Trauma-Sensitive Strength-Based Resources for Teachers

Do you have teacher envy? 

Do you look over into the other classroom, and as you walk by, you see a teacher smiling, students gathering around desks working together, and creating fantastic projects in their classroom. Do you think, how can they do all of this? What do they have that I don’t have?

Great teachers have self-awareness of what works for them as a teacher and what doesn’t. They know what comes easy for them and can manage the challenges. Great teachers know their strengths!

I taught for over ten years in a middle and high school science classroom. In my first couple of years of teaching, I would watch veteran teachers and believe that I had to teach just the same way. I often would learn new tools to add to my toolbox of strategies. However, when a method that I tried repeatedly didn’t work with students, I felt awkward and very uncomfortable in front of the class. I am sure the students could feel that too! I now see that I wasn’t teaching in a way that fit my strengths.

What has helped good teachers become great is being aware of their strengths. When they know their strengths, teachers can see their students’ strengths to build a classroom that honors diversity.

Two resources to help you create classrooms that develop strengths and honor diversity

Teaching to Strengths, Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress by Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, and Judie Haynes

Classroom educators have the job of being one of the leading influencers on how a child views themselves and develop their unique set of assets and strengths. Teach to Strengths is written by three English Language Learner (ELL) instructors that approach the instruction of a diverse group of learners from a trauma-sensitive strength-based approach. As stated in the book’s introduction, the fastest-growing segment of U.S. school students is English learners, many of whom have experienced trauma, violence, and stress in very distinct ways. These learners come to the classroom with many unacknowledged strengths and resilience. The authors use case studies and many examples to help educators develop the strategies and skills for creating a strength-based inclusive classroom that capitalizes on the asset of the learner. 

This book offers ways to bring strength-based approaches into the classroom, families, schools, and community. A strength-based approach to supporting students with trauma, such as EL learners, can be a way to help educators to see their strengths and values that helped them through adversity and build resilience. When classroom teachers can recognize students, who have suffered adverse situations, they have strengths that have helped them create resilience. We need to acknowledge that the flip side to trauma is resilience.

The teacher-student relationship is one of the most significant influences on student engagement and achievement. As stated in Teaching to Strengths, “the power of our influence in our interactions with students and the methods we use have a great deal of significance in student outcomes.”

The first step is to identify your strengths and values as a classroom teacher. “Our strengths, our assets, and our capacities to support our own well-being and that of others are based on our own uniqueness.” 

If you are not familiar with your strengths, I would like to suggest the following books as excellent resources.

Teach With Your Strengths, How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students by Rosanne Liesveld and Jo Ann Miller with Jennifer Robison

Teach With Your Strengths is specifically written for the classroom teacher to know and develop their unique strengths. Teach With Your Strengths uses the Clifton StrengthFinder assessment to help teachers acknowledge their strengths and relate them to teaching strategies that can best help them be better teachers. 

The book starts with what makes a great teacher. “Great teachers’ methods and intuitions are different. They don’t operate like other teachers, and they don’t believe everything they are taught or told.” In other words, great teachers know their strengths and weaknesses. They have developed their strengths to create successful relationships with their students. They have also developed successful systems to manage their weaknesses. 

The first step in your journey is being aware of your strengths. The book comes with a code to the Clifton StrengthFinder so teachers can start by identifying their top five strengths. If you would like to know all 34 of your strengths in order, you can go to the website and pay a fee to access all 34 strengths and many resources to help you go deeper into each strength. Teach With Your Strengths ends the book with supporting teachers. The rest of the journey is learning to own and apply them in your professional and personal life. 

Self-awareness has been a huge part of my journey as a lifelong learner. I have used the process of identifying, developing, and applying my strengths and value to become a better speaker, trainer, and coach. If you would like more support in identifying and using your strengths in your classroom, book a call with me, and we can talk further.

Strength-Based Parenting Book Club

Today is my birthday!! 

I will not tell you how old I am; however, I will say that the ’80s was the best decade of music!

My daughter and mom are planning a surprise mystery afternoon and evening of fun for me. I can hardly wait to see what they have cooked up. Whatever we do, it will be great because I am spending time with people I love.

