Strengths-based Mentoring Transformed my Teaching Experience

Strengths-based mentoring changed the way I teach. Now I look only for the good, knowing that the weaknesses will diminish as the strengths grow.

Over recent years I have been struck by the feeling that our young people are falling through the cracks. Without even realizing why until now, I felt disturbed and protective when listening to adults complain about kids being unfocused and withdrawn.

At the same time, I have noticed a growing social awareness around the environment, politics, agriculture, and so on, and observed so many kind-hearted, open-minded people putting together and running organizations to benefit the greater good. I have often wondered why, then, with all of these new developments and community awakenings, are our youth slipping through the cracks?

Too many of our children are being left behind. While holding these questions in my heart, I have come across public and private school teachers, social aid workers, and mentors, who have added another component to my confusion because the one trait that seems common in these fields of work is that everyone seems very tired. Even extraordinarily compassionate mentors who mention recent breakthroughs and accomplishments and seem to be bordering sainthood, suggest that the work is so taxing that they don’t know how long they will be able to sustain it.

As I began my teaching career I quickly saw that I was at risk of becoming just as burned out as so many others, and began to wonder if this wasn’t at least one of the reasons there was so little progress being made in education.

It wasn’t until I started learning Bill Rossi’s Strengths-Based Mentoring Approach that I began to find a way out of my disillusionment, and a solid way into connecting with, reaching, and truly teaching my students.

When I started working with Rossi’s approach, I realized I have sometimes felt like I didn’t even have the child’s attention. I teach dance during and after school, and if a student wasn’t dancing right away, I would perceive a lack of interest and react by shifting into autopilot and losing momentum. It was disheartening, for sure.

Bill Rossi helped me recognize that a young person has many levels of engagement. I learned, through working with his approach, that many more students were with me in their attention than I realized. I learned in simple ways how to recognize that a student was interested … eye contact was a big one! So, maybe a student wasn’t ready to dance right away, but that student was not missing a beat – with their eyes – of what was going on. They were taking it all in until they got their footing, so to speak. As I loosened up, I realized that they were ready to join in small ways – clapping of hands, shaking a shaker, playing a drum – and then they would join the dance, already having the feeling of being part of a group.

Bill’s strengths-based approach has really helped me to see the different ways in which students learn. You may already know this to be true for the way you learn; you may need to understand a process mentally before diving in … you may need to walk through the experience physically before understanding it mentally … you may need to see the bigger picture first, and so on. As I continue to work through this approach, I am inspired by how students will show me (or in some cases, even tell me) how they learn most effectively.

As I observe, listen, and creatively honor their different learning styles, I am finding the learning process to be student motivated (not something forced) and I am slipping into the role of facilitator. Without some of the power struggles that come from trying to fit students into a mold they may never fit into, their personalities (and mine) are coming alive, and we are covering more material than I thought possible!

Read Venturing Together: Empowering Students to Succeed for more.

Dawn Smelser, Director, MotherHeartStudio

mother heart sangha yoga strengths-based mentoring

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