Strengths: Passion Meets Practice, #IMMOOC W5.1

Quote:  Tom RathI have a passion for strengths. I heard Marcus Buckingham speak about strengths research in 2011, and it changed my life. It sparked a drive in me that took this blog to over 9,000 followers for a time. I’ve read the books, taken StrengthsFinder 2.0 (…twice), even dropped $300 on a class for the StrengthsQuest program, even though I was unemployed at the time.

I know the theory. I love it. Let’s focus on what’s right with students, rather than what’s wrong! Let’s give them a chance to thrive! Let’s improve student engagement, academic achievement, personal well-being, empathy, and so on!

But then I’m convicted. Because now that I have my own students again, I’m discovering that I’m not great at putting it into practice. It’s easy to spout the catch phrases, but then I fall back into old habits of fixing mistakes more than playing to strengths. I did have my class do a strengths assessment, but identification without application is useless. So what am I doing on a daily basis to promote strengths? How do I teach grammar and vocabulary from a strengths-based perspective?

I’m trying harder this year, mostly through Genius Hour and class-wide collaborative projects. I’m toying with ideas for novel studies that would give them more say in their reading choices. Grammar becomes a stepping stone in the process of blogging their passions to an authentic audience, and so on. But it requires deliberate habit-changing on my part. Passionate ideas are not enough if I don’t put them into practice.

The Turning Point

Today’s post comes courtesy of a question that appeared on my Facebook news feed, from Marcus Buckingham:

What was your all-time favorite job and why?
If it isn’t your current job, why not?

It’s a timely prompt for me, because I came to my all-time favorite job when I was in a situation not too different from what I’m facing now.  I’d been subbing for a year and a half, struggling with my identity as a teacher and frustrated that I couldn’t find full-time work in the field that I loved.  Then I was asked to cover a maternity leave fill-in April through June at LCA, an upper-demographic private school in Massachusetts.  I worked there for only two months, but I still consider it the best time of my career and the job that turned the corner in my professional confidence.

I remember waking up eager to get out of bed and start my day, instead of groaning about having to go to work.  I remember the faces of those students even better than some students I’ve taught for a full year.  I remember the affirmation of a career I loved, the acceptance of professional peers who became my friends, and the joy of being in a room full of exceptional teenagers.

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StrengthsFinder Closing Thoughts

Cover of "StrengthsFinder 2.0"

On Sept. 12th I wrote my first post on the book StrengthsFinder 2.0, and something must have resonated with my readers, because that post was worked its way into my top five most “liked” posts.  I hope it’s because my readers agree – the education field needs to focus on teen strengths, not just teen weaknesses.  We’re not doing young people many favors by zeroing in on where they struggle and not helping them discover how they can succeed.  On Sept. 19th I elaborated on the importance of teenage talents, and my readers responded well to that post as well.  Finally, on Sept. 28th, I took the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment online and began the process of analyzing the results.  It took me three months to really sift through all that information and apply it to my life and my career.  However, now that I’ve explored my top five strength themes (Maximizer, Input, Belief, Harmony, and Woo), the question stands:

Was the assessment worth it?  Did I learn anything new?  Will this knowledge change my career path?   Continue reading

StrengthsFinder Theme #2: Input

People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

Hmm… Collect and archive information, huh?  Kind of like someone might do in a blog?  🙂

I’m not going to post anything from the more generic description in the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book, because nothing there really jumped out at me.  However, the Personalized Strengths Insights strike me as pretty darn accurate to my interests, so I’m going to take that part piece by piece and comment on how this particular strength theme comes through in my life.  So here goes…

Driven by your talents, you yearn to increase your knowledge by being kept in the information loop. This explains why you gravitate to people who converse about ideas at a deeper and more thoughtful level than most individuals are capable of doing. “Making small talk” — that is, engaging in idle conversation — probably seems like a waste of time to you.

OK, I don’t hate small talk – Continue reading

StrengthsFinder Theme #1: Maximizer

Devon Woodcomb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone should be Captain Awesome

Maximizer:  People who are especially talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.

I love this one.  Ever since I heard Marcus Buckingham speak on strengths, I’ve been fascinated by the topic.  I’ve shifted my whole career focus based on this idea of strengths – both on a better understanding of my own strengths, and an intrinsic desire to help my students find their strengths.  Here is the general explanation of a Maximizer from StrengthsFinder 2.0.