I like spending time with people and having great conversations around a particular topic. One way I get that need met is through book discussions. Right now, I am in three different book clubs and reading a fiction novel. My friends gave me a gift certificate from a bookstore because, in my opinion, you can’t have too many books! 

My Learner and Input strengths love the process of learning and digging deep into a topic. How about you? Would you like to learn more about your strengths? Would you like to find out how you can bring out the strengths in children? Knowing your strengths can help you to see the strengths within your child or learner. 

My friend  Monica Cochran of Learning Without Borders and I are offering the Strength-Based Parenting Book Club for parents and educators looking to help children find their unique brilliance. We made a short video for you explaining the book club:

 

If you would like more information about how you can join the book club, click here.

I look forward to seeing you at the Strengths-Based Parenting book club starting on April 28 at 7:00 pm CST.

Here is another cool thing about the Strength-Based Parenting book club; the group will be on the Workspace Sky platform. The registration fee includes a free month in Workspace Sky. Find out more about Workspace Sky at https://www.workspaceeducation.org/

 

Deep Dive Strengths Conversations

Are you a parent, teacher, or leader?

Looking for a way to support your child, motivate your students, or maybe bring out the best in your employees?

I am a certified Strengths Communicator, and I know that your strengths are the first place to do just that!

I have created a special offer to help you begin on a path to knowing your unique talents. The offer includes the Clifton Strengths assessment, a 60-minute strengths conversation, and supplemental materials to support you!

It all begins with you! You need to know your talents and strengths before you can help bring out the best in others.

Let’s dive into your strengths. 

Here are the details to Deep Dive into Your Strengths conversation package.

 

Do You Know Your Strengths?

Happy Valentine’s Day 2021!! 

Now that my children are older, Valentine’s Day is not as celebrated in years past. No heart pancakes tinged in pink, no candy hearts, and small boxes of chocolates. Instead, I share a quiet “I love you” and a text with the same sentiments are with them.

I try to tell or show the people in my life that I love them daily. Isn’t that more important than showering love on just one day a year?

One way that I use my strengths is to create a positive connection with each person I encounter in my day. Creating a positive connection is so important when most of my relationships are virtual. 

I have the strength of Connectedness; being connected to something larger than myself is essential. I treat each encounter with the idea that we are meeting for a reason. There is a larger reason as to why this person is in my life.

Today’s video is about why strengths are vital for us to know and that a deep dive conversation is a great way to get to know your strengths at a deeper level. Studies show that the more connected you are with your strengths, there is an increase in positive well-being, improved work engagement, and better relationships.

 

5 Strategies to Access the Learning Brain

This time of year can come with a variety of emotions. I am sure many emotions have popped up over the last few weeks for you in some way. As a former science teacher, the study of the brain and the connection to resilience is fascinating. When we are dealing with our emotions it’s important to know why and how our brains are reacting to that emotion.

 

In the video, The Learning Brain v.s. The Survival Brain, Dr. Jacob Ham explains how stress can affect learning for our students. We need to create safe environments in the classroom that assists children in learning. One of the ways we can do that is through using tools that you can teach to your students that will calm the brain down.

 

In my recent video, I demonstrate five tools you can use with your student to help them feel safe and access their learning brain.

Using Your Strengths To Overcome Challenges: Part 3

I love it when I receive questions from followers. Last week I had a really big question from a follower,

 

How do you help adults overcome

childhood trauma and toxic stress?

 

Wow! Big question! This is too big of a question to cover in a ten-minute video or even in a blog post. However, I can give you a few tools to start on a path that will decrease your toxic stress response and increase your self- regulation. Once your nervous system is regulated, tapping into your strengths to build up your resilience is key.

 

You can build your self-awareness toolbox as an adult and tap into those tools when stress enters your life.

 

This is a journey where each new tool you use and practice can help you along your path of resilience.

 

Watch Using Your Strengths to Overcome Challenges Part 1 and Part 2 to add more tools to your toolbox.

