Posted in Classroom, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 4: Looking At What IS There Instead of What ISN’T

On one of his first days in Pre-K, my son and his classmates were asked to write their names and draw self-portraits as a beginning of the year assessment. Among a display of names painstakingly written in bright marker across the top of the page, our son’s work boldly stood out:

Self portrait.JPG

His name actually isn’t Self Potrait, though my husband and I had a good chuckle when we saw this. Yet, a little voice in the back of my head also whispered worries. Why can’t he write his name? Why doesn’t he recognize that those words aren’t his name at all? What if he’s behind already?

But I caught myself. Months before, at the very beginning of my doctoral program, one of my professors overheard a classmate and I lamenting over the fact that we had both received StrengthsFinder results with absolutely no Relationship Building strengths. “You’re stuck on deficit thinking,” she warned us. “This isn’t a deficit model. You need to look at what strengths you do have and use those to become even better.”

Now here I was, months later, allowing deficit thinking to invade my thoughts about one of the most important people in my whole life. And it had to stop.

I looked again at his work. At the letters he wouldn’t have even attempted to form just six weeks before. At the face with eyes and a smile. At how he had so carefully copied each and every letter in order from the heading at the top of the page. At the promise his work held.

It is so easy to get stuck in the trap of deficit thinking. To look at our bank accounts and see how much money we don’t have. To check our watches and see how little time we’ve got to spare. To judge our spouses and think of how infrequently they empty the dishwasher or fold the laundry. To analyze a pile of student work and think about all the things they didn’t learn, all the work they haven’t done, and all the challenges they bring to the classroom.

But what if we stop thinking this way? What if we start, one day at a time, looking at what is there instead of what isn’t?

What might we be able to accomplish if we let our deficit thinking go?

I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday and daily during the month of March in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.




Teacher, mentor, reader, writer, mother, wife Lover of good books, chocolate chip cookies, and sunny days

15 thoughts on “#SOL17 Day 4: Looking At What IS There Instead of What ISN’T

  1. I laughed out loud when I saw he wrote “self portrait” — that’s so joyful! Thanks for sharing this tender story and helping us remember that our work of seeing the positive can be game-changing for kids (our students AND our own babies!).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I LOVE that he wrote “Self Portrait!” Priceless! I also love this focus – you’re so right, we are victims of our own deficit-model thinking. We often see what others can’t do versus what they can. Changing one’s mindset, one’s outlook, can change everything – it changes us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your post really struck home with me. I will carry your professor’s words and your thoughts forward and work hard to avoid that trap of deficit thinking. Thanks so much for a rich and powerful reflection.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such an important post! And exactly what I needed to read this morning. The idea of shifting our lens to lens of strengths and away from lens of deficit is so powerful. I preach this message all the time as a staff developer and trainer of writing teachers– and yet, you’ve pointed out that we can do this in all parts of our lives. Beautifully written. Thanks so much for this slice. What a great way to begin a day!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such an important post. I remember years ago, and older (and clearly wiser) kindergarten teacher told me that she goes into her classroom every single day and thinks, “My students are doing the best they can at this point in time.” That stuck with me. I try to look at kids (people, really) through the lens of what they can do. It’s not always easy, but I usually find it is worth the effort. Thank you for reminding me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This post caught my eye because I teach special education 3rd-5th grade and my job is to work on deficits. But I have noticed that it’s not a good thing to always just drill deficits. When I point out and work on strengths as well, then the confidence and growth spreads to all areas of their learning. Love this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is an awesome slice and such a perfect example by using your own son’s work. I laughed out loud at his “self-portrait”, but you’re so right – the letters he formed, and his happy face are amazing strengths. 🙂 What a bright little guy you have!

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  8. I found myself in deficit thinking mode on a regular basis as my daughter made her journey through high school. These words of wisdom apply to all the years you will be a parent.

    It reminds me of a short PD session early in my career. Our counselor encouraged us to talk in positive terms. For example, instead of “stop running” say “walk please” and state it as an expectation rather than a reprimand. At the time, I admit I rolled my eyes. But I tried it, and I liked the way it felt. Over a decade later, that 10 minute PD session has done more to shape who I am in my classroom than any other I have attended.

    Maybe deficit thinking is a habit is also a habit that can be overcome.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post and great reminder that we need to build on students’ (and our) strengths. Too often we get data back from students that focus on what they lack. We could really begin to shift the focus to what strengths they have that we can transfer to those areas where they need to grow. When I look at your son’s name (not know his name, so I could be wrong – maybe he has a long, difficult name), in the context of strengths-first, it’s looks like he took on a bigger challenge writing out the term “Self-Portrait” which has many letters and a hyphen and difficult words for a PreK student. So good for him!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a great post. Why do we always look at what’s missing or what’s “wrong” instead of noticing what IS there and what’s going well?!?! It’s something I wonder all the time, but then find myself focusing on what isn’t there, instead of building upon what is. Thanks for bringing this to light again and making me reflect. Also, your son’s self-portrait is amazing and his smile is so evident 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So much easier said that done! I agree that an asset model is much better than a deficit model- trying to focus on that at upcoming conferences. I love your son’s work and am sure there was growth the next time he did it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wise, wise post. It was such a switch in practice for me when I could look at all that was going well instead of what wasn’t. I try to always view my days in this way. Really enjoyed this piece a lot Sarah!

    Liked by 1 person

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