Strengths-Based Home Learning: Parents and Teachers Working Together

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A strengths-based approach to parent-teacher collaboration has the power to transform how our children learn during the COVID-19 crisis.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of teachers and families worldwide are navigating a new normal, in which learning takes place exclusively outside of the classroom. In this context, there is growing acknowledgement that our new educational paradigm is not homeschooling – its “crisis schooling[1].”

While crisis schooling is not an easy road, parents and teachers can work together to support students with a strengths-based approach to home learning. When parents and teachers collaborate in this way, they become co-producers of support . This dynamic is empowering as it promotes healthy interdependence and resilience.

A strengths-based approach[2] recognizes and builds on our inherent capacity, skills, knowledge, and connections.  

Parents and teachers can bring a strengths-based approach to home learning by working together to[3]:

1) Set goals: Share this CBC Kids video with primary students to get them thinking about their goals, and this Khan Academy video with high-school students to help them set SMART goals.

2) Identify strengths: Try making a strengths-chain with primary students, or guiding high-school students through the Know Your Strengths Lesson Plan developed by We for She NextGen Leaders Program. 

3) Connect with resources: Keep Learning BC offers free, easy-to-use resources for parents to support home-learning during the COVID-19 crisis. An index of educational support resources for parents and teachers can be found beginning on page 17 of the BC Ministry of Education's COVID-19 Planning Framework.

4) Nurture hope: Hope is grounded in strong, consistent relationships. Read 7 Ways to Maintain Relationships During Your School's Closure for ideas on how to feel connected while staying apart. Check out how Metro Vancouver teachers are using humour and kindness to connect with their students digitally. 

5) Offer meaningful choice:  Provide students of all ages choice in how they demonstrate their learning, such as through an e-portfolio. Focus on the five W's of voice and choice to boost student engagement and empower students to become self-directed learners.

A strengths-based approach to home learning can support young people's well-being in these challenging times by helping them:

• Feel Secure & Calm by working towards a future beyond COVID-19 that comforts or inspires them

• Stay Alert & Engaged through developing hope[4], which is linked to enhanced coping in the face of uncertainty

Solve Problems Peacefully by boosting their sense of empowerment and purpose, despite loss of some personal freedoms due to social-distancing

Get Along with Others through working positively and constructively with their parent-teacher support team

Building and sustaining a strengths-based approach to learning is a process, not a one-time fix. It requires ongoing effective communication, a commitment to social-emotional learning and Heart-Mind well-being, and openness to educational innovation[5].  As we guide our children through crisis, feeling Compassionate & Kind towards ourselves and others will endow us with the patience and perseverance to use our strengths to their fullest, stay hopeful, and strengthen our hearts and minds as we work together towards our goals.

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These barriers may include differential expectations with regards to work-load, access to resources, parental involvement, and teacher support; diminished or disrupted communication pathways; toxic levels of stress and overwhelm; feelings of inadequacy; and lack of consistency as new routines are established through trial and error. 

No two families entered the pandemic with the same resources or responsibilities, and there is good reason to believe that the social, economic, and psychological dynamics of the pandemic have reinforced inequities in both.

When parents and teachers work together to support their children with a strengths-based approach to learning, they become “co-producers” of support . This dynamic is empowering as it promotes healthy interdependence and resilience.

Parents and teachers need to be on the same page when it comes to learning goals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Is the goal to mirror the in-class curriculum as closely as possible? Maintain math and reading skills? Take a deep dive into a subject your child is passionate about?

While teachers may not have the flexibility to alter their online content to families’ unique objectives, a brief phone conversation or email exchange can clarify expectations and highlight how parents can support, adapt, or extend their children’s learning.

Young people of all ages can, and should, be invited into the goal-setting process at an developmentally-appropriate level, as self-determination is a central and crucial element of the strengths-based approach. 

According to Talya Wiseman, Educational Program Manager at the Ethics Centre, crisis schooling differs from homeschooling in multiple ways, among them that:

  • It is mandatory, not a personal choice
  • It has been thrust upon families and educators with very little time to prepare or assemble resources
  • It is taking place in isolation from established social support networks upon which many homeschooling families rely
  • Parents are standing in as “surrogate teachers,” rather than having the autonomy to lead and teach according to their own personal philosophy
  • In many cases, it creates sudden and unexpected tension between children’s education and parents’ employment

We all possess internal resources that we can recruit in times of challenge and channel towards our goals. Parents, teachers, and students can all benefit from identifying what strengths they bring to the crisis schooling context.