 

 

Strength-Based Resilience is a four-part course for educators, parents, and caregivers. A new session starts on September 9, 2020.

More information about the course can be found here.

 

 

Using Your Strengths to Overcome Challenges: Part 2

Stress, overwhelm, and anxiety are the words I use to describe my emotions during a time of crisis. What are the words that come to your mind when we talk about the current world situation?

 

Luckily for me, I can reach into my toolbox of resilience tools and pull out one of my favorite tools, strengths! My resilience tools are tools I can use to help myself and others bounce back in times of crisis.

 

In the last video, I shared about the four areas of strengths (Relating, Thinking, Executing and Influencing) and how you might see one or more of those areas in yourself. If I can see my strengths then I can also be intentional about calling upon one or more of those strengths to see my situation differently.

 

Today I share a short exercise for you to call upon your personal strengths and focus on using them throughout your day. 

 

Using Your Strengths to Overcome Challenges: Part 1

I encounter new challenges that enter my life on a daily basis, especially now. I think we have all experienced changes that come unexpectedly. 

How do you handle the challenges you encounter? What do you do to overcome obstacles?

When a challenge confronts me, I remind myself of my strengths. I reflect on how each strength can be used to help me through my day. 

This video is the first of a three-part series on using your strengths to overcome challenges.

Part one is about one of my favorite tools to use, the StrengthFinder assessment. If you haven’t heard of the StrengthFinder assessment then this short video will give you some insight into identifying your strengths.

Strengths can be just one of the tools to build resilience in yourself and others. 

Watch here to see how….

5 Ways to Help Students Discover Their Strengths

What if people were asked to work only on what they were good at doing?

What if schools asked children to do activities that they were able to successfully focus on because these activities brought them joy?

What if we asked students what they want to improve in their learning?

Learning about children’s strengths can better equip parents, educators, and youth in finding out what activities might bring the students the most success. Strengths are a combination of talent (the natural way of thinking, feeling and believing), skills and knowledge. Strengths have been researched by the Gallup Organization and placed into 10 talent themes for youth. Teachers can help a student to:

  1. discover their talents and then
  2. build-up and reinforce what is right with that student.

 

Here are five ways teachers can help students discover their strengths

 

Self-directed projects

Self-directed projects help students determine what they are interested in and what they may have a passion for. Many classrooms are instituting what is called a “Genius Hour.” A genius hour is simple and has 3 criteria: a driving question, research and a way to share the learning with others. In the adult world, both Google and 3M have implemented a similar idea – a “20% of time” rule – for employees to work on their own projects. This rule has led employees to develop some major innovations, for example, “Post It Notes” from 3M.

http://www.geniushour.com/

 

Play

Unstructured play is important for children and adults. Play is a way students can increase both their social skills and learn more about their strengths. Students will show preferences for what they want to play with and how they want to play with others. Some may enjoy a solitary game or play with a small group, while others like large group play. Watching children and how they play can tell you a lot about their strengths. Global School Play Day was February 5th, however, you can do this in your classroom any day!

http://www.globalschoolplayday.com/

 

Reading

Stories are a great way to get students to explore their strengths. One of my favorite books to read to a class is Andrew Henry’s Meadow. The boy in the story is not recognized for his strengths by his family and finds a meadow in which to build a home to accommodate his talent for inventing. When I read this book to classes, I ask students to identify Andrew Henry’s strengths and then have them draw a house that would reflect their own passions and talents. Other stories can be used in the same way. Have students choose the type of books they love to read and have a “Drop Everything And Read” (D.E.A.R) time during the day. Adding choices to the day will enhance a student’s joy of learning.

https://www.readingrockets.org/calendar/dear

 

Journals

Journals allow students to, not only write, but create. Many times journals are used only for writing about topics assigned by a teacher. When students have choices over the topics this can be a great motivator and allows them to explore their learning styles. “Wreck This Journal” is created by Keri Smith. She also has a “100 Creative Ways to Journal” that you can try out and see how your students respond.

http://www.kerismith.com/popular-posts/100-ideas/

 

Sketchbooks

Similar to journals, sketchbooks can lend insight to a child’s way of learning and perceiving the world around them. Everyone is creative and there is no right or wrong to art, especially to a child. When my son was younger, he loved to draw. Now he doesn’t draw anymore because, along the way, some well-meaning adults “corrected” his drawings. Because of this, he now thinks that he’s not very good at art. Art cannot be done wrong. The Tinkerlab has a wonderful Sketchbook Challenge that offers daily ideas for fun, low-stress ways to create art.

http://tinkerlab.com/tinkersketch-daily-sketchbook-challenge/

 

How can teachers help students discover and develop strengths?

