Jason Towne wrote a moving piece in Education Week about his project that helped school personnel and at risk students think differently about their potential. Jason was disturbed by a student who remarked “I guess I’m a loser. I’m no leader.” He was also dismayed that very few at risk students would participate in or even attend activities organized by the school to help them. Jason set about to change this cycle of negativity by organizing a series of discussions that emphasized each student’s ability to contribute something of worth to the school.
As he describes it, “So when we approached students to help us start a leadership movement, most were shocked. People just didn’t think about them like that.” More than 100 students were invited to participate in a new leadership committee where their suggestions and opinions for improving the school would be respected and taken seriously by teachers and administrators. The result was that students, “… were so intent on helping others that it never occurred to them how much they were now allowing us to help them as well.”
Jason emphasized that this was not be a token, one-shot deal, but instead a fundamental change in the way that students are perceived and approached via an ongoing series of leadership meetings.
Conventional views of at risk students would probably agree (albeit silently) with that one student’s self assessment, “I’m a loser,” because of his terrible attendance and unwillingness to participate in the very activities that the school was going out of its way to arrange for his benefit. But rather than hammering at his weaknesses, Jason organizes a strengths-based approach to re-engage these marginalized students. Much in the same way that we can teach reading by activating a student’s visual skills so, too, we can activate a student’s latent leadership abilities in the service of building a stronger relationship with him and the school.
How do we show students that we care for them?
Do we pepper them with constant criticism? Do reinforce their segregation into “losers” and “winners” with socially embarrassing help? I think not. We show our caring when we highlight their strengths and demonstrate our faith that they each have something of worth to contribute to the school/world.
This is what gives struggling students a deep sense of hope that their lives can have meaning and that it is worthwhile to participate in school activities. This is what the MI perspective brings to a great many at risk students (and others) who label themselves as “stupid,” “not college material” or even the dreaded “merely average.”
Thinking differently about common, age old problems is a valuable gift of the multiple intelligences perspective that is at the root of its successful implementation. Of course, thinking differently is only the beginning because then we need to implement these intentions with powerful tools. This is the reality of making a difference in students’ lives that I hear often from caring educators around the world as they put MI into their lessons and The MIDAS into daily practice.
Recasting At-Risk Students as Leaders By Jason Towne