Strengths Based Perspective in Schools

kid-superhero

In this week’s blog, the ‘strengths based perspective’ is discussed and it is considered how this theory might relate to the world of education, in particular how it is situated against other traditional perspectives such as a target driven or problem focussed perspective.

This blog draws information from a document published by The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS), which can be found here: http://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/strengths-based-approaches-working-individuals.

So what is a ‘strengths based perspective’? Well, put simply, a strengths perspective argues against dominant problem focused perspectives and suggests that there is more to gain from starting with the identification of a person or a group’s strengths, contribution or assets. A strengths based perspective is also relational in construct because it concerns itself principally with the quality of the relationship that develops between those providing and being supported, as well as the elements that the person seeking support brings to the process (Duncan and Hubble, 2000).

Applied to schools: A strengths based perspective is potentially transformative when applied to communities, groups or institutions as it does not subscribe to a traditional expert-deficit model in which those seeking support (in the case of education, the students) are of lower status than those providing support (the staff in the school). Instead, traditional hierarchies are broken down in favour of collaborative worked towards shared values or goals. By focusing on pride or achievements, increased confidence is generated. Increased agency and autonomy over the content of curriculum is also a central aspect so that students feel empowered as ‘producers, not recipients’ of development.

Through having high expectations for young people, whatever their skills, needs, understanding and background, strengths-based practitioners “create a climate of optimism, hope, and possibility, which has been shown to have successful outcomes, particularly in work with families (Hopps, Pinderhughes, and Shankar, 1995)”.

Especially in special school environments or children with statements in mainstream schools, it is helpful to start developing strategies for working with individuals from their capabilities rather than what they cannot do. Scanning through the literature I found this article about strengths based perspectives and children with ADHD interesting: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3786190811/adhd-in-schools-adopting-a-strengths-based-perspective

In a strengths based approach, the teacher becomes less the ‘holder of knowledge’ or ‘fixer of problems’ but a ‘co-facilitator of solutions’, developing relationships with students, other staff in the school, parents and the wider community, so that marginalised voices can be developed into practice within the school. Within lessons, the teacher draws from students existing knowledge and skills to engage them in learning new information or skills in a way that allows the students an element of autonomy. There will be a strong focus on reinforcing strengths and successes through praise, and gradually building capacity for growth and change.

When teachers invest in building meaningful and collaborative relationships with other staff and students, they are more effective as teachers, their students report feeling more motivated and therefore work harder. In seeing the students engaged and working hard, teacher self efficacy and job satisfaction increases. In this way, the flow of resilience building through strengths based practice can be seen to be synergistic and self reinforcing.

Criticisms of strengths based perspective: are currently that empirical research in the field is limited, and that a focus on personal and community strengths and current resources, rather than what additional support or resources might be needed is a potentially politically manipulated concept in order to justify funding cuts. It is important, when employing this type of positively focused paradigm, that it is balanced with the prevention and identification of preventing risk or problems. As Graybeal (2001) explains, ‘the identification of strengths is not the antithesis of the identification of problems. Instead, it is a large part of the solution’ (p234).

What does your school already do that could be said to draw from ‘strengths based perspective’?

What can schools and teachers develop from these principles and what will the impact on student outcomes and staff well-being be?

We welcome your ideas and questions based on this blog, especially if you would like to share examples from your own practice 

Advertisements

Teacher Resilience and Teacher Type

590001.TIF

It is known by a great many teachers that the pressures, workload and culture of performativity and accountability in schools are detrimental to both staff wellbeing and student outcomes. This frustrating dynamic, which fuels further stress and dissatisfaction is clearly leading to some teachers leaving the profession and arguably reducing the quality of teaching in those who stay, in spite of the best efforts of committed teachers, not to mention the impact on personal health and life.

Teachers’ occupational well-being (level of emotional exhaustion and job satisfaction) and falling retention rates in the profession have been well documented in the press in the last few weeks:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-34426598

In this week’s blog post, I introduce a piece of research by Klusmann et al http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mareike_Kunter/publication/232501298_Teachers’_occupational_well-being_and_quality_of_instruction_The_important_role_of_self-regulatory_patterns/links/5537882f0cf268fd0018a346.pdf in which the authors suggest that how effective the teacher is likely to be under stress, pedagogical quality and ability to motivate students.

Informed by a transactional perspective from health psychology, the authors propose that features of the working environment within schools interacting with teachers’ personal characteristics “are conceived to be antecedents of teachers’ occupational well-being, teachers’ instructional performance in the classroom, and student outcomes”.