  • Make and record observations
  • Be curious about your students
  • Ask questions, for example, “What did you discover about yourself by doing this project?”
  • Refrain from making judgmental comments, for example, “I really like the way you used that color.” Instead give students acknowledgment, for example, “I notice you enjoy helping others when you are playing.” Or, “When I see that it’s your turn to clean up the art supplies, you are very organized in putting the supplies away.”
  • Create non-graded activities that infuse fun with learning.

 

Student strengths and talents are discovered and developed by the adults around them. Helping students to discover what is strong about themselves is a great way to boost engagement and confidence. Be open to the possibility of having children explore to create awareness of their strengths and to accept who they are as a person. Never miss that chance to let your students see their brilliance!

You Are So Much More Than A Grade

 “The more we want our children to be (1) lifelong learners, genuinely excited about words and numbers and ideas, (2) avoid sticking with what’s easy and safe, and (3) become sophisticated thinkers, the more we should do everything possible to help them forget about grades.”

― Alfie Kohn

Many schools carry out parent-teacher conferences several times a year. Conferences are a time for a parent to hear all about a child’s learning and the evaluations that have been completed for the grading period.

As a middle and high school teacher, I did not enjoy assessing students by giving out a letter grade. I enjoyed teaching science and I valued my relationship with my students. However, I felt uneasy with evaluating students for the work that I claimed to be important to science and to them. Sometimes I tried to avoid the process of traditional assessments by using tools that would help students’ reflect on what they had produced and learned. The self-reflection space opened up the door for a conversation instead of a one-way evaluation. I noticed that the evaluation the students gave themselves was very honest and accurate.

Self-reflection is one skill that is highly needed in today’s fast-paced world, yet only occasionally in the classroom do teachers use self-reflection as an assessment tool. 

As a culture we are so caught up in grades for school achievement that we lose sight of what are grades really to convey to the teacher, student, and parents.

Is the grade really a reflection of what the student learned? Or is grade the reflection of a student’s effort put forth in a class? Or is the grade a reflection of what the teacher perceives to be important to the subject?

How often do teachers and students sit down to really reflect on our lives and learning?

Many students that are not meeting the expectations of school and take low grades on the report card as a reflection of their worth. Can worthiness really be associated with a number or a letter? Is this a true reflection of a student’s knowledge or learning?

When a teacher takes time to help a student identify her strengths, she then can see the talents that are within herself. Identifying strengths can be a way to convey that a letter grade on a report card is not who she is as a person.

As children travel through the school system a mantra that needs to be said often is “you are not your grades”. Each child has a unique set of strengths and talents. It is my belief as an educator that part of helping children grow is to help them find outlets for their strengths to shine.

Here are a few questions to try with the young people you work with to assist them in discovering and reflecting on their strengths.

What do you find easy to learn …?

What helps you when something get tricky …?

The most interesting thing about _____________________is …

I prefer to work by myself on activities that …

I like working with others when …

If I can, I try to avoid activities that …

I find it easiest to understand when …

When I don’t understand something, I …

I’m getting much better at …

One good question I asked (or thought of) today was …

One of the things I do best is …

The Collaborative of Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has five competencies to help guide educators in assisting students in developing social and emotional learning skills. As part of the responsible decision making and self-awareness competencies, self-reflection is a key skill. More information about CASEL Core SEL Competencies can be found at https://casel.org/core-competencies/

No matter the age of the child, you can help them reflect upon their learning and themselves. Asking open-ended questions can start the conversation of helping children reflect on their strengths and identifying what is good and right within.