Excellence, not average, is your measure.  Taking something from below average to slightly above average takes a great deal of effort and in your opinion is not very rewarding.  Transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much effort but is much more thrilling. Continue reading

The Pros and Cons of the Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone (Photo credit: Trevor Blake)

One of the common themes that comes up in the books I read is the idea of “the comfort zone.”  Brett and Alex Harris consistently encourage teens step outside of their comfort zones in order to grow and accomplish big things.  On the other hand, Marcus Buckingham says that it’s a myth to think that people need to step out of their comfort zones in order to grow.  Instead, he encourages people to push themselves within the bounds of their individual comfort zones.  So which is it?  Is the comfort zone a limiting device we use to hold ourselves back, or indication of our innate talents and abilities?

 As our culture does these days, when I decided to write this post, I looked up the phrase “comfort zone” on Wikipedia.  Here’s the opening sentence:

“The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.”   Continue reading

Success in Excitement

“Your ability to excel at an activity depends on your ability to be excited by the activity. Excitement drives practice drives performance.” – Marcus Buckingham

This quote showed up on my facebook newsfeed a few days ago, and despite the fact that I haven’t had a chance to blog much, the quote is a good reflection of what’s been on my mind the the past month. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been teaching College Discovery classes for The Princeton Review this month.  I’m almost done with my last week, and it’s definitely been an interesting experience!

If the class from my first session was essentially my dream class, my second session has been made me think quite a bit more.  They are a good group, but they do keep me on my toes – both because they’re a bit more chatty in class and because they ask a lot of interesting questions.  One of the things that’s come up several times is the idea of passion and success.  We’ve discussed the definition of success and finding the right match for colleges, subject majors, and career choices.  But a lot of these discussions still leave me with questions.  Some students know exactly what they want to do, but others have no clue.  I don’t have the tools to help them narrow their choices yet.  But I like the Buckingham quote, because it equates success with excitement.  That’s when a job becomes a vocation – when a certain love and excitement accompanies the work. Continue reading

A Place to Start – Learning from the Rebelutionaries

I picked up a few books from the library yesterday.  I figured I should start my research with the authors that initially inspired my ideas, so I now have three books by Marcus Buckingham and one book by Alex and Brett Harris waiting for me to read.  The book by the Harris twins is named Start Here, so I figured I should probably read that one first – you know, since it told me to.

Cover of "Start Here: Doing Hard Things R...

Cover via Amazon

Start Here is the follow-up to the first book the Harris twins wrote, Do Hard Things.  In Do Hard Things, Brett and Alex challenged teens to a “rebelution” against the low expectations set for teens by our culture. It was the first book I read that started the gears turning in my brain on this issue.  The chapters on the myth of adolescence struck a deep chord, and I loved all the examples they set forth of teens doing great things when they allowed themselves to be used by God.  I’ve always loved the passion and potential in teenagers, and Do Hard Things was the hard evidence of those ideas.  I partly wanted to read Start Here just to see the next step in their mission, but I’m also kind of hoping for some help myself.  They wrote for teens, but I, too, need some advice on how to pursue a big idea that’s been placed on my heart, and that’s what they offer in this book.

 So far I’ve read the first three chapters, and I’m just as impressed by the Harris boys’ work as I was on their first book.  The target audience is definitely teenagers, so some of it takes some translating to make it apply to my situation (changing “homework” to “my job” and “chores” to “housework,” etc.), but the messages are still very good. Continue reading

How I Got Here

The Container Store in Schaumburg, Illinois

Organization is not my strong suit!

“You can be anything you want to be!  If you work hard, anything is possible!”

It’s an exciting, encouraging message for kids – a world where the possibilities are endless and dreams are attainable.  But as those kids get older, shouldn’t we help them narrow the field down a bit from “anything”?   Because no matter how badly I might want it, I will never be a rocket scientist, WNBA star, or organizational consultant at The Container Store.  Not gonna happen.  Ever.  I’m not naturally good at math or science, I’m 5′ 2″ with no aim, and organization is one of those things that I’m constantly… ahem… working on.  Clearly, these professions are not the right match for me, even if I really wanted one of them.

Obviously, those are some extreme examples, but bringing it a little closer to reality, I think I accidentally stumbled onto a fulfilling profession, instead of deliberately choosing it based on my interests.  You see, I was a nerd.  I read early and often.  As a homeschooler, I would look at my reading assignments and truthfully proclaim that I’d already read all those stories.  My parents have a picture of me in 7th or 8th grade reading Shakespeare at a Texas Rangers baseball game. Whenever I could, I built my high school class schedule around my English courses, and one Barnes & Noble salesman saw me in the store so often he started giving me his employee discount on my purchases.  So naturally, when I thought about my future career, I assumed it would be literary in nature. 

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