How to Create a Partnership Based on Student Strengths

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Excerpted from Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher

“It is no secret that the relationship we build with our students affects their success. A positive relationship with our students is one of our strongest defenses against disruptive behavior.

Often we try to stop misbehavior with a flurry of negative commands and injunctions against behaviors that students find more natural than the more formal or productive ones we try to teach. Many students can recite dozens of things they know they should not do. If those same students are asked to tell what their five greatest strengths are, however, many would be at a loss.

While it would be wrong to unfairly praise or encourage students for behaviors that are not acceptable to their future success, the negative attitudes that many of us carry to school with us are just as wrong. Although it is natural that we should spend so much time in our profession dealing with the errors our students make or with the things they should not do or with what’s wrong, we do need to balance this negativity by focusing on our students’ successes or strengths as well.

The long-term rewards that accrue when we focus on our students’ strengths are partly the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When our students believe they can do some things correctly, they are going to be brave enough to take that extra risk that will generate even more success. Hateful or unkind comments, on the other hand, will destroy even the bravest student’s confidence.

There are many ways to begin to include a more positive focus on your students’ strengths in your lessons.

Pay your students sincere compliments whenever you can. This is a pleasant and productive habit to encourage in them also.

Use positive body language to convey your respect and sincerity when you talk with students.

Make eye contact. Pat a shoulder or a hand. Make sure your expression is pleasant.

Ask students to share a hidden talent or skill with you.

Be generous with praise. Students who are aware of what it is they are doing correctly will want to repeat it.

Open class by having students tell what they did well on their homework assignments.

End class by asking students to share the most important things they learned that day.

Ask students to tell others what they did right on a difficult assignment so that the good news can be shared to the benefit of everyone.

Do not compare one student with another, especially if you pit one student’s weakness against another’s strength.

Hand out brightly colored pieces of paper and ask students to write out a contribution they can make to the class. Post these contributions for all to see.

When students go over returned papers, have them correct their errors and list the things they did right, too.

An easy way to make sure all students have the extra help they need is to have the student experts in the room share their expertise with others.

Having students set and achieve goals is a good starting point for identifying the strong points of each. When students have a purpose for working, they tend to work well.

Be careful that the strengths you compliment your students on are ones that are appropriate for their age level, unless you inadvertently want to either insult them or send a message that your standards are very low.

Ask students for their advice or opinions. Students often have important insights and solutions to problems that surprise many adults, even those who know them well. Be obvious when you tap into this resource.

Classes seem to take on a personality of their own. Use this to your advantage when you can. If classes are very talkative, turn this into a strong point by giving them lots of opportunity for debate and discussion. Make sure you focus on their strengths while you help them eliminate their weaknesses.”

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