"In Grow Strong Schools, we focus on what is strong and not what is wrong. This requires a change of mindset for most teachers because as educators we are thinking in the deficit model in which we look at what a student does not have and try to make up the difference through interventions. In Grow Strong Schools, we seek to change the conversation from what students are lacking to what students already have."
These thoughts, shared by Rachel Edoho-Eket at the inaugural CliftonStrengths Summit in July 2016, wonderfully frame up the potential for impact of strengths and coaching in schools. Edoho-Eket, an assistant principal in Howard County, Maryland, has firsthand experience in a school and in a district that is committed to building on the strengths of the entire school community. Edoho-Eket's school, and many others like it around the country, have a core belief that we should focus on what is strong rather than only paying attention to what is wrong.
Gallup theory and research lead to the idea that our greatest opportunity for growth is not in fixing our weaknesses but rather in building out our potential in areas where we have a natural pattern of strength. None of us -- whether a student, teacher, parent or another member of the community -- has yet fully maximized our potential. And focusing on our strengths is a great way to maximize our potential; it feels natural and therefore is more satisfying than spending all of our time trying to fix our weaknesses.
Education leaders often ask Gallup what it means to be a strengths-based school. The answer may vary based on the local situation, but schools like those in Howard County sure seem to be on the right track. The simple "Name-Claim-Aim" framework summarizes the approach.
- Name: In strengths-based schools, the conversation starts with naming the themes of talent with an objective assessment of the natural areas of talent for each person in the school community. Educators and other adults can employ "strengths spotting" strategies for identifying patterns of talent in the youngest students. Students aged 10-14 can take the Clifton Youth Strengths Explorer. High school students and staff members at the school can discover their talents by taking the CliftonStrengths assessment. Gallup also encourages district administrators, parents and other interested community members to participate in strengths identification.
- Claim: After identifying and naming the patterns of talent, it's important to encourage the individual to claim the results as valuable ways to think about themselves. Students and adults often report that embracing the language of strengths increases the level of confidence and focus on what's possible for the future. Claiming one's strengths not only offers an opportunity to increase self-awareness, but it also creates a common language about what is right with each person.
- Aim: After discovering and beginning to internalize the language of strengths, it is important to aim the strengths at meaningful goals. Building stronger partnerships within the school community is often an area of focus. Having a common language and strengths mindset can break down the barriers that may exist between students, educators and parents. Finding out that you have a strength in common with someone else is a great way to start a conversation, build mutual understanding and invest in an important relationship. Educators who know the unique strengths of each of their students are better able to individualize and build meaningful connections, leading to student engagement and success in the classroom.
Strengths-based schools provide opportunities for all members of the school community to participate in meaningful ways. They build the capacity to sustain excellence by having internal strengths specialists and coaches who bring ideas and energy to strengths strategies throughout the school. They help to integrate strengths science and practice into professional development for educators and also help to implement strengths strategies in the classroom.
Schools experience many benefits when they are strengths-based. Staff and students report higher levels of engagement, characterized by their increased involvement, enthusiasm and commitment to the school. Engaged students and educators are more creative, efficient, productive and successful than their less-engaged peers. Engaged schools are great places to work and learn, as well as attract teachers, staff and students who want to join the thriving school community.
Learn more about Gallup's partnerships with K-12 school districts.