Not too long ago, I reached a milestone year in my house. My oldest was headed off to high school and my twins were heading to middle school. Overall, all three were happy to start their new adventures, but they did have some trepidation about changing classes, keeping up with the heavier workload and the many little changes they’d face throughout their day. As I helped them prepare, I was reminding them of their strengths as people and as learners and was encouraging them to do the same: my daughter’s organization (I know where she got that from!), my older son’s independence and my youngest’s ease at making new friends in any situation.

When we focus on our strengths, we are reminded of what we can do, even when faced with challenging or nerve-wracking situations. Taking the lessons I learned at home, I decided to try something with the teachers I work with to help them focus on their strengths as well as they started a new teaching assignment. It’s called What I Bring.

The first time I tried this, I met a new group of teachers that I would work with as part of my graduate course on literacy intervention. We spent the first night getting to know each other, learning about the course expectations and thinking forward as to what the semester might entail. As the class came to a close, I handed each teacher a sticky note and asked her to write down the strengths she brought to our budding learning community. We spent a moment quietly thinking and writing and then shared our strengths with others, launching a wonderful conversation.

This simple activity not only helps us acknowledge our own strengths, it also strengthens our learning community where we all bring unique habits, dispositions and strengths to learn from. Later, when we were in the heart of the semester amid deadlines and multiple responsibilities, I pulled these sticky notes out and shared them with teachers as a reminder of their own beliefs in themselves, something I then hoped they would do for their own students. Often.

As you start a new year, a new coaching cycle or a new initiative as an instructional coach, take a minute to celebrate your own strengths and what you bring to your professional learning community. Write them down and post them somewhere you will see them daily. Then, have your teachers do the same. Ask teachers to visibly record their personal strengths and share them, if they are comfortable doing so.

Collect these tangible reminders and save them for later in the school year when things are hectic or challenging or teachers simply need a pick-me-up. Or, if your coaching becomes challenging, you might sift through them to remind yourself of the positive qualities each of your teachers brings to your learning community and ensure you are drawing on them.

Celebrate the strengths of every teacher you work with as a model for how they might lift their students up as well. These small acts tangibly change the energy in the community and fuel teaching and learning.

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