Podcast for Teachers: Identifying and Supporting Students’ Sparks - Steve Barkley

Podcast for Teachers: Identifying and Supporting Students’ Sparks

Identifying and Supporting Students’ Sparks

Sparks are skills, talents, or interests that one finds deeply motivating. Students who get joy and energy from using their sparks and learn valuable life skills from their sparks are more likely to do well in school, be more engaged, and be more hopeful about the future. Identify a process that you can use to engage your students in sharing and building upon their sparks.

Read the article, “Finding the Student Spark: Missed Opportunities in School Engagement” here.
Read the article, “Anchor Activity: Identifying Sparks” here.
Watch Peter Benson’s Ted Talk here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!


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Steve [Intro]: 00:32 Hello and welcome to the Teacher edition of Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding and my curiosity is peaked whenever I explore with teachers, the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate and support their learners. Thanks for listening. I’m delighted that you’re here.

Steve: 01:08 Identifying and supporting students’ sparks. Sometime back, I was introduced to the value of identifying students sparks while exploring Search Institute’s work with developmental relationships. At that time, I found what was called the Four S’s interview, and it described a process to find students’ sparks strengths, struggles and supports in order to work on building relationships that are developmental. In this podcast, I’m sharing a deeper look at sparks and I’d like to encourage listeners to examine a document I found that provides guidance to carry out a sparks exploration with your students. You’ll find all the links to the documents I’m referencing in the podcast lead-In. I hope you’ll decide to take a look and consider conducting such an activity with your students. What are sparks? Here’s a quote from Search Institute: “Sparks are skills, talents, or interests that a young person finds deeply motivating. They are hidden flames in students that light their proverbial fire, get them excited and tap into their true passions.

Steve: 02:38 When sparks are known and acted on, young people come to life-changing insights. ‘My life has purpose.’ Young people who have sparks in their lives, who have adults who support those sparks, who get joy and energy from using their sparks and who learn valuable life skills from their sparks are significantly more likely to do well in school, be more engaged, and be more hopeful about their future.” Wow, pretty powerful outcomes and I hope you’ll decide worth a look. Listen to Peter Benson from Search Institute and the author of a book titled “Sparks: How Parents Can Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers.”

Peter: 03:37 I’ve been working in this space now for about 10 years. My team of scientists and I at Search Institute have been creating a science of human thriving with a particular eye to children and teenagers. Thriving begins with the idea of the human spark. It’s the metaphor I use to define that animating engine, that thing about a young person that gives them joy and energy, the reason why some will seek to actually get up in the morning and get moving, something that gives their life hope and direction and purpose. Spark, by the way, is very akin to the idea of spirit. Spirit is from the Latin spiritists, and you know what that means? My breath. My breath put into the world with vigor and courage. My breath. It’s the ultimate question to ask each other and particularly to ask our young, what is your breath? What is your spark?

Steve: 04:51 Here’s the evidence from Search Institute concerning the power of sparks. This comes from studies that they’ve done with over 13,000 students in grades 5 012. Three themes emerged. One – helping young people identify their sparks and providing them opportunities to pursue and develop those sparks are important additions to the more academic steps that schools take to promote student success. Theme two – sparks promote healthy positive development and contribute to psychological wellbeing and resilience. Students with sparks engage in fewer risk taking behaviors such as substance use or violence or unsafe sexual behaviors than other students. They’re less depressed, less worried, and more satisfied with their lives overall. And theme three – young people who have deep interest and are supported by family, friends, school, and community in the development of those passions have more interpersonal communication and friend-making skills. They are more empathetic and they understand the feelings of others and are better able to work in teams.

Steve: 06:25 The identifying sparks activity that I found and linked in the lead-in for you starts by asking students to think about some questions in order to reflect on their sparks. Here are just a few of the example questions provided. If you woke up one morning and were told you could do one activity for as long as you wanted all day, what activity would it be? When in your life do you feel happiest? What are you doing at those times? Are there times when you lose track of time because you are so absorbed in an activity? What are you doing then? Students are then asked to jot down some notes about the thoughts they had during that reflection and they’re also asked to complete a Sparks questionnaire and you can download that questionnaire from that link I provided. Here are a few questions that are on that Sparks questionnaire.

Steve: 07:44 How do you feel when you are involved with your sparks? Do you do anything to get better at your sparks? If so, what do you do? Is there something that most people don’t know about your sparks? Throughout this process, you want to be reinforcing for students that your desire is to get to know your students better. That’s the purpose of the questionnaire. The guidelines for the activity include several ways that you can debrief and share sparks information among students. There’s also some recommendations for expanding the value of tapping into their sparks. Here’s a few: Check in on student sparks from time to time. It reinforces that you care about things that are important to them. Pay attention to students world and interest. When you show interest in the things that matter to students, you show them that you care about their choices and their activities.

Steve: 08:54 Notice when students achieve a significant milestone or recognition connected to their sparks. Celebrating these milestones reinforces the value of cultivating sparks. Give students opportunities to bring their sparks into what they’re learning and doing in your class. Expose students to people whose sparks are connected to the subject matter of your class. Bring to life key people in your field by showing how their sparks and passions drove them to keep going – even in the face of difficulties and setbacks or resistance from others. And lastly, keep nurturing your own sparks and talking about them with your students. Show how sparks continue to be energizing while highlighting that sparks can shift throughout life. Let me close out with some final thoughts from Peter Benson.

Peter: 09:57 There’s a bunch of things I do now to change and transform how we do business in America. I would make knowing kids sparks at the very center of school life. In fact, I’d put it right at the front. I don’t know how you can engage and connect and bond kids to the institution called school without knowing their spark. I would teach families the process of the spark dialogue and how to name, affirm and be champion. I’d make the first parent teacher conference of the year to be about the spark of a kid. Let’s talk that through and we’ll get to the rest of the stuff. I would do a census in cities about sparks and put it out into the ether of community, and then I would map our afterschool programs against sparks and begin to realign opportunity with the expression of spark. My friends, this is really important stuff in the annals of development.

Steve: 11:07 If you’re already working with students identification of sparks or you try out the activity identified here from Search Institute, I’d love to hear your experiences. Perhaps you could join me on an upcoming podcast. As always, you can reach me at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.

Steve [Outro]: 11:32 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @SteveBarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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