26 April 2012

{teach} Strengths-Based

So -- show of hands -- who's heard of the concept of living a strengths-based life?

Basically -- you discover what your strengths are, what you're already good at, and then you focus on those strengths, building them up. Making them stronger.

For decades, culture has focused on weaknesses, in therapy, in schools, in careers. If you're getting poor grades in math, but straight A's in English, your parents and teachers will focus on math, right? Remedial tutoring, homework, you name it. Whatever can be done to eradicate that weakness. We focus on weaknesses in marriage. We focus on our own personal weaknesses -- for example, if I'm not good at hospitality or baking bread, I better work at it until I improve.

But -- will all this focus on our deficits and weak points really lead us toward success? Arguably, there is a point when weaknesses become distracting and throw up road blocks in our journey. But if the road is clear and weaknesses are minor, shouldn't we start to focus on the things we excel at in order to become our best selves?

We can't be good at everything. Let's identify what we do best and live in those places as often as possible!

Focusing on Strengths as a Woman
"The key to success is clearly identifying your strengths and weaknesses and deciding to develop your strengths rather than getting frustrated and wasting energy trying to improve your weaknesses. You will become more effective and experience more career success and advancement. Promotions are given to those who have clearly identified and demonstrated their strengths, who have identified their passion and know how they can and will add value." from an article in Positively Magazine entitled Focus on Your Strengths Let go of Your Weaknesses
Marcus Buckingham shares, in this video, stories of women in differing stages of life, all searching for fulfillment. He talks about his book, Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently, and encourages all women to discover what makes them feel strong and try to bring those things onto center stage of their lives. I heard Marcus at Women of Faith 2010 and he's the one who started the wheels turning in my head -- wheels about living intentionally and reaching my goals. If you have a few minutes, enjoy this video:



I love Holley Gerth's article about this. She calls it the "sweet spot". It's not about avoiding all hard things, she says, "it just mean[s] that [we] spend as much time as possible doing what [we] do best."

We have unique strengths and skills. God made us that way! We need to find our place in the body of Christ and invest time in developing the talents he has given us. No use bemoaning what we aren't or minimizing our strengths in the name of modesty. 

Focusing on Strengths as a Teacher
With homeschooling on my horizon and beyond that, realizing that every parent is their child's first and best teacher, I've been pondering the idea of strengths-based education and how I can best raise confident, exceptional kids. 

Interest-led learning fits right in here -- helping your child discover their interests {and thereby, their strengths} and spending most of the learning time here. We don't ignore weaknesses, we learn to manage them.

Because rather than trying to produce graduates who know everything about everything, we want to produce almost-adults who know what they're good at, who know which direction to head in life.
"The strengths philosophy explores ways to empower individuals to flourish rather than simply survive (Liesveld & Miller, 2005) and presupposes that capitalizing on one’s best qualities is likely to lead to greater success than would be possible by making a comparable investment of effort into overcoming personal weaknesses or deficiencies." taken from The Principles of Strengths-Based Education by Shane Lopez and Michelle Louis {the whole article is fabulous}
The message is easy -- students who spend time doing what they do best will be engaged. They will be productive. They will be successful.

A school in New Zealand following this model of strengths-based education agrees: 
"In our hurry to have all children good at all things, there is the temptation for teachers and parents to spend too much time concentrating on deficit. We want children to leave our school knowing more about their strengths than anyone else." What is Strength Based Education at georgestreet.school.nz
Another educator, at Purnell School, shares stories of teenage girls who felt hopeless and desperate in the traditional school system. If you have five minutes, watch this video

But perhaps even greater than the personal successes, is the appreciation for others that this mindset brings. We realize that everyone is different, everyone has unique strengths, everyone is valuable in their own way. We value ourselves more. We care less about "fitting in". We are more accepting of others.

Lopez and Louis continue in their article
"When educators establish a learning culture where students view themselves and others through “strengths-colored glasses” (Clifton, Anderson, & Schreiner, 2006, p.73), they help to foster appreciation for differences, highlight the value of collaboration and teamwork, and establish a powerful sense of relatedness." 

Focusing on Strengths as a Parent

Do you hear yourself constantly criticizing your child's behavior? Saying "no -- don't do that!" Or labeling the way they are -- "you always do that wrong" or "why can't you get that right?"

That's definitely not strengths-based parenting. 

Children need positive feedback to succeed. They need to know what they're doing right. They need to hear you say why you are impressed by them. They want you to point out their strengths.

A first step to parenting this way is to know your own strengths. You being self-aware and modeling a positive strengths-based lifestyle will help you begin to mentor and support those who depend on you.

Do you know your strengths as a parent? Are you a fabulous story-teller? Do you love playing outside? Are you crafty? Spend more time doing these kinds of things! I discovered fairly early that I  wasn't super good at crafts and definitely didn't enjoy it. So now I focus on outdoor time and reading together -- things I can fully enjoy.  And that = happier everyone.

What if I want my kids to learn to do crafts? It's called networking. I'll bring someone into our lives who is strong in this area. We'll all be better off. This is the same in many areas of life. I might bring in a math expert. I'll definitely be making use of my husband's love for science.

This book {coming soon to my mailbox!}, by Jennifer Fox M. Ed., is for parents and teachers who want to help their children discover their strengths and lead happy, successful lives. Watch the video trailer for more info:



Bottom line? 
Everyone can live more productively and effectively when they
 identify their strengths and live inside them as much as possible.  
And that's beneficial to all!

"Your sweet spot benefits us all because it's the place where you bless us most and bring God the most glory." 
Holley Gerth, holleygerth.com