What can teachers do to help highlight student assets and not their deficits? In other words, what can teachers do to help create that mindset for themselves when they look at students and what can they do to help students develop the same view?
Response From Dr. Alison J. Mello
Dr. Alison J. Mello has been in education for over 25 years as a classroom teacher, math specialist, director of curriculum, and is currently the assistant superintendent of the Foxborough public schools in Massachusetts. She holds an Ed.D. in educational leadership, and her research focuses on classroom learning environment and relationship to mathematical disposition. In addition to her work in the district, Alison is a national speaker, math consultant, and graduate instructor of in-service teachers:
As educators, we are in relentless pursuit of data. This data comes in many forms, and at the risk of oversimplifying, is typically intended to inform us about what students know and what they still need to learn. This helps us to plan and hopefully to teach more effectively. Makes sense, but how do students perceive this? Are we so busy focusing on what students can’t do that we are not seeing or valuing what they can?
The importance of this distinction became clear to me when interviewing a 3rd grader about math. She had one of the most outstanding teachers I knew, yet as she told me about her experiences, I watched her burst into tears as she shared how the teacher often made her feel stupid. When I probed, she explained that the teacher regularly pointed out what she did not know and what she did wrong. Of course, I knew that this came from a place of the teacher wanting to clarify and correct misconceptions and guide the student toward proficiency. Unfortunately, this was not how it was received. Instead, it led to the student perceiving herself as “bad” at math. What was worse was the student had become fearful of answering questions, frequently avoided school, and refrained from interacting with peers in the classroom. When I shared this with the teacher, she was stunned. She shared that the student was one of the strongest in her class.If we hope to highlight student strengths, we must understand what a deficit mindset looks and sounds like and move away from it with intentionality. We must be willing to make a commitment to focus on “what’s strong, not what’s wrong.” Below are some simple strategies to begin to make this important shift.
While the above suggestions may appear simple, their power cannot be overstated. All students possess strengths, and we have the opportunity and privilege to recognize them and leverage them on the pathway to proficiency. What are we waiting for?