click here to go to the IFT Facebook site.

 

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Ten Ideas to Consider When Creating a Strength-Based Teaching and Learning Culture of Success

Please Note:  For mobile device users, go to www.teacherdrivenchange.org to connect with the links below. 

Overview - A Strength-based system is a comprehensive, coherent framework for transforming public education from a deficit-based teaching and learning environment to a culture of success for all students.  In a strength-based system, strengths are emphasized over weaknesses and opportunities over obstacles. A strength-based thinker focuses on (1) past successful experiences, (2) what’s working and why and (3) envisions all great things that are possible.  In contrast, a deficit-based thinker focuses on (1) past mistakes, failures and mishaps, (2) what’s not working and why and (3) envisions how political, economic and social forces can be changed to prevent problems from continuing or recurring in the future.   

IFT Strength-Based Tools - Based on extensive research and investigation, the IFT has developed a set of strength-based tools teachers can use to help create a culture of success in their classroom, school or school district. These tools are the seven factors that drive a culture of success. Click here to see the seven factors.

Student Talents are Primary - As a strength-based teacher, you view everything through the lens of your students’ talents. In a strength-based student-centered environment, student talents drive the learning process. This approach contradicts a deficit-based environment where students are required to learn a body of knowledge that is externally imposed. 

In a strength-based environment, the responsibility of the classroom teacher is to apply the necessary skills and knowledge to help transform student talents into strengths. In this sense, the teacher is empowered to combine art and science to create a broad-based curriculum; a curriculum which matches the talents of each student. 

Creating a Culture of Success - Let’s be clear, however, strength-based thinking is not some pollyanna approach promoted as a a simple alternative to deficit-based thinking.  Rather, strength-based thinking is the recognition our schools, families and communities create a culture of success for all when they join together and focus on talents and what works and not on weaknesses and obstacles.

Most important, we understand the way we interact and respond to children depends on how we view them - deficit-based or strength-based. 

This same line of thinking can be applied to teachers, parents, school employees and the community.  In a strength-based teacher driven public school, the entire school community is viewed as a diverse and multifaceted pool of resources to be used and applied to transforming student talents into strengths.  Every member of the school community has strengths, knowledge and skills that teachers can use to build a curriculum grounded in student talents to create a teaching and learning culture of success. 

Turning Public Education on its Head - To build a strength-based teacher driven learning environment requires turning public education on its head; making students, their parents and teachers primary.  This will not be easy but it is beginning to happen. More and more CTA members, leaders and staff are recognizing the potential and power of strength-based thinking.  Other CTA members are experimenting and applying strength-based thinking in their classroom through IFT Grants.  Finally, CTA chapter leaders and IFT Think Tank members are exploring new strategies and approaches for how strength-based teacher driven change can create a culture of success for all students.  

Ten Ideas - Below are 10 ideas to jumpstart your thinking about strength-based teacher driven change.  The ideas below can be initiated right now or act as conversation starters.  

Number One: Strength-Based Faculty Meetings - Instead of focusing on problems, identify and describe what is desired.  Focusing on problems often leads to debates, arguments and frustration.  The faculty meeting should be a place that is energizing, where teachers hold conversations on “what might be”: a time for teachers to explore their hopes and dreams for their work, their working relationships and their students.  The faculty meeting should be a place where teachers engage in thinking big, thinking out of the box, and thinking how to build on what has been successful and meaningful in the past.

Number Two: Organize the Teacher Day to Increase Collaboration - Most districts and schools organize the day around things that don’t matter.  Using the industrial model, teaching and learning is often driven by schedules which isolate teachers and conflict with the learning process.  What if we started with a “blank slate” and decided to organize the school day around “teacher collaboration.”  In other words, let’s make sure teacher collaboration is central to creating a great learning place for children and young adults.  

Number Three: Encourage Cross Age Student Collaboration -  Students design multiple collaboratives to share and build on each other’s talents with the goal of understanding various topics and subjects. Overcoming and understanding challenges, students seek out the talents and strengths of their peers to produce solutions. When a highly diverse set of students, work together, build on each other’s strengths and have the freedom to learn on their own terms, they are more likely to create a pathway to success.