The authors are heavily influenced by Schaarschmidt et al. (1999) who identified four ‘types’ of teacher.

  • Type H -named the ‘healthy – ambitious’ demonstrated high scores on both occupational engagement and resilience
    and was the most successful ‘type’ due to less reports of physical and psychological strain, lower absence rates, and lower means on the three burnout symptoms than other types. Type H also had the highest self reported security of pedagogical knowledge.
  • Type U – is characterised by low occupational engagement but high resilience, meaning the teacher is likely to stay in the profession and is not at risk for either burnout or stress but arguably may not be as effective in terms of motivating students or collaborating with other colleagues
  • Type A – is the excessively ambitious type, which is at high risk for burnout due to excessive demands on personal time, lack of resources or mis match between expectations and ideals, and practical reality.
  • Type R – Has low occupational engagement and low stress resistance, resulting in, as you might expect, the highest risk of absence, burnout and poor efficacy.

Klusmann et al found that there was a slight trend in their sample to suggest gender influence – with more men than women as type U or H and more women than men as type A or R. Amount of teaching experience and age seemed to have little or no impact on teacher type. Klusmann et al found that (as suggested by previous research above)

“teachers belonging to the H type reported statistically significantly less emotional exhaustion than teachers of the other types”

whilst

“the A type and the R type scored highest on emotional exhaustion”

H type teachers also scored more highly for job satisfaction, followed by U types with R and A types down at the bottom with minimal job satisfaction in comparison. 

Interestingly, this study went one step further than asking teachers about their perspective and sought out student perceptions of teacher efficacy by examining scores on :

  • classroom management
  • tempo
  • cognitive activation
  • perceived social support

By producing a survey rated from strongly agree to strongly disagree, students gave staff a rating and individual student ratings were aggregated to produce a class mean. In spite of the subjective skewing of results here (did the survey follow a good or bad lesson, was the teacher effective at teaching or did the student enjoy the lesson more etc), the measure is vita in extending our view of the ‘teacher types’ and the impact on student motivation.

Th results showed that there was no ‘type specific’ classroom management score, however, interaction tempo (speed of interaction between teacher and student) was seen as slightly better suited to students needs when relating to type H teachers than type R.

H and A type were both reported by students to set challenging cognitive lessons and fuel learning, compared to poor type R results. Social support results mirrored this pattern, with type H and A teachers being perceived to offer high levels of support in comparison to low levels of type U and R.

Finally, Type H teachers also scored very highly on student reports of motivation in lessons through increased opportunities for autonomy and competence. The authors then found that motivation was actually a result of the other two factors – i.e. if cognitive challenge is high and emotional support is also presumed to be high, motivation to engage will follow. This strongly corroborates my masters research in the previous blog post I shared. 

So what is the importance of this research for teachers (and students)?

We need to learn from the successes of H type teachers to support and retain good teachers and prevent burnout. Without intervention measures, it is likely that type R and U teacher wellbeing will decrease further over time. The authors suggest that “self-regulatory skills and coping behavior” training and awareness might enhance not only teachers’ occupational well-being but also their impact for students in the classroom.

Having read the article, I wonder how likely it is that these teacher types are fixed and inherent to our personalities, or whether, as I suspect is more likely, they are dynamic and fluid constructs that merge and are malleable. The ‘type’ of teacher you are is highly likely to be pre-empted by personal traits, however, the context (school climate, leadership etc) and culture (policy, politics, curricula etc) one is teaching in will surely increase or decrease occupational engagement and job satisfaction.

What this could mean is that if workload and pressure on teachers continued to rise, a whole lot of potential H type teachers, with the capacity to motivate our students, could be lost to U or R type (as they become disillusioned / less professionally motivated) depending on personal levels of resilience, both less preferable. A type teachers will undoubtedly burnout more quickly as workload is increased. 

In conclusion, systemic change must bring about better awareness of the links between teacher type and student outcomes as well as increase support for teachers to increase job satisfaction, wellbeing and professional engagement, resulting also in students experiencing the best teaching from the best teachers because, as the authors state: “engaged and resilient teachers were perceived to be more attentive to their students’ individual needs”. 

What type of teacher are you? Can you see traits of your own personality in this list? Do the results surprise you?

What steps do you think schools and government could take to better support teachers to find the balance of H type teachers?

We welcome your comments and ideas!