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Asset Framing: Everything Teachers Need to Know

Guest blogger Genein Letford is an elementary music teacher from Canoga Park, California and a member of the DonorsChoose.org Board of Directors. 

I have come to realize that DonorsChoose.org is an open door to introduce my classroom to the nation. Being a DonorsChoose.org teacher, I have allowed many people (donors, businesses, and the plumber down the road) to both observe my students and partner with them on the amazing activities they’re doing. For many who support my kids through DonorsChoose.org, it’s the first time they’ve connected with an elementary classroom since they themselves were in school. So, the way I choose to introduce my students to these visitors is vital.
What is asset framing and how can I use it?
Asset framing is a simple yet critical concept introduced to the DonorsChoose.org board of directors by my fellow board member Trabian Shorters. He defines it as “recognizing that you should not define people by the characteristics that are least complimentary to them.” In other words, we should present our students in a positive, empowering light. This makes donors feel more connected to our unique classrooms. It also empowers all of us to define our students beyond the temporary labels we’re hoping to help them transcend. When we asset-frame, we present students by their assets first.
I love this.
I loved it so much I just had to interview Trabian and even wrote a post about it on my own blog. (Check it out to watch my interview with Trabian and read more details about asset-framing.) But I also wanted to share some quick tips on how you specifically — the DonorsChoose.org teacher — can present your students in the best light, while still effectively communicating your classroom and student needs.
Tip #1 – Identify the Assets of Your Students
In order to frame your students with their assets, you need to be able to identify those assets. Brainstorm the qualities that help your students thrive despite any challenges they may be facing. For instance, my students come to me so eager to learn and willing to work to become excellent musicians. They also all happen to receive free lunch and live in low-income households. Some come from single-parent homes, while others are homeless. But their family, income, and housing circumstances are not what define them. When I write about my students, I don’t lead with their circumstances. Though they deal with these negative factors, I always start my essay with my students’ strengths. If my students were to read my project essays, I hope they’d feel proud of the things I saw in them.
Tip #2 – Focus on the Power of the Proposal
When I first started doing DonorsChoose.org proposals, I would go on and on about how disadvantaged my students were. Then I realized the majority of teachers on DonorsChoose.org had the same story. My approach wasn’t presenting my students in the best light and I blended in. In order to stand out, I started focusing more on the power of the proposal. How are the supplies I requested going to help pull out and strengthen those assets of my students? The power of the proposal lies with my students benefiting from the experience of this opportunity. While I do mention the struggles my students were facing, the heart and weight of the proposal centers on the end goal of the student benefit.
Tip #3 – Turn Trials Into Triumphs
It’s an asset in-and-of-itself to be able to turn trials into triumphs and struggles into successes. People want to help your classroom and play a part in those experiences. Being clear on how the donations are assisting in student success is imperative. Some proposals have the ability to change the trajectory of some of our most vulnerable students. In my case, some instruments that were gifted to my students have ignited such a passion for music, those students have gone onto pursue music as a career and a calling. The donors that partnered with me to provide them these opportunities are now a part of their story. I express that opportunity for them to join me when I write proposals.
DonorsChoose.org Project Examples
Of course, many DonorsChoose.org teachers are already writing incredible projects using asset-framing. Here are three of my favorites. These are great for inspiration when creating your own project:
Bringing It All Together
Teachers are in a very powerful position in terms of how the nation views our students. Yes, many students have faced hardships, but it is our job to make sure we are introducing our students with their assets instead of defining them solely by their most difficult experiences. The frames we place around them can help build their identity, who they become. We get to create these frames. Let’s frame them with success, validation, and hope. As we place pictures of potential inside these frames, our donors are right there to partner with us in helping our students succeed!
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