#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.