When most people hear about a child that has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) the first thing that crosses their mind is, “I wonder what their deficits or needs are.” This is because too many IEPs are being written using the deficit model. The deficit model focuses on the student as the major problem, neither looking within the environment nor the instructional practices in the classroom. As Kral stated way back in 1992, “if we ask people to look for deficits, they will usually find them, and their view of the situation will be colored by this. If we ask people to look for successes, they will usually find it, and their view of the situation will be colored by this”. Only focusing on the child’s deficits could have the following effects, 1) the IEP will not work very well, and 2) it will cause self-esteem issues and behavior problems with the child.
This is not the way it’s supposed to be and if you look closely at the language in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) you will find a few places that discuss the child’s strengths. The first is in the language regarding development of the IEP where it states:
(A) In General. In developing each child’s IEP, the IEP Team, shall consider:
- the strengths of the child;
- the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child;
- the results of the initial evaluation or most recent evaluation of the child; and
- the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child.
The second place is in the language regarding Transition services where it defines these services to mean a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests.
If you notice, the very first thing listed in IDEA under development of the IEP is the strengths of the child. This is because the IEP will only work if you take into consideration the strengths of the child. I wholeheartedly believe that every child has strengths and that a child can and will be motivated by how teachers and parents respond to them. I have not met a child that didn’t demonstrate some strengths and it’s up to us as the adults to find them and foster them. The best definition of Strength-based education I have found was written by Edward Anderson a Professor at Azusa Pacific University where he stated:
“Strengths-based education involves a process of assessing, teaching, and designing experiential learning activities to help students identify their greatest talents, and to then develop and apply strengths based on those talents in the process of learning, intellectual development, and academic achievement to levels of personal excellence.”
Professor Anderson goes on to say, “Do not try to be someone else. Strive to be the person you really are fully and completely. This is your best avenue to achieving excellence.” In a lot of ways this is also similar to the Albert Einstein saying, ““Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
By creating an IEP that is strength based will give the child the roadmap they need to be successful later in life. It will also positively engage them in the IEP process and they will be more open to its implementation. This is because the student and the teacher can form a better connection when the child knows the teacher believes in them. So next time you attend an IEP meeting for any child make sure it’s based on their strengths and not just on their deficits.