Noticing strengths and focusing on what’s positive makes a difference

In Finland, the upcoming trend in recent years has been acknowledging the strengths of the pupils; focusing on the positive. Earlier there were different tests that were based on missing skills instead of finding the strengths of pupils.

There are still some test run on pupils at different ages. All children are tested on their reading, writing and math skills when they start school at the age of seven. The main idea of the testing is to find possible learning difficulties at an early age. This way the supportive measures can be applied at the very beginning of the school career when they learn to read and write. During the nine years of comprehensive school, pupils are tested often and especially if they have learning difficulties.

If we only look at the need of support based on disabilities, we often forget the strengths. Pupils have a lot of different strengths and it is equally important to notice the strengths while teaching the pupils. Cognitive strengths can be seen in different school subjects. But there are also other kinds of strengths. And even the pupils with massive learning difficulties have many strengths. Therefore, the strengths should be tested and discovered as well.

The biggest change in Finland has been in pedagogics based on strengths which has its origins in positive psychology. An international character strength survey (VIA-test) has been translated into Finnish at the department of special education in Helsinki University and is now being taught in teacher training. This test is available on internet in many languages. It is also wise to familiarise with the background theory and realise why strength pedagogy is worth a try.

Noticing the strengths and voicing them is important to all of us – the children as well as the adults. Our strengths can be seen in all different areas of life including home, day care, school, hobbies and workplace. It is important to know your own strengths because after you know them, you can start seeing strengths in others. We can acknowledge that everyone is different in a good way!

When children and youngsters are taught about strengths, they are likely to see, benefit and refine them later in life for example in their working careers. Finding strengths in pupils, has been proven to have positive effects. Pupils can feel that they are good at something despite their disabilities. This way we can improve their self-confidence and self-concept and help them survive through hard parts of life as well.

Dr. Erja Sandberg

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