Number Four: Showcase School Community Strengths -  Have you thought about using the entire school community as a strength-based resource pool?  In many respects, the potential for school community involvement and collaboration is limitless. Community groups can be established by interests, strengths, subject areas or a combination. Groups can be linked-together through key individuals to ensure the exchange of information and possible actions. Acting as temporary scaffolding, the framework of school community groups would evolve and likely change the nature of school community relationships. 

Number Five: Strength-Based School Resources - Develop a strength-based audit of your school community. Strength-based information could be collected in the form of a survey, personal interviews or a public forum.  School districts often send out newsletters and community bulletins.  Why not ask members of the school community to identify their talents and strengths. Find out how school community members can help support and play a role in student learning.  Once the information is collected a data base can be created and used by teachers. 

Number Six: Emphasize Learning from Within - Is learning internally or externally driven?  For many, the answer is obvious.  Just watch a young child at play; their entire learning experience is based on a natural curiosity to understand their world around them. Learning is from within. Simply speaking, we learn best when we are interested and attach value to the learning process.  Strength-based learning begins with the learner.  The teacher’s responsibility is to create the conditions which encourage excitement and passion for the learning process.  

Number Seven: End the Bell Shaped Curve - While a growing number of teachers reject bell shaped curve thinking, it remains, in many respects, part of the education fabric.  The bell shaped curve represents what statisticians call a “normal distribution.”  This model assumes we have an equivalent number of students above and below average, and there will be a very small number of students at the extreme ends of the curve (two standard deviations above or below the average).  Strength-based thinking recognizes all of our youth are born with natural talents and that these talents have the potential to become powerful strengths.  Therefore, it makes more sense to emphasize the natural talents of all children then to focus on externally driven standards which often create a frustrating and dysfunctional teaching and learning experience for teachers, students and parents.  

Number Eight: Involve Parents in Everything - In a strength-based school-community, parents and families are responsible for the cultural and social development of their children. Independence, self-reliance and accountability, all essential features to strength-based learning, are taught in the home and reinforced in the school. Teachers and other school-community members act as a resource for parents with the objective of strengthening school family relationships that support students success. 

Number Nine: Strength-Based Celebrations - Celebrations are part of a strength-based teaching and learning environment.  Celebrate when student talents are identified and strengthened. Showcase those students that provide strength-based support to their peers.  Recognize parents as part of the strength-based celebration and be sure to include school-wide staff when they have contributed to the success of a student. 

Number Ten: So Now It’s Your Turn.  What are you going to do to create a culture of success for all of your students?  How can we create strength-based teacher driven CTA Chapters?  What needs to happen to turn your classroom, school and district into a strength-based learning environment for all students?  The call to action is out.  

 

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IFT Interview of Miriam Lyons, Teacher, EGUSD Virtual Academy - "Knowledge is Power and Self-Knowledge is Empowering"

From a very early age, the love of books and learning was a central part of my life. I grew up in a  working class home in Sacramento, California where  my parents provided a simple and love filled home.  On hot summer nights, we would sit on a blanket under our backyard’s spreading mulberry tree and listen to our mother read from her favorite classics or gaze into the heavens while my brother used his telescope to give us close up views of the moon’s craters and Saturn’s rings. My father was always there to discuss the news of the day and guided us in developing a knack of seeing both sides of a story (he probably regretted this once we became teenagers and would use these debate skills on him).  

I graduated a year early from high school and began putting myself through college to attain my goal of being the first in our family to get a college degree. It was a proud moment when I graduated with my degree, and then went on to obtain my teaching credential.

My early experiences translated into opening up the wonders of our world for me and I longed to share this love of learning. Throughout my thirty years of teaching, I have had the privilege of doing just that.  I have taught and worked mostly in Title One schools (as a classroom teacher, curriculum specialist, and Title One coordinator) where I found equally dedicated colleagues that generously shared their talents, love, salaries, and at times groceries, to give these students a rich and meaningful education.

In 2010 I was one of three teachers hired to open the first virtual school in our district. Just like the books and telescope from my childhood opened up a world of wonder and possibilities for me, the Internet has allowed the world to become a student’s classroom.  It is one of the most demanding but rewarding roles (aside from being the mother of two) that I have taken on. No two days are alike, access to events and discoveries as they happen, and the ability to engage students at this level is nothing short of phenomenal. It continues to be a profession where we open the doors of endless possibilities for each and every one of our students and help them develop their talents, interests, and skills to become all they are meant to be. 