What skills, abilities, and characteristics do you possess that can support learning at this time? For teachers, strengths may include organizational skills, tech savvy, compassion for students and families, adaptability, and determination. Students may recognize curiosity, passion, motivation, and a growth mindset as strengths, among many others. Parents may recognize love for their children, mindfulness, self-compassion, time-management skills, and more as strengths they can draw on to support their children’s learning during crisis. 

Talk with your child about what helps them feel Alert & Engaged, find the courage to try new and challenging things, and stick with it when they don't succeed right away. Write down these strengths and post them somewhere your child can see while they are learning, and share them with your child's teacher.

Teachers can guide students through a fun strength-finding activity, such as making a strengths chain with younger students, or lead older students through the Know Your Strengths Lesson Plan created by the We for She NextGen Leaders Program. 

These topics will each be pragmatically discussed in upcoming Heart-Mind Online resources – stay tuned, or subscribe to our newsletter to receive them in your inbox. 

Resources can be people, groups, institutions, technologies, educational materials, and other assets that are present in the environment or otherwise available to support learning.

Teachers and parents play an important role in identifying relevant resources, sharing information about these resources with one another, and connecting students to those that support their learning goals. 

In this strange time of social-distancing, relationships are the bedrock of hope for teachers and families alike.

Find simple, consistent ways to maintain student-teacher, parent-teacher, and student-student relationships.

Feeling connected while staying apart can create optimism about the future, and remind us that we are all working towards being able to pick up on our digitally sustained relationships in person. 

Even though our children’s day-to-day worlds have shrunk, their sense of agency doesn’t have to. As we have all been temporarily stripped of many of the choices we previously took for granted (such as travel, recreation, and socializing), providing students more flexibility in their learning can go a long way to alleviate feelings of disempowerment.

While offering choice may feel like it will only increase the complexity of crisis schooling, it is worth the extra effort. Hope, motivation, and focus diminish when children feel that their education is being forced upon them, rather than something that they are active participants in.

Offer strategic opportunities for personally meaningful choices at an age-appropriate level: allow students to choose the order of subjects they study in the day, and alternate activities as desired; let them choose the topic of their writing assignment or the novel they will read for their book report; and provide options for self-directed learning when feasible and desirable.

Parents, teachers, and students can also collaboratively brainstorm what choices are most meaningful and practical at this time. 

Hopps, Pinderhughes, and Shankar (1995) discuss how a strenghts-based approach is linked to the development of hope in the book "The Power to Care: Clinical Practice Effectiveness with Overwhelmed Clients".

Early and GlenMaye (2000) describe both problem-focused and growth-focused approaches to social work, and propose that a strengths-based approach focuses on growth, function, and healing; values families; and builds resilience. 

Park and Peterson (2006) sought to validate the Values In Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth. They found that the inventory can be interpreted according to four categories: temperance strengths (e.g., prudence, self-regulation), intellectual strengths (e.g., love of learning, curiosity), theological strengths (e.g., hope, religiousness, love), and other-directed (interpersonal) strengths (e.g., kindness, modesty). 

Arnold et al. (2007) studied the implementation of strength-based case management in a sample of 11 adolescent runaways in the United States. Among other findings, they found that focusing on the positive aspects of education can be empowering for young people through the strengths-based model, and that educators can play an important role as "conduits for empowerment."

Lounsbury et al. (2009) investigated 24 different character strengths (from the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth) in relation to grade point average and student satisfaction in a sample of 237 undergraduate university students. They found that all of the strengths were positively and significantly linked to life satisfaction, 22 of them were linked to satisfaction with the university experience, and 16 of them were linked to grade point average. 

Australian researchers found that a strengths-based coaching programme increased feelings of engagement and hope, leading to enhanced well-being, in a sample of 38 ten and eleven-year old primary students. 

In education, a strengths-based approach is grounded in school-family partnerships that create strengths-enhancing environments, promote positive relationships, foster academic success, and empower students with a sense of purpose. 

These suggestions are inspired by the six standards for strengths-based social work developed by Rapp, Saleebey and Sullivan (2008).

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.