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Shining Light On Teacher Strengths...And Being Aware Of Their Shadows

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simple truth:

Incorporating our personal strengths can greatly enhance our classroom, though can also be unintentionally misused.

research tells us:

Think about the best educators in your school.

Do you have a few in mind?  Most likely, you’ve identified those individuals who truly and consistently connect with students.  And in turn, research indicates that students may persevere more in class for these educators (Boynton & Boynton, 2005).  Often, highly effective teachers have an accurate understanding of their own strengths and limitations, and they work relentlessly to incorporate those talents into each lesson.

The reality of today’s schools requires educators to spend so much time evaluating students' learning profiles. Though how much time do we spend deliberately identifying our own personal strengths?  And how effective are we in integrating our unique talents into our daily teaching?

Not sure?  Just answer this question, “How did I incorporate my strengths into the last lesson that I taught?”  If we’re uncertain, then the next few paragraphs may be of help.

Often educators can be self-depreciating when describing personal talents, as we may feel more comfortable keeping the focus on our students. While this sentiment may be well intentioned, we must realize that to better reach our students, we need to recognize and implement our own strengths in the classroom.  It’s hard enough to be a highly effective teacher; it’s even more difficult to do this when we’re not properly incorporating our natural gifts.

Gallup Poll research suggests that "people who do focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs. They are more productive too, both individually and in teams.  And they are more than three times as likely to say they have an excellent quality of life."  Recognizing and utilizing our talents in the classroom must be a daily practice.  And when we make this consistent, we can impact our effectiveness.

How do your strengths shine?  Are you empathetic?  Can you make people laugh?  Do you demonstrate visionary leadership?  Are you the organized one?  Or disciplined?  How about the creative spirit?  Are you the critical thinker who isn’t afraid to address the elephant in the room?  Or are you ambitious and a risk taker? 

However, it’s important that we proceed with caution.  As with any shining light, there can always be a shadow lurking behind.  Yes, even the light from our strengths can cast a shadow.  We know that anything good can be used in excess, which may have negative implications.  This sentiment rings true for our strengths too.

We must be aware of how we can unintentionally misuse or overuse our strengths in the classroom, which can negatively impact our effectiveness with students.  For example, if our strength is being compassionate, do we empathize to the point that we subconsciously lower our expectations for some students?  If we have the gift of humor, do we use sarcasm, which can often confuse students?  If we are visionaries, do we have the discipline to sustain the initiative once the excitement or novelty fades?  If we pride ourselves on being organized, how well do we react to change?  Does our gift of creativity at times disrupt the structure that some students need?  If we’re known for our flexibility, how reliable are we?  Does our ability to critically look at situations lead us into the slippery habit of becoming cynical? Or does our ambition and risk taking inhibit our abilities to say no to joining new opportunities, thus limiting our overall effectiveness in those ventures?

As a teacher, I can recall misusing my strengths in the classroom, as my love to be creative would lead to an over-decorated and crowded classroom that over-stimulated some students.  Or due to my energetic personality, I can be inconsistent in allowing enough wait time for my students who need to reflect during classroom conversations.  Properly using our strengths is a process.  And below are some practical steps that can assist us through this process.

try this:

•    Take the time to honestly examine and identify 2-3 strengths.  Strengths are often those characteristics that come naturally, are enjoyable, and energize us.

•    Ask 3 colleagues to identify 2-3 strengths that they consistently see in us, then compare their lists to our self-created lists to see which strengths match.

•    Consider completing an online strength survey. While the research varies on personality assessments, you can gain some general insight by exploring SmartStrengths, StrengthFinder, VIA, and Myers-Briggs.

•    Once a personal strength is identified, brainstorm how we can maximize that strength in our daily teaching. Also, brainstorm how this strength can be accidentally misused during our teaching.

•    Begin a conversation with your teacher team on how to collectively maximize the group's individual talents, while being aware of misusing strengths.

•    Check out this printable infographic from ChangeKidsLives.org inspired by @CarrieSwain3.

•    Once a personal strength is identified, brainstorm how we can maximize that strength in our daily teaching. Also, brainstorm how this strength can be accidentally misused during our teaching
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As a professor of education, Tony Kline, Ph.D. is always learning. Having taught in rural villages in Africa to urban neighborhoods in the midwest, he has been surrounded by individuals who've dedicated their lives to impacting students. Now as a professor of education who has taught on four continents, he's had the great pleasure to work with colleagues to help prepare over 1,000 current teachers who are passionately serving in today's classrooms. Tony Kline, Ph.D. is an assistant professor for the Franks School of Education at Trine University in Angola, Indiana. He has been honored by Phi Delta Kappa International as an Emerging Leader Under 40 and was the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award by Ball State University and Trine University. These thoughts and views are personal and do not represent any outside organization.

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Guest Friday, 09 December 2016