How often are we told to improve our weaknesses? How often do we have test remediation for students in the hopes that they will do better in a certain subject area while not worrying about increasing or emphasizing the very subject or thing they are good at? This overemphasis on improving weakness while letting our strengths hang out potentially produces a whole lot of average people. And we know our students are anything but average.
In this month of April (which for all of my Pennsylvania teacher friends is the month of Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) let’s explore our own strengths and encourage our students do the same. They get a lot of opportunity to understand and work on what they are “Basic” and “Below Basic” on, so this month let’s celebrate their more “Proficient” and “Advanced” qualities…their strengths.
Focusing on activities that activate strengths puts people in a state of flow. When people are in flow they are in a zone; their brains are active and efficient. They enjoy what they are doing and it increases health and well-being. Although many of us know our strengths, we all may be guilty of feeling the pressure to spend too much of our time improving our weaknesses. Trying to master things we are not great at can be frustrating and cumbersome.
Of course, I’m not advocating only doing things that are easy and never trying anything new. However, by knowing strengths and accessing them regularly, you may find a new way of looking at tasks. They may seem more enjoyable and you may realize why you loving some things that you do, and start doing more of those things! When you do more of those things that activate strengths, you will increase your well-being. It’s one big happy strength cycle!
It seems that identifying a combination of tests coupled with self-report will give you the greatest insight. In my classroom, I have students take a combination of these things and they create a “Strength Record.” I keep a copy and they keep a copy. Throughout the semester, we make sure to come back to how they are using their strengths to find success. We also try to learn each other’s strengths so that we can encourage people to take responsibility for the activities that match their individual strengths.
Helping students uncover their strengths has truly been remarkable. They have stated that they have more direction and feel more empowered to embrace those tasks that match their strengths. Because all students share this strength language, they are often more proactive and confident to take on a task that accesses their strengths while confident and humble enough to encourage others to explore how to best use their strengths. It really seems to bring the classroom community together!
Here are a few ways to identify your strengths and help students identify theirs.
This is a FREE test that has an adult and child option. The premise is that everyone has a combination of 24 different character strengths (or things that they value). This test will help you uncover the ones that you rely on the most. By knowing this, you can work to incorporate those strengths into your daily life more deliberately. It’s often suggested to look at your top 5 character strengths as a way to get started.
The StrengthsFinder test was created by Gallup and costs a fee. You can also buy the book and you get a free test code with it. This test helps you to identify Talent Strengths which are usually things that aid in work performance and preference. These strengths help with understanding tasks that you excel at and may reveal the kinds of roles you might prefer in the workplace. These strengths may prove to be more revealing and helpful if you are looking for ways to bring some meaning to your job.
If you don’t want to pay for the test, you could print out a list of the Talent Strengths and go through highlighting the top 5 you connect with. Then investigate those Talent Strengths and find ways to purposefully activate those into your day. See if you notice a shift in your overall well being.
StrengthsExplorer is the student version of the StrengthsFinder. It also has a fee but many students may have access to if your school uses a program called Naviance for career counseling or college planning. It is similar to the StrengthsFinder but is more “kid friendly.” If your school doesn’t have access to the test, you could print out the categories and have students identify their top strengths. Have them learn the characteristics and try to propose ways to utilize these strengths in their everyday interactions.
Set a timer and have students write about (or draw) when they are at their best. I set this activity up as a free write and then have students analyze what they wrote and summarize encouraging them to really get to the heart of when they feel they are their best selves. We then propose ways to create opportunities for them to be at their best and encourage an increase in those activities.
So I encourage you to try focusing on your strengths a little more deliberately and finding people to help you with your weaknesses (instead of trying to do everything yourself all of the time). If it’s something you feel worthwhile, you may even want to introduce some of these strength finding activities to your students. It may be really eye opening to know this information and be able to encourage everyone in the class to take on responsibilities that correspond with strengths. It may result in a more harmonious, deliberate classroom….at the very least everyone will learn something about themselves!