At iCan Dream Center, staff members use a strengths-based approach when working with students, identifying and focusing on students’ individual strengths. This perspective has been found to build students’ self-esteem and confidence, which are integral to a successful learning process (Semegran, 2019).
Students with diverse learning needs may struggle with focus, social skills, or motivation, all of which the strengths-based approach aims to address. It is key to remind students with learning disabilities that their weaknesses do not define them.
Students tend to have one of two mindsets when it comes to learning — a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence is what you are born with, and no matter what effort is put in, there is no real change (Garwood, 2019). A student with a growth mindset will believe that, with effort and practice, the brain can grow over time (Garwood, 2019). Shifting students’ perspectives to a growth mindset is key for their own self-determination and self-defined success.
At iCan Dream Center, we teach students that, even after graduating from the center, the learning experience does not end. There are more teachers students will meet and lessons students will learn through their lives to help them shape who they wish to become.
We invite iCan Dream Center alumni to return to speak to students about what they learned at the center and what they are currently exploring in their careers or relationships. The alumni also serve as model leaders to inspire students currently attending the center to consider how they, too, can grow with time.
The strengths-based perspective is not about being overly positive, but it encourages students to return to a growth mindset even after times that may be difficult emotionally or physically. At the beginning of social work groups, we commonly use well-being checks. If a student is feeling down or experiencing some difficulty, we offer empathy and support. More importantly, these checks help students learn to recognize that their peers may need their support through those tough emotional times.
Empowering students by maximizing their strengths is what we do at iCan Dream Center. Our goal is to have students define themselves by their dreams rather than their disabilities. Finding and empowering their strengths reinforces a lifelong growth mindset.
Semegran, S. (2019, February 04). Learning Disabilities and Differences: Our Approach. Retrieved November 20, 2020
Justin D. Garwood, A. (n.d.). Inclusion of Students With Learning, Emotional, and Behavioral Disabilities Through Strength-Based Approaches – Justin D. Garwood, Abby A. Ampuja, 2019. Retrieved November 20, 2020