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