 At the end of this interview you will have an opportunity to offer your comments.


IFT - We are delighted you have agreed to participate in this strength-based interview and we are especially interested in learning about the EGUSD Virtual Academy.  But first, tell us a little about yourself.  When did you first become a teacher and what motivated you to enter the teaching profession?  Also, when thinking about your own professional experiences, what especially stands out?  Is there anything in particular that prepared you for the EGUSD Virtual Academy?

ML - I have always had a love for learning; I guess you could say it is my passion.  My appreciation for teaching began when I was a little girl.  I loved helping my younger siblings and I was a helper in my classroom.  In high school I was fortunate to have an internship where I worked with elementary students.  For me, it simply made sense to be a teacher. 

As a teacher, I taught most grades and subjects, including kindergarten, with the majority of my teaching being in Title One schools.  Being a Title One teacher, I felt it was important to focus on student strengths and to do whatever I could to individualize instruction for each student.  

My students had a lot taking place in their lives, so it was necessary to work hard at discovering their interests - what really mattered to them - and to make sure their learning experiences were engaging and meaningful.  By focusing on the unique academic and social needs of my students, I gained valuable experiences and skills as a teacher - all of which prepared me for the EGUSD Virtual Academy.   

Also, preparing me for the Academy, was my involvement with online education.  I had the opportunity to take online courses and to teach online professional development courses.  I found online education exciting and filled with potential. The questions that kept coming back to me were: Why aren’t we using online education in the public schools?   Why aren’t we taking advantage of the tools that online learning offers to teachers and students?  You could say this was an “ah ha” moment.  It became clear to me that online learning and individualized instruction were a natural fit.  

IFT - So let’s talk about the EGUSD Virtual Academy.  First, describe the Academy for us.  What are some of its key characteristics?  What makes it uniquely different from traditional education programs?

ML - Funny you ask that - so many great things have happened to our program. We are currently in our seventh year of existence.  We are part of the Elk Grove School District and are fully accredited.  Our hope is we can expand to the 9th grade.  Concerning specifics, we partner with an online provider and we have three teachers with over 50 years of combined experience in brick and mortar classrooms.  Our program is completely based on student needs.  Curriculum and daily schedules are individualized, as much as possible, to the student and their family’s needs.  The learning environment is very flexible; students can begin their studies based on their schedule -- not the schools.  Parent involvement and support can take place anytime; a strong relationship is formed between the Academy and the family, way beyond what you normally find in a traditional public school setting.  

IFT - Recalling your conversations with parents, what are some of the most positive comments you have heard about the EGUSD Virtual Academy?  Speculating on these comments, why do you believe parents feel this way?  How does the EGUSD Virtual Academy increase the value of parents in the teaching and learning process?

ML - Our parents are wonderful; they constantly give us positive feedback on the Virtual Academy.  From our flexible schedule to our teaching and learning climate, our parents are very appreciative and true partners in the EGUSD Virtual Academy.  Based on the feedback we receive, our parents tell us that the Academy creates a learning environment where they feel very close to their children.  For example, we are told it’s almost like an extended family with older students mentoring younger children. This is most obvious with parents who have had their children start with us in Kindergarten and remain in the program. Our program is really like a village of teachers and parents all committed to ensuring the success for all students.  

Parents also tell us they have a solid sense of their child’s education and that they work more closely with their children.  Parents appreciate the fact their children can go online anytime and anyplace and that the Academy is sensitive to family needs.  Parents also tell us that the Virtual Academy creates a healthy and positive learning environment because family ideals and values are considered and often reinforced in the development of each child’s program.  

Specific examples we hear from parents are that they are very appreciative they can travel with their children, that homework is no longer a struggle, the curriculum is very fluid and flexible, and that the Academy has high standards for success.  

One of the special joys of teaching in the EGUSD Virtual Academy is creating a learning environment that fits the unique qualities of each student.  Parents love this about our program.  Our parents, like most, believe their children are unique and we do everything we can to support our parents’ beliefs by discovering and building programs that match their students’ talents and interests.  In this sense, teachers and parents are working together for the success of their children, where each child is treated as the special individual they are.

