What are you good at and why? I am sure a list of things comes to mind. Now think about how this list of items plays out in your daily life. We all have strengths, and a common reaction is to leverage these as much as possible. I see this a great deal in my work coaching leaders. While there are many approaches that have varying value depending on the situation, there is a natural tendency to stick with what one believes they are particularly strong. There is nothing inherently wrong with this per se, but by doing so, we run the risk of capping our potential when it comes to achieving goals and growing. Feedback and accountability for growth through a coaching cycle help to unlock strengths that we might never know existed.
Learners in our classrooms are no different. They all enter school at various grade levels with a perception of what they are strong at, which can cloud their ability to grow. The same can be said with perceived weaknesses that act as a limit on their capacity to learn. All kids have greatness hidden inside them. It is the job of an educator to help them find and unleash it so that they can find success in the classroom and beyond. There is no one best way to unlock potential. Below are some ideas to try in your classroom, school, or district.
Students want and deserve to know why they are learning something, how they will use what has been learned outside of school, and what tells them if they have successfully achieved the specified goal for the lesson, project, or assessment. If they are unclear about the purpose of the task or how time is being used, it becomes more challenging to empower them.
Finding out what really motivates and inspires kids can be one of the best uses of time an educator or school engages in if the act sparks changes to practice. These passions can be integrated into daily lessons through anticipatory sets and projects or dedicated genius hours at the school level. They can also be leveraged to make changes to curriculum and course offerings.
I have written a great deal on this topic and even included an entire chapter in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. These approaches focus on competencies such as time management and self-regulation to develop greater independence. Strategies such as station rotation, choice boards, playlists, and flipped lessons allow students who are already competent in the standard to move ahead and engage in more challenging and relevant activities. They also enable the teacher to work with those students who need more support, which sets the stage for their potential to be unlocked.
Kids crave purposeful work grounded in interdisciplinary connections. When content is taught in isolation, a common outcome is students' lack of engagement, becoming either compliant or complacent. This inhibits potential. When developing lessons, activities, and courses, think about how they will connect science, technology, arts, and math.
Traditional assessments never tell the whole story and can mask what students actually know or can do. It is also common knowledge that not all kids respond to conventional summative assessments. Portfolios are a great way to measure the growth of time while also allowing creative freedom by demonstrating what has been learned.
When it comes to unlocking the potential of all kids, feedback is a true gem when it is timely, practical, specific, and addresses progress towards a learning goal. It can also be used to challenge kids to unleash their creativity or push them outside of their comfort zone. How students analyze, discuss and act on feedback is as essential as the quality of the feedback itself.
While the strategies above take some planning to integrate effectively, educators can also harness an array of resources to assist with unlocking the potential of learners. Check out this Pinterest board for an array of ideas and strategies. The sky is literally the limit while also saving precious time.
In the words of Joyce Meyer, "Potential is a priceless treasure, like gold. All of us have gold hidden within, but we have to dig to get it out." It's time to lend kids the tools to unearth theirs.