As I apply for jobs for the first time in a decade, some interesting thoughts swirl through my head. Having spent almost a decade at my last job, searching for a school that wants to add me is a different feeling. As I think about myself and what I bring to a job, the way I look at who I am and what I can add to whatever school I end up at matters.
I’m a new educator in a new system: going from a place and education system I knew well - California - to a new education system in British Columbia. Not just a new state, but a new country! On top of that, British Columbia has just instituted a new set of education standards, further complicating the transition. That’s a big hurdle for someone to overlook when they’re looking to hire me.
I could look at the things I was able to do in my almost decade at Hillsdale. What I did in my classroom. What my students did in my classroom. Committees I was a part of. Professional development opportunities I helped organize and facilitate.
It’s a very different way of looking at yourself: what can you do, what do you know versus what can’t you do, what don’t you know? That deficit model - looking at weaknesses - can be really toxic. If I spend too much time thinking about what I don’t know, about what I can’t do, I get doubtful. I’m a risk - someone needs to overlook that big gap in knowledge that I have to hire me. But if I look at what I can do, what I do know, what is transferable between contexts, it feels very different.
I’ll own it: I’ve looked at other educators and focused on what they can’t do in the past. I don’t feel good saying that, but it is true. By doing that, I’ve missed strengths people have. Things they can teach me. The amazing things their kids are doing in their classrooms. Thankfully, I’ve had to eat some humble pie in those areas, as my perceptions of what people can’t do has been impacted by what I’ve seen them actually DO. The outlook - what could this educator do better - was wrong. Should we work on weaknesses? Sure. But focusing on weaknesses and ignoring strengths - as I have done about myself in my job search - is toxic.
How many times have I focused on weaknesses with students? How often did they feel like their areas for growth were being hammered on and their strengths ignored? That’s not a question I can answer, but it something I can take forward: look for strengths in students. Look for what fellow educators are great at. Focus on building on those things people do well, not on things people could get better at.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Wejr’s TED talk on strengths-based education at the end of this post. Chris is brilliant, and his talk is everything you’d hope it would be.