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.

Testing the Waters

Testing… testing… Is this thing on?

After two years of silence, I’ve probably lost most of my loyal followers, but that’s OK. I’m here now because I need to write and process ideas again, and this is a good place to do that. I always lose the spiral notebooks I scribble in.

If any of my former readers are still following, here’s my life update in a nutshell: The nomadic lifestyle is done for good. I’m now the mother of two sweet girls, the wife of a practicing optometrist, and a part time middle school language arts teacher – yes, I am a teacher “for real” again!

I’ll be honest – this job isn’t my ideal niche, but I’m happy to have it. I enjoy the students, the schedule is fantastic, and I have more autonomy in my curriculum than I’d ever imagined possible. I do miss working with high school students, though.   Continue reading

The gears are still turning.

I got a call from a teacher friend yesterday.  She calls a lot, actually.  She likes to use me as a sounding board as she plans out her curriculum and lesson plans.  Yesterday she was formulating a plan for an independent reading project, but over the years and countless phone hours we’ve hashed through job applications, challenging students, and administration difficulties as well as mountains of curriculum ideas.  Truthfully, she’s very good at her job, so my end of the conversation usually ends up sounding like various forms of the phrase, “yeah, that sounds good.”  Occasionally I offer ideas or raise a concern or two, but mostly, I think she just needs to talk through whatever it is that she’s planning, and I’m an understanding ear willing to listen.

I like it.  I feel like it keeps me fresh, keeps my brain engaged in a field that could have easily passed me by time after time.  It’s funny when I compare our career trajectories, though.  We like to say we’ve had some very similar experiences.  We met in college and went through our first year teaching at the same time.  A few years later we found ourselves job hunting again at the same time.  We’ve both worked in an urban demographic for a year, and both left knowing that it wasn’t the right place for us.  We have a similar way of relating to teenagers, both enjoy teaching literature more than writing, and share many pedagogical perspectives.

Keep reading!

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 #5: Woo

Ok, dear readers, here is my commentary on my final StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment theme.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to write this one.  Maybe it’s because I wanted to write about other things.  Maybe it’s because life got so busy with subbing and then moving.  Or maybe it’s because I took so long to figure out how it fits in my life.


People who are especially talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over.  They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.

The book describes people who are great at parties, who love meeting new people and making great first impressions.  I had to mull this one over for a while, because this isn’t true in my social life.  My social life draws more on my Input Strengths.  I prefer deep conversations with a few close friends over mixing and mingling in a big party, where conversations stay at the small-talk level.  In those situations, I tend to hang back a little and let others be the life of the party.   Continue reading

StrengthsFinder Theme #4: Harmony

People who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.

This is probably the theme that surprised me the most when it first came up in my StrengthsFinder Assessment results.  I don’t go looking for conflict, but I don’t shy away from it, either.  I stand up for myself, and I will confront others when I have to.  I do try to keep confrontation calm and focused on practical things, though.  I’d rather see results than win, if that makes sense.  So in that regard, I do prefer harmony.  Harmony is more practical and gets better results, so when I disagree with a boss or a coworker – or even when an argument breaks out in my classroom – I look for common ground, for the areas where people agree, and then build my case from there.  Taking a look at my Personalized Strengths Insights from the Gallup Report, it makes more sense.

Because of your strengths, you feel content when you are surrounded by practical, credible, or experienced specialists. Often they help you find the right answers to your questions or the correct solutions for your problems. They repeatedly offer reassurances that you will not upset people.

I can easily gauge my happiness in a certain job by the practicality, credibility, and experience of my bosses and coworkers.   Continue reading

StrengthsFinder Theme #3: Belief

People who are especially talented in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging.  Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life.

This one was a little surprising only because it’s so inherent to me that I have to remind myself that not everyone thinks this way.  I mean, I know some people don’t think this way, but I never really thought of it as one of my “strengths.”  I was raised with strong values, so I have strong values. It’s natural, right?  Well, maybe, but I suppose that doesn’t stop it from being one of my strengths.  Because these descriptions do ring very true.  Here’s a few phrases from the book that jumped out at me (emphasis added):

“…ordinarily your Belief theme causes you to be family-oriented, altruistic, even spiritual, and to value responsibility and high ethics — both in yourself and others.” … Check.

“[These values] give your life meaning and satisfaction; in your view, success is more than money and prestige.” … Check.   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

My Strengths and My Quest

Ok, this whole journey is a crazy ride.  I just completed the Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment, which is the basis of the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book.  I have a lot to say about the assessment itself, and I will get to that in a bit, but it wasn’t until I was browsing around the Gallup website later in the evening that I finally stumbled on what I wanted to find back when I started this idea and this blog.

I want to do this:  Certificate in Strengths-Based Education

But since that’s really expensive, I’d settle for one of these: Strengths Learning Intensive

(Those bolded words are links.  You can click on them)

Obviously there are a number of reasons I can’t do either right now (finances, time, the fact that the certificate program already started, etc.), but someday… This is what I’ve been talking about.  It looks like the StrengthsQuest curriculum is mostly (if not entirely) used at colleges and universities, but the information would still be invaluable for bringing strengths-based education to high schools.  I just don’t get why it took me so long to find this!  If I ever end up in the same area as one of those conferences, I’m going. Continue reading