I was officially introduced to Strengths-based Education a few years ago and it completely changed the way I look at education and coaching. I find it an extremely powerful concept that I now use every day.
It all started when I fortunately found myself involved with the Coillte Compass Club. Compass Club was an after school programme where children were able to learn and experience outdoor forest play and skills. In the development stage, the programme linked up with Godsil education and developed a complete Strengths- based focus. It just made so much sense to me.
In brief, although difficult to summarise in a few sentences! It was explained to me. As adults we all play to our strengths, we try to improve our weaknesses but we are drawn to our strengths in everything from cooking to careers and we enjoy it. Children do the same; but could we develop this more in their education? If a student is weak at one or two subjects they are normally encouraged to focus on these subjects. Strengths-based education encourages the students to focus on their strong subjects and improve these. More often than not, the skills that they develop for doing this automatically transfer to the weaker subjects and they improve. I believe that by highlighting a child’s strength or strengths and making them confident in these, it will have an overall effect in everything else that they do. In other words, doing what we do best leads to high levels of engagement and productivity.
I have now used Strengths-based education at different levels throughout my work and I still can’t believe the positive results. Obviously this got me thinking. Could we use this great concept while delivering Geography Field Studies to schools? How could we succeed in such a short time frame?
A Field Study session with Branch Out follows the following itinerary. As a large group the students listen and watch a short introduction and have an end of session debrief. In smaller groups, students take part in a classroom practical session and then complete the river study itself. Even in this short time we can see who doesn’t mind speaking out in front of the whole class, who likes the precise detail of collecting and calculating results, who encourages others, who lifts the energy or who loves to get straight in to the river to do the experiments.
We believe that all the students need to get involved and try everything but at the same we are looking to see who is strong in what area and what they like doing. Encouraging and letting students know of their natural strengths is part of our teaching model during the field study. We want participants to leave the day with a full set of results, methods and understanding of conclusions but we also want them to enjoy the session and come away with a sense of achievement and personal development.