Infinitely Exceptional: A Strength-Based Approach

Posted on Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

This article appears in the Winter 2019 issue of Gaynor Gazette.

By Michelle Fox, Director of Intermediate Division

in·fi·nite·ly ex·cep·tion·al

/ˈinfənətlē/  /ˌikˈsepSH(ə)n(ə)l/


(of a child) who exhibits talents and strengths in certain areas, coupled with learning challenges in other areas

What does it mean for students to be infinitely exceptional? How do we, as Gaynor educators, employ a strength-based approach in order to best teach our students, who demonstrate exceptionally unique and beautiful learning differences?

In answering these questions, teachers, specialists, therapists, and administrators stand on the shoulders of our mission, providing a “highly individualized educational program in a rich, rigorous and nurturing environment in which students gain the skills and confidence necessary to learn, grow and reach their full potential.” This is my sixth year at Stephen Gaynor School. Through my work here as a Head Teacher and now, in the role of Director of Intermediate Division, I have witnessed the remarkable work that takes place in our classrooms; the incredible act of students unwrapping their gifts by illuminating their strengths and challenges.

Our students have nuanced journeys of educational success and failure, which has been acknowledged as a true model for resilience. Capitalizing on a student’s strengths is a lens worn by teachers, specialists and therapists as we use student strengths as a catalyst to accelerate their acquisition of concepts. The world of letters, sounds, words, numbers and new concepts can be deeply perplexing to students, for whom foundational skills are not solidified. However, a child who is educated that he or she is talented may just believe their talents are all that is needed to do extraordinary things.

In Mr. Stackhouse’s literature class, you won’t find students simply reading their assignments aloud, you will see actors and actresses performing a scene from the book, Tuck Everlasting. In the art room with Ms. Rachlin, students bring their history classes to life by skillfully crafting and sewing costumes of Ancient Greek gods and goddesses.You may even witness filmmakers writing a script and creating a video called “The Magic E Wizard” inspired by learning the magic e-syllable type in reading class. Coupling bursts of creativity and positivity with recognition for effort gives children the hope for growth, in addition to the tools to attain it.

Our students are infinitely exceptional; their gifts and talents must be nourished and honored alongside working to remediate difficulties. For us, as Gaynor teachers, specialists, therapists, and directors, this is not just work. There is inventiveness and delight in abundance, as well. The hallmark of our school is the emphasis on individualization. We strive to build relationships with each individual student, inviting them to reflect on how they might formulate new strategies or retrieve previously learned resources to aid them in the journey of revealing their strengths. Gaynor students are infinitely exceptional.