Aspirations and Contributions | Hooray for Monday

March 14, 2022

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 

As educators, it’s our job to find out what our students need, and strive to meet those needs. This critical aspect of supporting students’ social and emotional learning (SEL) has been the focus of my posts these past few weeks, as I’ve shared Inspired Teaching’s ABCDE of Learner Needs – a tool designed to help teachers address root causes of problems.

However, this doesn’t mean we think of our students only in terms of their needs. As I wrote this fall in an article about redefining learning lossif our starting point is the search for deficits, we are likely to limit ourselves, and therefore our students. If you look only for problems, you will find only problems.

This works in reverse too. If you switch the context and start by looking for assets, you will find assets. When thinking about who our students are, and who they have the potential to be as learners, it’s wise to start with their aspirations and contributions.

This is the central thesis of the work of Trabian Shorters, an activist, author, and social entrepreneur who is sparking a national movement to use asset framing when we think about how to help people. In a recent episode of On Being, Trabian describes asset framing as “defining people by their aspirations and contributions, before you get to their challenges…So whatever is going on in someone’s life, you don’t ignore it, but you don’t define them by the worst moment or the worst experience or the worst potential; none of that. You have to look past their faults, to see who they really are.

This is critically important for all children, but especially for Black children who, as Trabian points out, are far more likely than their white peers to be defined in school and in other parts of life by their deficits than by their assets.

In order to define a student by their “aspirations and contributions,” you have to find out what their aspirations and contributions are! This somewhat obvious realization has the power to transform the way we approach our jobs as educators.

And this mindshift can be powerful for our students as well. They can build their empathy for others, set and achieve their own goals, and make informed decisions when they become aware of their own aspirations and contributions. Building this awareness is a powerful way to support students’ socioemotional learning, as well as their academic learning.

Trabian recommends taking a “100-day challenge” and trying to adopt an asset framing perspective in all aspects of your life. That means intentionally thinking about all the people around you in terms of their aspirations and contributions before you consider their challenges. “Honestly, when you start practicing asset-framing, your life gets better. You feel better. You see more life, you see more light, in your day-to-day. You’re more forgiving of people who have faults and flaws.

The old adage is true: You find what you look for. I invite you to challenge yourself this week to look for the aspirations and contributions in your students and in yourself. You’re sure to find something beautiful.

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