Noticing and Naming Strengths

Nearly twenty years later I can still remember my very first formal observation as a part of my evaluation cycle. I can remember the work that went into planning the lesson and the nervousness about teaching it. But mostly I remember what happened when I sat down with my principal afterwards. She pointed out many things I was doing well that I hadn’t realized I was doing. It was a very powerful meeting for me. Her noticing and naming those strengths she saw in me allowed me to build on them, encouraged me to do so.

When we are doing something new we need that. We need someone else to point out to us what we are doing well. Maybe we already know, maybe they are just pointing out the obvious. But I think, often, we don’t know. We are working so hard to do things well, at least certain things, that we may be completely unaware of other things we’re rocking. By recognizing all we are doing well we can continue to build on a solid foundation and grow broadly.

A couple of my teammates and I are doing some work together around our district’s Portrait of a Graduate. We are beginning by focusing on our students as communicators. As we get started, one of our big goals is to notice and name what our students are doing well as they talk, listen, and write about their thinking. There may be things we have to take the time to help them learn to do, but they are already doing so much so well. We want to be sure we’re helping them see that and continue to build on it.

Too often I know I am far more focused on the things my students can’t do rather than what they can. I’m busy thinking about how to help them learn to do those things they haven’t learned yet. What a different conference that would have been twenty years ago if my principal had taken that tactic. If she had focused on things I wasn’t doing or wasn’t doing well and talked to me about how to do them; would I even remember that now? I doubt it.

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