The summer holidays have well and truly ended as this week we’ve seen the children go back to school and for many of us we’re gone back to work. I started workshops again this week with three brilliant schools in Bradford, Redditch and Walsall. I was struck again by the amazing commitment from teachers and teaching staff to meet the needs of vulnerable children and I know as an adopter myself how valuable it is to have a good partnership with your child’s school. It is essential actually.
I have been pondering about some of the ways our mainstream education system seems to be set up in this country. I’m sure there are lots of good aspects to it but the ones I hear about the most are the elements that make learning difficult for vulnerable children – exam only assessments, test culture, sanctions based on shame, academically focused targets, narrow curriculum, reduced teaching assistants and concentration on weaknesses. Over the next few weeks I will blog on some of these issues and others that come to my attention.
Today I want to consider our preoccupation in education on children’s weaknesses whilst overlooking potential strengths. What do I mean by this? Well if you have a child who is good at sport or music but really struggles in maths we tend to get them to spend all their time on maths so that they can come up to the required standard. I understand why people do this – we do the same as adults in business. We feel that the perfect person is someone who’s good at everything but there isn’t such a person! We are all good at something – some more than others but ALL of us can excel I believe if we spend the time and energy to master a skill that we may be naturally gifted at.
In education though we seem to want to produce these clones who can all be good at Maths, English, Science etc. An example of this is my middle son – he is gifted in small ball sports such as tennis, cricket, golf. It was noticed in his primary school in about year 4 and then nothing was done to encourage that gift. Whenever sport opportunities came up they would be football, rounders or hockey – which he doesn’t like as he struggles with the team elements to those sports. So instead of finding ways to cultivate his gift in school it was just neglected. We of course have tried to facilitate this out of school which he really enjoys. Now he is in High School the same is happening – they do not notice his gift as the sports are focused towards the more traditional team sports. He also needs a lot of guidance and cajoling to take part in extra curricular activities, due to his insecurities around other children, especially those older than him.
How brilliant would it be if our schools were targeted on enabling a child to excel in something – anything – sport, drama, dance, woodwork, science, history, languages? We seem to be obsessed with making sure children all grow up the same – flat, bland and mediocre adults who shy away from being the best in one particular area. I’ve seen it in jobs and have experienced it myself now as a business owner – I have gifts and skills in certain areas and I don’t in other areas. In order to get the best from yourself, to be the happiest in your work, you need to do the things you love and are good at as much as possible. The other things you get someone else to do who has strengths in those areas. A book that really helped me in this area was ‘Now discover your strengths’ by Marcus Buckingham. In the book you’re encouraged to do an online profile that gives you your top five strengths. When you focus on these, on making sure you become the best you can in these areas, it means that you are no longer the bland jack of all trades but master of none.
So if you are an educator take a good look at the children you teach this week. What are their natural gifts? Where do they already excel? Instead of ignoring that area and focusing on the areas where they are weaker, why not encourage them to be the very best in that area of strength so that as they grow they have something they can be confident about, something that they can even do as a career, something that will definitely give them happiness and fulfilment.