#IMMOOC Week 4: Building Up Strengths

As a school librarian, I serve my students, my fellow teachers, and everyone at my school. I still feel new to working in education (four years in), and I’m constantly moving my bar for what my work should look like. In reflecting on the ways that I unleash the strengths of the people I serve, I keep coming back to a story George Couros shares in Chapter 8 of #InnovatorsMindset:

“As a beginning teacher, rather than encourage a student’s enjoyment of physical education, I would threaten to keep them out of P.E. class if they did not finish their ‘work’ in another subject area… my students often begrudgingly finished their assignments…, but the incident always diminished the relationship between the student and myself.”

Couros goes on to argue that we need to build on strengths and passions, not operate on a deficit, compliance-based model. In my first year, I made classroom management my professional goal, and focused my daily reflections for the whole year on behavior. Like Couros, I’ve learned a lot since then. Overall, my school operates on a compliance-based model at the moment, but it’s not 100%, and I do believe it will change over time.

While I’m not in a direct leadership role, I am doing my best within the model to create an environment for my students where they can pursue (or discover) their passions. One way I’m doing this is by facilitating passion projects for all 5th and 6th graders not involved in band while their homeroom teachers have a much needed middle-level meeting. Previously, this time was an open “catch-up” block, and with a little direction our students are now using the same time for: planning fundraisers for the humane society, building mountain bike trails, learning to code, creating 3D-printed skateboards, painting a series of watercolors of abstract soccer players, editing videos, and more (that’s just half of my group!). Another way is our yearly STEAM event for 5th grade—two days of hands-on, practical workshops on STEAM topics like water rockets, LEGO robotics, programming, digital animation, e-textiles, and more. I also provide safe haven for those who love to read—I make sure I know my readers, curate a collection that has an abundance of enticing materials, and provide challenges to keep them motivated by sharing their reading. At the moment, I feel I’m doing an especially good job supporting students in the upper grades and I could invest more effort in those who are younger. It is also a professional goal of mine to become a better leader of my colleagues, and #edci325 at UVM is an important step towards that goal. In the future I intend to provide regular professional development opportunities, both for technology and for passion-based reading.

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4 thoughts on “#IMMOOC Week 4: Building Up Strengths”

  1. Hi Hannah,
    You have put yourself into such an amazing position to be a true mentor to students. You must be building some wonderful relationships that students will remember. I think that this is also a great example of thinking inside the box. It seems like it can be difficult for teachers to work in student passions to regular class time. You took time that already existed and utilized it for something meaningful.

  2. Hi Hannah,
    You have learned early to value relationships as foundational – nicely done! You have also learned early not to follow a complianced-based model, which is absolutely to your advantage as well as your learners. It can be somewhat easier to develop interest/passion-based models in the library (yay!) but that does not mean it is easy. I love the descriptions of the passion projects — that is a brilliant way to serve your learners, your faculty, your extended community, and your own relationships with each of these areas. Way to raise the bar for your work!!

  3. HI Hannah, I think you have hit the nail on the head here. I think we truly underestimate the power that passion and curiosity have to drive learning. So much of school is mandated and feels like it can be thrust upon us, leaving little opportunity for creativity and the pursuit of ones happiness/interests. By giving the students choice and voice, and empowering their ideas with support, you are opening a channel to learning they might not of otherwise had. Also you are allowing them to openly express themselves and aspects of their identity and humanity that make up who they are, and in turn will likely help others. Nice job!

  4. I’m inspired by, and somewhat envious of, your innovative transformation of an uninspiring “catch up” block into Passion Projects! I’ve seen (and overseen) an irresponsible number hours of students’ time wasted in “catch up” blocks. It’s an especially inequitable structure when used as a holding space while other students enjoy enriching activities like band. You should be commended for respecting students’ time and whole-personhood through interest based passion projects. Well done!

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