Finally, parents are involved in the day to day learning process. This really helps us as teachers because parents know the feelings of their children, when to push and when to layback and give their child some space.  What better way to establish a solid partnership between the home and the school?

IFT - Let’s now move to the same questions for students.  Recalling discussions and conversations with students, what are some of the most positive comments you have heard about the EGUSD Virtual Academy?  Speculating on these comments, why do you believe students feel this way?

ML - Because so much of the EGUSD Virtual Academy is online, students can learn from almost any place.  Home, traveling with their parents - it makes no difference.  This is something that our students love about the program.  Our students tell us they love being able to do their school work while traveling with their parents. Many of our parents take their children to the places they are learning about online. In this sense, learning becomes very dynamic - everything is a teachable moment.  When students travel with their parents learning becomes alive. 

Most important, our students tell us they feel secure in our program.  Students are in an environment where everyone is on their side - students feel safe to share what they are thinking.  As teachers, we do whatever we can to encourage our students to voice their ideas.  We believe for our students to be successful, they must first feel successful. Students work at their own pace; they can take 10 minutes or an hour, they control their own learning.  We believe this approach helps to make our students independent learners; they are empowered and intrinsically motivated.

Students can explore topics in greater detail with the resources provided to them. Their parents can also provide resources to support what they are learning.  Thus, homework, in a traditional sense, no longer exists.  Student with their parents determine how they want to extend the learning process at home. 

IFT - Summarizing your thoughts about parents and students, in what ways would you describe teacher-parent-student relationships in the EGUSD Virtual Academy?  Thinking about these relationships, what stands out in your mind?

ML - We want out students to be the best they can be.  This is not just a slogan but something we practice each day. Our program is available 24/7.  As teachers we log on in the morning and late at night to support and provide assistance to our students and parents. Parents often deliver the prepared materials we provide and monitor both the academic and social progress of their children. With teachers and parents working so closely together, students realize they are part of a dedicated team to do what is necessary for them to reach their potential. Students interact with their parents on many levels and students learn how to communicate with adults in a positive fashion. Students know they are not alone as they have a teacher-parent team supporting them.  All this results in a spirit of community and increased self-worth. 

IFT - Let’s discuss the EGUSD Virtual Academy curriculum.  My understanding is that you have a very unique curriculum as well as delivery system.  How would you generally describe the curriculum and how it is delivered to students? Are there specific strengths that stand out?  Are there aspects of the EGUSD Virtual Academy curriculum that can be applied to a traditional school setting?

ML - We have a K-8 program.  Our curriculum includes texts books that cover all subject areas with a mixture of online and offline virtual meetings.  What is most unique about our curriculum is its flexibility and that it can be changed to meet the needs of our students and parents. We have what we refer to as blended learning where students attend classes online and at times, in the classroom. We offer unlimited possibilities for how we structure our program and we tailor our program and curriculum to meet the needs of each student.  

IFT - Thinking about the connections learning based education company that delivers the curriculum for the EGUSD Virtual Academy, what are some of its strengths?  What are some examples that show how this technology has benefited students and parents?  

ML - The EGUSD Virtual Academy offers a highly interactive, engaging curriculum for students. For example, studying the planets is not limited to a single text book.  There is a live feed to NASA, connections to space museums and various online resources.  Whatever the topic, there are real time resources provided to students, creating a multidimensional learning experience.  Schedules are flexible and lessons can be adjusted to student and parent needs. Parents are directly involved in the curriculum for their children and are continually made aware of how the curriculum is aligned with state standards and the global curriculum.  Every effort is made to involve parents in the development of curriculum and that the curriculum is consistent with the values and beliefs of our parents.    

IFT - As you know, the IFT is all about strength-based teacher driven change.  In what ways does the EGUSD Virtual Academy support this approach or philosophy?  Can you provide a few examples?

ML - Our program is a perfect example of teacher driven change and we certainly emphasize the strengths of our students.  The administration has been very helpful but without the three teachers in the EGUSD Virtual Academy, we would not exist. Teachers have played a key role in securing administrator support and have done a great job in getting the administration to listen and understand the value of the EGUSD Virtual Academy.  Our school is a perfect example of what teachers can do when they have the passion and opportunity to act.  Our teachers have shown they have the positive experience and expertise to develop and support the EGUSD Virtual Academy.   We often feel like pioneers.  As a teacher team, we combine our strengths to create a picture of the student environment we want to create.  We hope others will share what we are doing.  Our goal is to increase trust among teachers, students and parents and to show them our program is a valuable option for consideration.  

