This is a very short blog with a very important message. To focus on strengths based relationships we must be able to contribute to them. Greatness is a quality that is a part of all of us. We simply do not always take the time to recognize it in ourself.
I am great because I care about each child as an individual. I know that all have strengths and all can succeed.
My passion is the catalyst that helps make me great.
Okay, its your turn. Why are you great. Don’t be shy, share. As Tony the Tiger would say, “You’re GRRRRRREAT!”
My earliest memory of recognizing that I had unique strengths came at about the age of four. My dad was running for County Commissioner and we were at a huge gathering in the park. (Huge from the perspective of a four-year-old, keep in mind this is Pocatello, Idaho in the 1960’s!)
So the crowd was gathered to hear the candidates. My job was to smile and look cute while passing out campaign stickers.
I remember being dressed in a red and white striped jumper, with blue ribbons in my long blonde hair. I was having fun! All of a sudden, as happens in Idaho in the spring, it started to rain. Nearby there was a huge box of extra buttons. Nestled at the bottom of the box were rain bonnets. I quickly grabbed as many as my small hand could carry and began navigating the crowd, delivering much needed shelter with an important message. “Vote for L.P. Lystrup, he is prepared for ANYTHING!”
I remember the feeling of pride I had that day. Pride in my dad, but also pride that I had come up with a saying to match the weather! Flexibility and creativity have always been friends. Nurtured at this early age these strengths have served me well over the years.
I am grateful for that rainy day in South Easter Idaho. For parents who paved a pathway for me to recognize my strengths. However I also know that many in this world do not come from a family where strengths are fostered or recognized. For our students, caring educators can and must step in to create opportunities for strengths to be discovered then nurtured.
What is your earliest memory of recognizing your strengths? Who was there to help nurture and guide you in developing these talents? How can we as educators create opportunities for our students to find their unique talents? Isn’t this a necessity for social justice and equity for all?
Oh, and yes, my dad won! I’d love to think I had a small part in that!
Report Cards! That proverbial time when we reflect on the weakness of our students, sharing summative data that many times is not even appropriate for the ELL or cognitive level of the student. Is there a better way? This year I decided to focus on strengths instead of weakness. I still had to fill out the deficit based report card with its checks and comments. However in conference I shared the abilities that helped create a unique person. For example, I would briefly show a score, then show the parent the test with its endless acronyms and difficult directions. I would then take this same parent on a journey through the person that I saw. No matter the strength I would focus on this. Friendship, kindness, art, physical ability, creativity. Who is to say these are not valuable traits that will enhance their future? Thrively is a wonderful tool to help validate strengths. In one of my conferences with a rather Gifted Student her father asked me why he should care about Thrively. I asked him to think about a time at work when he needed flexibility, organization or creativity? He had to admit there were many. This is their future I declared. The wonderful part of this conversation is that this was a student who was receiving all advanced grades. Some might say she was at the top of the class. However I saw a gifted person who could enhance her understanding by extending her learning into music, which was one of her indicated strengths. In another,conference with a translator my “resource” student and her parents left smiling, realizing their child had strengths that might not be measurable on a test. Later the aide who had translated found me and said she had never been in a conference like that before. I explained my belief on strength based learning and she agreed that this is exactly what is needed in education. While I was not looking for converts, I was pleased she could recognize the difference. In my perfect world there would be no report cards measuring scores based on “benchmarks.” There would be videos, projects and stories about ways that these students worked to make a difference. There would be discussions about the future engineers, teachers, electricians, and perhaps even plumbers. A final story. I had one studnet who is basically giving up. Yet he scored really high on his benchmark, Honestly I suspect he may have cheater, but I decided to not mention this knowing it would be detrimental. Instead I praised him for now making an effort. I thanked mom for helping him to do his homework. Guess what happened? He started doing his homework. He comes to the front of the room during math instruction. He is happier, more engaged and focused. I told him Friday I had a note for him. His face fell (thinking of years of negative notes home.) In my hand was a blue invitation to the academic awards session. He smiled and asked me what this was. (No pretty sure he has never had one before.) I told him how proud I was of him. How kind he has always been but now he is extending this kindness to me by listening and doing his work. I cringe to think of the results if I would have accused him of cheating. I don’t know if he did or did not. That doesn’t matter. Strength focus works. Thanks for reading.
Last night as I was enjoying the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, the thought struck me that these athletes are all successful because they have had opportunities to identify and focus on their strengths. How can we relate this to our classroom. How can we focus on our students’ strengths, instead of their deficits? I welcome ideas.
Next week is Valentines Day. My thoughts reflect today on my mom, who provided a strong example of strength based learning, even before any tests or reports could label it as such. (Or maybe this is more about my Grandma’s strengths.)
My mom lived in a tiny area called Blackrock, Idaho. She had seven sisters and a father who loved farming. Each time another child was born, I am sure he prayed for a son to help with farm work, but alas, only girls graced their household. Finally, my Grandpa sold the farm and took a job for the railroad. My mom and her sisters moved into the “Big City” of Pocatello, Idaho.
She was the 7th child. That means 7 opportunities for hand me downs. 7 sisters who had things first. Well loved, but painfully shy she entered elementary school. Now there was a girl there who was quite popular. She decided my mom was not the type of person who should have friends and spent time mocking the way she dressed. Wait you may say, isn’t this a blog about strengths?
Please keep reading. Well my mom did make friends because honestly she was a really amazing person, but this one girl, Betty Jean, NEVER let up on the teasing. Now my mom’s family might have been poor, but Grandma knew what was important. On Valentines Day, she would make cards and put little candies inside each Valentine that her daughter’s would give. Mom told Grandma NOT to make a card for Betty Jean. Grandma just smiled. On Valentines Day, when Mom took her cards, she discovered Grandma had made one HUGE Valentine. It was created with lace and absolutely beautiful. It was for mom’s “arch enemy!” Now the same girl did give mom a card. Mom remembers it was a joke card designed to make her feel bad. However the last laugh was on my mom when she saw Betty look at the biggest Valentine in the class and discover it was given to her by my mom.
I think the moral here is that kindness is a strength. It is easy to be kind to those we love, but what about those we have difficulties with. How can we apply my Grandma’s Valentine Card to relationships? Just a thought.