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The strength-based growth concept originated with social work. It focuses on using an individual’s self-determination and character strengths to support them in accomplishing change or growth. When used with teachers, the approach builds on the teacher’s character strengths to support their instructional skills. It promotes a view of the individual as resourceful and resilient.

As you know, routine NEE evaluation practices involve the evaluator in assessing a teacher’s work on the 3-5 NEE indicators selected for focus by their school. Unfortunately, evaluation and feedback efforts generally center on correcting a teacher’s deficit skills. Although that practice may seem sensible, research shows that over time teachers can become discouraged and disengaged when they only discuss their deficits. Recent national surveys of teachers have shown that many teachers feel dissatisfied in the profession. Using a strength-based approach can improve this situation.

When using character strengths to support instructional effectiveness, the administrator and teacher start from a viewpoint of strength and success by taking the teacher’s character strengths into consideration during classroom observations and feedback conversations. The incorporation of character strengths into the evaluation process does not replace any other systems or processes. It simply provides a more positive way of addressing needed growth. The evaluator conducts classroom observations in the normal way. Professional development plans, units of instruction, and student surveys are all processed as usual.

The difference comes in the feedback conference. Teachers are guided to reflect on their instructional practices as assessed through the NEE indicators and consider how their character strengths might be used to increase their effectiveness. For example, a teacher who possesses the strength of creativity might consider how they could use that strength to support their focus indicators of NEE 1.2 (cognitive engagement), NEE 5.1 (motivation and affective engagement), and NEE 7.4 (formative assessment). All teachers should be able to make some connections between their strengths and instructional practice, although certain strengths will fit some indicators better than others.

Research collected by the VIA Institute on Character shows that using a strength-based approach can lower stress levels and increase workplace engagement. The reported benefits of using a strength-based approach include:

  • Employees experience improved productivity, an enhanced sense of well-being, and increased engagement.
  • Helping teachers name, claim, and use their character strengths in their teaching can lead to greater job satisfaction and engagement.
  • Teachers who say they use their character strengths in their work are more likely to view teaching as a “calling.”

In addition to incorporating teachers’ character strengths into classroom observations and feedback conversations, educational leaders can engage in spontaneous strengths-spotting to build a school culture of seeing value in every individual’s strengths. The following suggestions for spontaneous strengths-spotting in the school are based on a chart from the VIA Institute on Character.

  1. Spot strengths in front of others! As strengths pop up, point them out.
  2. Take someone aside to recognize and appreciate their strengths use.
  3. Weave strengths-spotting into formal feedback meetings.
  4. Evaluate and connect your school’s mission with the strengths you see in your teachers.
  5. Use 1-2 sentences of an email to show appreciation for the individual’s unique strengths.
  6. Observe others’ communications and comment on specific character strengths at play.
  7. Use the audio-only nature of phone calls to practice strengths-spotting and build confidence for face-to-face situations.
  8. Give your boss or teachers the VIA Classification and ask them to check off 5 strengths they have observed most in you. Invite them to share 1 concrete example for each strength they have checked.
  9. Reflect on the highest character strengths of others to prepare yourself for strengths-spotting when the time comes.
  10. Consider the 3-5 signature strengths for each person you work with, then post these top strengths next to your computer or on the inside of a folder so that they’re top-of-mind.

Using a strength-based approach with teachers shows that the administrator values the teacher’s capacity, skills, knowledge, connections, and potential. The deliberate application of a teacher’s character strengths fosters the development and integration of new instructional behaviors. Character strengths are just one more piece of the instructional effectiveness puzzle. Assembling all the pieces gives you the full picture. When teachers use their character strengths in support of their instructional skills, they can become more effective as a teacher. The positivity of this method can be beneficial for many teachers and may be just the change they need right now.

You can learn more about incorporating a strength-based element in teacher evaluation through NEE’s on-demand training session Character Strengths, Feedback, and Growth (currently available to be started on July 1 and August 1), and the EdHub PD Quick Activity #14 Identifying Your Character Strengths.

Cathie Loesing is a former elementary teacher, school librarian and instructional coach with Missouri public schools. She creates professional development materials for the EdHub Library and provides user support for customers of both EdHub and NEE.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.