IFT - When thinking about moving from a traditional to a virtual environment, what challenges exist? How can these challenges be converted into opportunities?

ML - Biggest challenge we have right now is to have educational policy catch up with what we are trying to accomplish.  An alternative Education Code needs to be developed to accommodate our virtual program.   Rules and regulations get in the way, causing too much paper work and less time to focus on our students.  For example, our program offers important input for developing new forms of student assessment. Virtual learning creates a completely different environment for students, where success cannot be measured in the same way brick and mortar schools assess student progress.   The EGUSD Virtual Academy provides new opportunities for learning which requires new forms of assessment.  From ADA verification to where and how our students learn, policy makers need to recognize education is changing and our students are changing what and how they learn. 

IFT - Pretend you just woke from being asleep for 5 years and during this time the most powerful ideas and approaches of the EGUSD Virtual Academy have expanded throughout public education. What would our school districts, schools, and classrooms look like?

ML - The EGUSD Virtual Academy is thriving.  We use state-of-the art technology in multiple ways. Every student is assessed virtually and we have programs that adapt to their learning needs.  Our schools are without borders.  Students are organized within learning cohorts. Students are exploring their education in 3-D Virtual Reality.  For example, when students are learning about volcanoes, they smell the sulfur and can feel the heat.  In other words, the learning process includes all our senses.  Students explore their ideas and interests.  The focus is on what they like and enjoy, what they are able to do and most important, their talents. It is more project based/relevant to everyday life. Students know they are successful. They are valued and are proud of their learning.  Students  support and are supported by their peers.   Students feel secure and loved and it all starts with the home. Students with their parents determine what is valuable and EGUSD Virtual Academy teachers, collaborating with parents and students makes it happen.  Finally, educators do not define student success. Students, working with teachers and parents, establish goals and work toward them to become positive contributing members of society.

IFT - Are there any other ideas or thoughts you would like to share about the EGUSD Virtual Academy?

ML - My final thought is that we educate our students so they are empowered; empowered to make a positive difference in the world: for themselves, their family and country.  That’s the goal of the EGUSD Virtual Academy.  For us, knowledge is power and self-knowledge is empowering.  

 

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Creating a Strength-Based Public Education System

Strength-based teacher driven change is not the beginning but a continuation of CTA policy.  If you think of teacher rights as a movement to reduce constraints, impediments or interference on the classroom teacher, most educators would agree that CTA has done a great job. The CTA mission begins with the following statement: The California Teachers Association exists to protect and promote the well-being of its members; to improve the conditions of teaching and learning   .   .   .

Following the traditional industrial model, CTA has been highly successful in protecting the basic rights of teachers and has certainly negotiated gains in teacher compensation and health care. Combining political action and collective bargaining, CTA has dramatically improved teacher working conditions and has enhanced the value and importance of the teaching profession.   

In this sense, CTA’s focus has been to place limits on what school district managers could do or not do to regulate teacher behavior. From a duty free lunch to transfer procedures, rules have been negotiated to expand teacher autonomy and independence.  

However, in many respects we have reached a ceiling on the negotiations process. With a handful of exceptions, a cursory review of association-district labor agreements throughout California would reveal very few significant changes in collective bargaining agreements over the past several years.  

Enter the CTA IFT.  

While on paper the purpose and mission of the CTA IFT is different from the California Teachers Association, their goals may be much more similar when viewed from a strength-based perspective.  Traditionally, the role of CTA is viewed as operating from a deficit-based perspective.  In other words, the responsibility of CTA is to fix or improve teacher working conditions.  However, if we reframe teaching and the teaching experience from a strength-based perspective, we paint a completely different picture.  Instead of shortcomings or problems to be fixed, we see opportunities and instead of obstacles we imagine possibilities.  In other words, the focus is no longer on the problems that exist for teachers, but on the vision or what is desirable for teachers and teaching. 

