The opening keynote at the Adobe Education Summit was delivered by Dr. Byron McClure. Byron is a school psychologist, an author, and founder of Lessons for SEL. Byron shared about the importance of erasing deficit thinking in his address. He shared a personal story where he was told that he was accepted to graduate school but would need to be make at least all “B”s since he had some deficits in his academic backgrounds. He shared how this impacted him and how this deficit thinking is often the process that many students experience. He encouraged us to “shift from this deficit thinking to being innovative.” He asked us to really explore if the training and practices that we use with students is geared toward identifying the best or worse in our students. This really challenged me to think about the training that I have previously received and makes me reconsider the approach that I will take as I support students going forward. The lens with which we approach our work is important since our work is with students.
Too often in education, we are directed to accountability measures that as Byron indicated that reduce our students to numbers and statistics. But our students are much more than just a data point. I would argue that this type of thinking, deficit type thinking, often limits our students and many of our beliefs about what they are capable of achieving. We must work extraordinarily hard to counter this type of thinking so our students are not limited in their success. Byron shared “we must shift from what’s wrong to what is strong.” By shifting our thinking, we shed our beliefs about the limits of what our students can achieve; we move to a world full of potential and possibilities that is limitless to what our students can do, be, and achieve.
When we believe in our students and limitless possibilities, we empower them. Byron included four key elements to a strengths based approach to supporting students: 1) Focus on identifying and understanding strengths, 2) human-centered (needs of people first), 3) growth and goal oriented, and 4) social support, capital, and resources matter. Each of these elements provide the necessary environment in which our students are able to utilize their strengths and talents to create something far greater when properly cultivated. By attending to our students and helping them recognize and identify their strengths, we can change their trajectories in life. Many of our students often do not recognize many of their strengths. I know that when I worked in a middle school, our students were just beginning to become more aware of themselves and often needed a supportive and encouraging adult to help them realize and recognize their own strengths. I had many conversations with students where I assisted them in identifying their own strengths. For many of these students, this self awareness of their strengths brought them a sense of confidence and assurance. They realized that they were good at something (or many things).
As we return to the classroom this fall, I would encourage all educators to focus on a strengths based approach to supporting our students and ourselves. He shared several questions for reflection that I think that we, as educators, need to think deeply about and explore - “What has given you the most energy in your life?” He followed up by asking “Who were you before the world told you who to be?” Finally, he shared “When, if ever, have your strengths done dark? Why?” By considering these questions and our own responses, I think that we can begin to identify and focus on our strengths. In doing so, we can also model this process for our students. I would also maintain that in focusing on a strengths based approach in our work with students and in our own lives, we can create opportunities that bring tremendous joy and value. We can shift from living within limitations to a world full of opportunities. It is precisely these moments that can really transform life for the better.
I found Bryon’s keynote to be energizing and encouraging. His words were impactful and empowering. When we shift our paradigms, we create the conditions in which each of us can flourish. We must emulate this both with our students and ourselves. Bryon shared this quote from Socrates: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building on the new.” Let us work towards building a new and better version of not only ourselves but of our students as well. I encourage you to use your strengths in both your professional and personal lives and to also help students recognize and use their strengths as well in the coming year.
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The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.