Consider this common educational practice: A student struggles in math, so to help him achieve success in the discipline, the teacher sends him home with extra practice work. The teacher may even recommend an extra math class in lieu of electives. What often happens in such situations is that the student does not improve in math but learns to hate it and school.
We must be more careful than we are. We must not use academic subjects to punish or appear as punishment. The balance can easily be upset. While added practice is not inherently bad, too much practice does, as indicated in George Couros' book, The Innovator's Mindset (quoted here), can be detrimental.
Unfortunately, we dangle students' interests in front of them like a carrot. We say, "You can only do what you love when you finish that which you hate." As a beginning teacher, rather than encourage a student's enjoyment of physical education, I would threaten to keep them out of P.E. class if they did not finish their "work" in another subject area. It wasn't a helpful approach, but it was what I experienced as a student and, in turn, thought it was what I was supposed to do to my students. As a result, my students often begrudgingly finished their assignments (compliance model), but the incident always diminished the relationship between the student and myself. How could it not?
When teachers then harness the power of the child's newly developed growth mindset, they can help them improve in even those more challenging students.
We cannot forgo a focus on our strengths for the sake of only emphasizing the areas where we struggle. But that's what happens time and again. The deficit model compels administrators and educators to overcompensate in the areas that need to be "fixed." When that occurs, all the great things that are already happening are quickly forgotten. The bottom line is: an environment where the message is always "we are not good enough" can be demoralizing and counterproductive for all stakeholders.
Couros quotes Tom Rath (Strengths Finder 2.0):
[P]eople who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.
the chances of you being actively disengaged are 40 percent.
If your manager primarily focuses on your weaknesses,
the chances of you being actively disengaged are 22 percent.
If your manager primarily focuses on your strengths,
the chances of you being actively disengaged are one percent.
What really resonated with me from this point was how ignoring an employee had a more negative effect than focusing on his or her weaknesses. I often hear educators talk about how their leadership stays out of their way. Although I understand (and teach) that trust and autonomy are essential to motivation, there is a larger purpose to what we, as a group of individuals, do in schools. As teachers and leaders, we are stronger and more effective when we work together and push one another to grow. If we are to believe Rath's research (and I do), simply "leaving people alone" is not the best approach.
The bottom line is that when I have autonomy, along with the interest of my supervisors, I can better experiment and develop my strengths. Sometimes, I'll even feel some of my weaknesses come along for the ride. Couros:
Learning is messy, and we have to be comfortable with risk, failure, growth, and revision. Once people see leaders take risks, they are more likely to try their own ideas and stretch themselves - and their students. Giving people license to take risks by tapping into their abilities helps create a space where innovative ideas and learning flourish.