Supporting this contention is the idealism that almost every CTA leader has for the future of teaching and public education.  In this sense the slogan, teacher working conditions are students leaning conditions is certainly strength-based and provides a clear path for creating a culture of success for all students. Simply speaking, we can say CTA has been and continues to be an advocate for greater teacher autonomy or the freedom to teach, while the IFT is dedicated to facilitating this increased freedom to create a culture of success for all students.  

Thus, while the CTA and the IFT have their own unique identities, together they can create a mutually-reinforcing strength-based public education system where all children and young adults can be successful.  

 

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IFT Interview of CTA & IFT Board Member, Liane Cismowski - "Hopeful for What’s Ahead"

Liane ismowski has been a teacher for over 25 years in many different grade levels and educational settings:  K-6 music teacher, middle school English and Social Studies, second grade, fourth grade, high school English, Continuation High School English, English Language Development, and has been on the faculty of the Masters of Arts in Teaching Leadership program at St. Mary’s College of California.  She is a National Board Certified Teacher in English Language Arts.  She was the Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year in 2003, was the National Education Association California Teacher of the Year in 2004, and won the CTA Gold Award in 2004. As an administrator she has worked as a vice principal at MDHS, principal of Cambridge Elementary School, and currently is the principal of Mount Diablo High School. 

At the end of this interview you will have an opportunity to offer your comments.

 


IFT - Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview.  So let’s begin.  Tell us about your experiences as an educator. What has been most worthwhile and gratifying?   

LC - It’s really very simple: teaching is my love. While I am currently a high school principal, my happiest and most gratifying times continue to be when I am teaching and interacting with students. I make it a priority to engage students as often as I can.  While they have diverse talents, interests and challenges, they are all great with their own wonder and amazement.  To me, it’s the human condition; kids, like adults have basic needs - most importantly, kids want and need to be accepted.  

Teachers, too, have some basic professional needs but most revolve around respect and support.  As an administrator, I have gained a new appreciation for teaching and teachers. Being able to interact with all subject area teachers, allows me to see how much all teachers do to go above and beyond. I also get to witness the magic of teaching and learning every day. It’s an honor to observe the greatness taking place all around me.   

I have also had the advantage of viewing the entire system in action.  Our public schools could not exist without the dedicated and committed professionals - all positions and responsibilities - who work so hard every day.  

 

IFT - Remembering why you became a teacher, describe how your expectations have been met.   What is it  about teaching that continues to excite you?  

LC - It all started with my son’s second grade teacher, Donna Johanson. Seeing the masterful way she interacted with her students to make learning joyful and meaningful, made me want to try to do that, too.  She was doing great things and I believed I had it in me to do the same.  I wanted to be part of such a great profession.  In my mind, I felt then and now, there’s nothing like helping children and young adults learn and grow.  

I can’t tell you how gratified I am when past students visit and tell me how much they enjoyed and learned in my class.   

As an administrator, I also am grateful when teachers tell me they appreciate my comments and support.  For me, this is critical, as I believe we must act as a team committed to the kids.  I see my job as doing everything I can to make this happen.

 

IFT - Let’s talk about your current position. First, describe what you do. Second, thinking about your day-to-day role and responsibilities, what is most positive about your job?   

LC - I am a middle manager - working with kids and teachers.  At times, my job is very specific and directive, with little ambiguity.  However, most of the time my life at school is unpredictable and spontaneous.  From student discipline to highly creative teachers, my responsibility is to make things successful.  Even for the young person who has some real discipline issues, my job is to do whatever it takes to encourage this kid to make better or different choices.   Sometimes my biggest challenges require me to be the most inventive,

I think that’s why I enjoy teacher staff meetings so much.  Nothing is more creative and exciting than having seventy classroom teachers in the same room.  Although I have to be really on my toes, thinking and trying all kinds of strategies to keep everyone engaged and the conversation positive, I really enjoy supporting and affirming the great things teachers are doing in their classrooms with students.     

 

IFT - Let’s move to your involvement with the IFT.  How does the IFT complement your values and beliefs as an educator? Are there ways the IFT helps you fulfill your own professional goals and aspirations?   

LC - IFT is 100 percent congruent with my beliefs.  From school-family relations to student centered learning, I wholeheartedly support the work of the IFT.  The IFT Strength-Based Seven-Factor Matrix has tremendous promise for school improvement and change. The matrix goes to the heart of what our classrooms and school communities should look like.  

