The Gift of Knowing Your Strengths

IMG_20170221_164716924(Fourth in a series on tutoring.)

Focusing on what is right about ourselves and the people we work with is key to both success and joy. This is a truth that runs deep, but cynical people like me think, “Right – I’m trying to work with a kid who’s cussing me out and running away from me and I’m supposed to concentrate on her bravery and zest?”

Yes, as a matter of fact. Yes I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t pull a consequence on her for cussing and running, but during and after the incident, I will employ my strengths to stay connected to this child and call out her strengths. This will keep me from quitting kid ministry!

The Mayerson Academy in Cincinnati, which trains and supports learning communities, has employed research findings in the field of positive psychology to give educators character strength curriculum all over the world. They use a 120 question inventory from the VIA Institute on Character to help us discover our character strengths. Click here to link to the survey.

Just knowing what we’re strong in can help us channel our efforts more successfully. Then we’re equipped also to teach kids their strengths and help them succeed. In a tutoring setting, we can teach character strengths as vocabulary words, we can discuss examples of them that we see in others, we can play games that put them into practice, we can tell our students when we see one in them. Relationships grow stronger in the process.

We also teach kids that they can change, so if a lack of strength is causing them a problem, (say in honesty or perseverance or kindness) they can work on it. The model does not say we are limited – it names twenty four character strengths, stressses that we have them all, and helps us focus on and use what we are already strong in, while knowing that we can grow in the other areas. If you’re operating in a Christian setting, you can also teach that we need God to help us with these changes, and God is always there to help us and work in us.

So, for example,  I call on my creativity, social intelligence and spirituality to hang in with my angry cussing and running little girl; I pray for her, figure out what’s setting her off and imagine what it would be like for her to give me a hug when all this is over.

Just to finish the story – I didn’t get the hug, but she did end up thanking me once, and I did manage to get her to cooperate with us by bribing her with snacks! Success is incremental, but leaning into strength instead of focusing on all that’s wrong is a really important discipline in any kind of helping work.

5 thoughts on “The Gift of Knowing Your Strengths

  1. We in education have wasted so much time bolstering students in their weak areas while ignoring their strengths. We don’t need to ignore the weaknesses. We do need to let kids cultivate their strengths. Doing so will give them the confidence they need to overcome weaknesses. Not doing so just underlines the weaknesses and tells the kids they don’t measure up.

  2. Kudos to you, Colleen, and the Mayerson Academy for working smart with your charges. By combining knowledge from research and wisdom from God, you and your colleagues are creating a perfect storm of success for these youngsters. His blessing is undoubtedly upon your efforts!

  3. “Focusing on what is right about ourselves and the people we work with is key to both success and joy.” Yes! And yes, easier said than done. Reminds me of the idea underlying the Clifton Strengthsfinder assessment, that people accomplish the most–and are most fulfilled–when they focus on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses.

  4. Great post! I agree that it is so important to know our own strengths. Those that are able to apply their talents on a regular basis are more likely to continue with an activity or vocation than those who feel that they are not good at what it is they are doing. I like to write posts similar in content from the perspective of positive psychology, which asks the question of what makes life worth living. My hope is that an increased understanding of positive psychology can help people live more meaningful and fulfilling lives. Feel free to check out the content and leave any contributions that you would like as well. Thanks for sharing, keep up the great work, and I hope that you are doing well!

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