I knew that if I was to seriously discuss bringing strengths-based training into high schools, I would eventually have to read this book. I honestly wasn’t that excited to read it, because I kind of figured it would just be a repetition of what I’ve already read in Find Your Strongest Life and The Truth About You by Marcus Buckingham. I’ve stayed away from the books written for business managers because, well, I’m not a business manager and have no intention of ever becoming one. But about a month ago, I was in Barnes & Noble and saw StrengthsFinder 2.0 on sale, so I bought it. Now I’m sitting around waiting for my transcripts to come in the mail so I can apply for an Illinois sub license, so I figured it’s a good time to force myself to actually begin reading the book.
I’ve only read about 10 pages so far, and I’m already feeling the urge to stop and write a blog post. Yes, it is more of the same. Yes, I’m already familiar with the concept of spending time focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. But what is surprising to me is my own perspective as I begin to read. While I have no intention of ever becoming a business manager, I am a teacher. When the book talks about managers focusing on their employees in the workplace, I began to think about how I as a teacher focus on the students in my classroom.
Gallup surveyed over 10 million people on the topic of employee engagement, asking them to agree or disagree with the statement “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” Gallup compared their answers to that statement with their level of engagement at work. People who have an opportunity to focus on their strengths are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. They also reported an overall better quality of life than those who did not play to their strengths in work. The book then follows these stats by demonstrating that having a manager that focuses on employee strengths dramatically increases employee engagement in their work. Wouldn’t it also follow that a teacher that focuses on student strengths would also see improved engagement in school?
The book does address the education side of things, though briefly. It refers to the education system’s “Misguided Maxim” of “You can be anything you want to be, if you just try hard enough.” As the book points out, even Michael Jordan couldn’t be the “Michael Jordan” of golf or baseball, no matter how hard he tried. This paragraph really jumped out at me:
“What’s even more disheartening is the way our fixation on deficits affects young people in the home and classroom. In every culture we have studied, the overwhelming majority of parents (77% in the United States) think that a student’s lowest grades deserve the most time and attention. Parents and teachers reward excellence with apathy instead of investing more time in the areas where a child has the most potential for greatness.” (p. 7)
And we do. As teachers, we focus our time and attention on the students who struggle in class, and reward excellence with apathy. If a student is getting an A, then they don’t need my help. Except that they do. They need me to help them explore their potential for greatness. How can I help my students emotionally engage in their studies and in their future careers? Because when teens are emotionally engaged, amazing things happen. Usually we see it in their extracurricular activities – kids that absolutely throw themselves into their sports teams, fine arts departments, or leadership clubs. When they are engaged and interested, they can move the world. So what would happen if we managed to get them engaged and interested in their own future careers?
Because I believe that the building blocks are already in place in the teen years. Talents and strengths are innate. They don’t fall into place sometime in the twenties – teens already have them, just waiting to be discovered, nurtured, and developed. So as I read StrengthsFinder 2.0 and take the Strengths Assessment for myself (which I will certainly be blogging about), I’m also going to be thinking about the classroom application. How can I use this content to help students along the path of their own strengths exploration, self-discovery, and preparation for life?
I leave you with this final thought from the end of chapter 1 of the book. What strengths do you want to explore?
“You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” (p. 9)