Why Teaching is the Original Strengths Based Profession

I used to be a teacher. But now I’m not. At least not by definition. I still have a really hard time saying that, because for almost twenty years, I was defined by a professional role that is known the world over. When you say you’re a teacher, people automatically think they know what you do. Sure, they may ask you what grade, what subject or where you work to add a bit more filler to the conversation, but in general, when you say you’re a teacher, the conversation quickly changes to the weather. Because teachers teach. Duh.

But what I have learned in my twenty years, surrounded by brilliant and inspiring colleagues, is that teachers do not just teach. They have a legacy of influence that cannot be measured by tests, opinions or surveys.  In fact, unlike a doctor who makes a sick patient well, or a lawyer who wins the case, teachers do not have universally agreed upon measures for success.

Because success, in the world of education, is a moving target for each child and the bulls eye is elusive.

How Do You Define Success?

I can guarantee that if you ask any teacher how they define success for their students, grades and test scores will surely be at the bottom of the proverbial list, if on the list at all. What you will hear from teachers defining success are words like;

  • growth
  • development
  • happiness
  • confidence
  • resilience
  • compassion
  • risk taking
  • perseverance
  • passion

Great teachers have an instinctive ability to recognize and call upon the strength of each child, rather than dwell on the weakness. Great teachers have a mindset for strength.

Teachers also find no satisfaction in keeping anything to themselves. They are hard-wired to give it all away. They give it all away, to the point of daily exhaustion, because they believe in the intangibles. In many ways, they are committed to a child’s future self, something they cannot or may never see. Like sculptors sharing the same mound of raw clay, teachers take turns at gently molding the form, with no real idea of what it will ultimately become. Their devotion to the masterpiece is unwavering.

Revealing the Strengths Within

One of the greatest joys I have in my new role as a Strengths Based Organizational Consultant, is having the opportunity to serve the professionals I truly admire.

Most recently, we have been working at the Singapore American School and The American School of London. This work has provided faculty and administrators with a rare opportunity to step off the educational bullet train. Professionals are provided with purposeful time and space to reflect on their own strengths set and acknowledge the unique lens from which they view the world. Understanding this has profound implications for how they ultimately approach their work and serve their students.

One of the teachers we worked with has the strengths of Individualization and Connectedness. Initially, she was very wary about the StrengthsFinder assessment and the possibility of mis-labelling or defining people. She believes that each person needs to be seen and recognized for their complexity as an individual-not as an arbitrary, effusive definition.

As she began to explore her own personal narrative around her strengths and saw that her Connectedness allowed her to find meaning between people, places and spaces in time-she recognized that in fact, this work is descriptive not prescriptive. She has now taken elements of this work and allowed it to permeate her teaching in a Middle School classroom. In essence, she too is now giving it away to her students.

Moving from “I” to ‘We”

It is also refreshing to facilitate teams of educators, who are so used to talking about ‘what’ they do, but not necessarily understanding ‘who’ they do it with.  We help them to recognize and appreciate the positive intent of their colleagues’ strengths. This kind of application has proven to be transformative for teams. From colleagues who have been together for many years, to those who are new to a team, the strengths based work promotes healthy, positive, generative communication. This is the bedrock for any high functioning Professional Learning Community.

One team of High School teachers we worked with, had been experiencing significant tension between certain colleagues for some time. The interactions were toxic and clearly affecting their work. Our Learning Community 360 session started from a place of neutrality. We encouraged the teachers to remove judgement, assumption and past history… and to focus on the language of strengths. This process diffused the tension, because it de-personalized the conflict and each person had an opportunity to give voice to their strength.

They practiced listening, with positive intent, to the unique approach of their colleague. This experience has since allowed them to continually re-frame their interactions through a strengths lens and to create generative patterns of behavior.

I continue to be grateful for every opportunity I get to work with educators. Their energy, intellect and generosity inspire me. It is a privilege to be able to engage in the Strengths work alongside them and to give it away. Because only a teacher knows that anything is possible in the hands of a wide-eyed learner.

Huh. I guess maybe I am still a teacher.

Your Experience with Strengths

If you are a teacher, and have been influenced by the Strengths work, we would love to hear about it. Share your thoughts in the comments below.