I am honored to be part of the IFT and a member of the IFT Board of Directors.  

One of the strategies the IFT promotes is the challenges faced by educators can be solved by the people in the room.  In other words, teachers and administrators, working together can find solutions - we don’t necessarily require external experts to solve the challenges we face.  This theme strikes a major cord with me. As a high school principal, I love bringing teachers together.  It’s empowering, it makes sense, and it works. 

Another idea promoted by the IFT is basic to teaching and learning and raises a very serious question: Will we continue to cling to a culture of deficits and deficit thinking or are we ready to create a teaching culture of strengths?  For me, this means schools and classrooms based on student talents and a growth mindset, truly believing all students can learn.  IFT is challenging teachers and administrators to join and create a school-family culture based on strengths, opportunities and potential.  I am so happy to be part of this effort. 

 

IFT - What is it about the IFT you find most important to the education of children and young adults?   

LC - IFT does so many great things but something that really stands out is the IFT Grant Program.  Teachers who have received IFT Grants live by the IFT approach.  They view IFT Grants as difference makers. Teachers are eager to talk about their grants; they are excited and proud of their efforts.  Teachers tell me the grants make things happen; they’re practical and cause real change.  

I also believe the IFT Grant Program and strength-based thinking fit and dove tail nicely with professional development. It’s hard to be opposed to a program that truly emphasizes strengths.  In this sense, professional development, when based on strengths is a driving force for change.

 

IFT - Let’s discuss strength-based teacher driven change.  First off, what does that mean to you? What makes you supportive of the strength-based approach?   How is it different from other instructional strategies?  

LC - Change is constantly happening in the schools; teachers are always asked to change.  IFT has introduced a new framework for school change; one that is driven by strength-based thinking. The strength-based approach asks us to look at what’s working in the schools: what’s working with kids, what’s most productive, how the district and administration are helping teachers, and how parents are being supportive.

Strength-based thinking has major implications for life and how we live it.  Our world would be very different if we focused on the positive and not the negative.  It’s simply a matter of choice.  We can choose to look at strengths or deficits, it just depends on what we want to emphasize.  

Emphasizing strengths over deficit, creates so many opportunities for teachers to help their students.  I have observed teachers do remarkable things with their students.  It’s amazing how student attitude and behavior changes when the focus is on strengths.   Students feel more valued.  You can see it in how they interact with each other and their teachers, how they behave in class, and even how they take care of themselves.   

What makes the strength-based approach especially important is its overall appeal to teachers, administrators and parents. In many ways strength-based thinking is consistent with and connects to the art and science of teaching.  It’s an overarching philosophy, basic to what we do and believe as educators. It’s what we are about - our students’ talents and strengths.   

 

IFT - How has strength-based thinking positively changed you, both personally and professionally?

LC - I like to think I have always been a strength-based thinker. I have the IFT seven factor strength-based matrix on my wall; it’s a great reminder and keeps me on track, both personally and professionally.  The seven factors have the potential to transform the teaching and learning culture - how we do things.  It’s a challenge I love – every day I look for ways to infuse the matrix into what I do and how it can be used in the classroom.  I have wonderful conversations with teachers about creating not just happy and positive classrooms but how we can make classrooms strength-based. 

 

IFT - Pretend you just woke from being asleep for 5 years and during this time all of California’s public schools have applied the strength-based approach to teaching and learning. What would our school districts, schools, and classrooms look like? 

LC - Our schools would be a happier place; a place where students - all students - can’t wait to attend.  While challenges remain and there is no magic wand, teachers, administrators and parents would join to ensure that schools are positive and engaging students in learning every day, all day.  Teacher and administrator roles would change where; there would be greater collaboration and the sharing of leadership.  We would all be educators where talents and strengths would drive the teaching and learning process. 

 

IFT wants to thank you very much for taking the time to discuss your ideas about teaching and the public schools.  Do you have any final thoughts?  

LC - The future of education is on the minds of all who care about the public schools.  Change is coming from every direction.  What gives me hope and confidence is how  CTA and IFT are focused on the future by bringing teachers from all backgrounds together to build on what’s right,  not what’s wrong.  No other education organization or policy group is able to do this with the trust and support of teachers.  It makes me hopeful for what’s ahead.

 

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