Monday, March 12, 2012

Strengths Based Leadership and Special Education

My brother is in town and while we were out and about he mentioned that he read this book first within a management program at work and then again within a service group at his church. As he was talking about it, it seemed as if there were many things that would interest me that go along with the themes in the book. Obviously, from the title you can see that the book focuses on finding your personal strengths as a leader. I picked it up and read the meat of it very night. (I haven't yet read all of the "additional resources.") I found it to be an excellent investment of time! I have highlighter marks, post-its and pencil marks in the margins.

Right now, during our winter break, I have no other responsibilities pulling at me, so I could actually spend the time reading and thinking. It affected me a few different ways and in in different applications, but all related to how I think about special education (since that is where I spend most of my leadership skills).

First, a friend and I just finished running a "Christmas Camp" for girls with mild to moderate disabilities and their siblings. If this actually turns into something that we continue with, the book would be a great discussion point for us to delineate responsibilities of running camps and activities.

Second, I'd love for my two assistants to read this book and then have the three of us talk about the classroom climate and goals. While we typically think of teaching assistants in a "followers" role, the reality is, in the classroom to children, they are leaders. The two ladies I work with are quite talented and compassionate so they no doubt have leadership qualities.

Third, I'd like to e-mail the author and have some discussions on creating a strengths finder for children. The kids in my class are there based on their deficits. At their ages, (8 and 9) they are starting to become very socially aware that they are in a "special" class. I hate this aspect of my job. I can tell them all of the strengths that I see, but they (much like adults and society) want "proof." I think a strengths finder assessment for children would be beneficial!

There is a quote in the book that struck me: "At a very basic level, it is hard to build self-confidence when we are focused on our weaknesses instead of our strengths." When I think about this in terms of a child who is living with a learning disability or an intellectual disability, it frustrates me. Our current special educational model is based upon what is impeding the child from learning rather than based upon building strengths of a child who is struggling. There's another educational researcher, Torgenson (I think), who through his research has found that the single most influential factor in future reading success is prior positive reading experiences. How do we know and understand the value of strengths based performance and positive experiences and yet we continue to operate on a deficit driven model and pounding away at weaknesses? Crazy!

Perhaps my above rant clearly shows my own inclinations towards "includer" and "maximizer," but I do find the book to be generally valuable to people who have any type of leadership role within a family, community or work environment. If you have a free night or weekend, be sure to check it out!