The Ability to Recognize Ability

As teachers the greatest contribution we can make into the lives of our students in many cases, is recognizing their own unique ability. In a world dominated by societal pressures about what worthy ‘ability’ looks like we need to help students decipher their own abilities.

This came to startling view when we asked a group of 8th Graders to identify their perceived strengths and weaknesses. The answers consistently came back to their own athletic ability. They would list strengths such as: great ball handler, fast on the field, or stronger from lifting.

As a lover of sports and a former basketball coach I appreciate the value of sports, this allowed us to meet our students where they were at. What they had listed were surface layer ability and strengths. We wanted to push them deeper…

What allowed you to be a great ball handler? Did you suddenly wake up at five years old and decide you were going to be miraculously able in basketball? They got to this level of performance not due solely to natural ability. There are these hidden abilities and strengths; discipline, growth mindset, and passion. These are abilities and strengths that will, when instilled, not only show up on the court, but in the classroom and hopefully in their personal lives.

Yet, are we equipping students with that understanding? Are we providing them with the language to help them draw those connections? If we silo these areas of life we will not see transferability of the good qualities learned through sports.

The first task in helping students recognize their own ability and help them navigate those waters for themselves is to see the greatness of ability in each of our students. By recognizing the deep and foundational ability of students we can help open their own hearts to their special gifting.

Now the questions we must ponder are:

1. Can we help pre-service teachers learn to recognize the deeper ability of their students?
2. How do we equip young teachers with the capacity to have deeper ability and strength-based conversations?
3. How do we strengthen our own ability to have those levels of conversation with students?
4. Finally, how do schools help facilitate the time and space for such conversations?                 

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