Michael Makes a Plan: SMART Strengths and LIFT, Question 4

This post concludes our consideration of how the SMART Strengths skills can help with asking and answering the four questions that the Ryan and Robert Quinn suggest in Lift: Becoming a Positive Force in Any Situation. The four questions are:

  1. What result do I want to create?
  2. What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others?
  3.  How do others feel about the situation?
  4. What are three (or four or five) strategies I could use to accomplish my purpose for the situation?

We have been thinking through these questions along with Michael:

Michael is in his ninth year teaching middle school science at an inner-city, high-poverty school. His days are overwhelmingly filled with frustration and disappointment. He is frustrated and disappointed that his students do not demonstrate the interest, effort, or discipline necessary to learn the material, that many of them are inadequately prepared to do grade-level work. He is frustrated and disappointed that the pressure to show improvement on test scores forces him to turn to “drill and kill” approaches to try and achieve some semblance of learning. And, he is frustrated and disappointed that none of his superiors, up to and including the superintendent and the school board will stand up to the insanity of test-based accountability and advocate for better learning experiences for students. Michael has read both Lift and SMART Strengths, and decides to apply what he learned to this situation.

Here are Michael’s answers to the first three LIFT questions:

1. What result do I want to create?

ANSWER: I want to feel happy and engaged at school, as to see my students engaged in activities through which they come to appreciate both the scientific principles and the scientific process that has created so much of the modern world in which they live.

2. What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others?

ANSWER: if I were living the values I expect of others, and my own signature strengths, I would not settle for a “drill and kill” approach; I don’t even really believe that works well for getting high test scores, and I know it doesn’t help students learn the way I want them to. I would bring my curiosity and creativity to the task of designing new lessons, constantly striving to find better ways to engage students. I would let my love of learning inspire both me and them, and I would forgive them, my fellow teachers, and the leadership in the system for the times when they, like me, have not lived up to their highest values in the face of all the challenges in our schools. In fact I would be working with those faculty members and leaders with whom I have close relationships to sustain each other in this effort.

3. How do others feel about the situation?

ANSWER: Not everyone feels the same as I have, although some do. My students display a range of emotions, some being angry, others sad, but some are happy, optimistic, and engaged. The same is true of my fellow teachers and leadership. I know the thoughts and beliefs that have been driving my own emotions, but I’m curious about the thinking of those who are experiencing very different emotions from our own.

Now, Michael turns to the fourth question: “What are three (or four or five) strategies I could use to accomplish my purpose for the situation?”

Michael recognizes immediately that this question drives toward optimism and a growth mindset (Chapters 7 & 8 in SMART Strengths). Optimism focuses on recognizing and exercising whatever control one has, and growth mindsets acknowledge that one may need to develop new knowledge, skills, and levels of effort to succeed and that initial failure may be part of the process. He recognizes that his Creativity and Curiosity could help him generate ideas and then test them out, and treating it all as a long-term experiment might be a way to use his Love of Learning as a boost to perseverance. So, he goes back over his answers to the first three questions with the goal of generating strategies.

First, he notices that just admitting that he wants to feel happy and engaged at school is a change. He had almost given up on that goal and just admitting that it is still what he wants is both liberating and energizing. He of course still recognizes that it is not going to be easy, but thinking about the situation with the goal of developing multiple strategies to try out just puts it in a different light. His energy and optimism are already up.

Second, he continues to be struck by the degree to which he has veered away from his own values. He recognizes he hasn’t been doing the things he thinks most likely to help student learning – real student learning – out of fear of the results on tests. Further he realizes that he really has no assurance that abandoning those approaches made for better test results and, as he thinks about it, he begins to suspect his approach has been counterproductive.

Third, the renewed resolve to live by his own values really engages as he reviews his answer to the third question. He realizes that he has been ignoring, of even sometimes seeking to tear down, the students and teachers who were happy and engaged. Remembering the power of an appreciative approach – starting from what is working and seeking ways to get more of it – he begins to wonder whether there are things he can learn that will help him improve his own happiness and engagement. He also starts to think that perhaps there are ways he can help others experience more happiness and engagement at school.

Michael then writes down these strategies for moving forward:

  1. I will, to the greatest extent possible within mandated requirements, teach the way I believe best for real student learning of the curriculum regardless of the impact on test scores. Next week I will do this by…
  2. I will pay attention to those students who seem happy and engaged and seek to understand how they think about school in ways that lets them experience such feelings. I will also seek to better understand the thinking that is driving anger or sadness in my students rather than – as I sometimes have – just assuming I know. I will ask at least three appreciative questions of students next week.
  3. I will spend more time with my faculty peers who seem happy and engaged and seek to understand how they are thinking about our school. I will start by asking Bob to get a cup of coffee together after school one day next week.
  4. I’m going to continue to let strength of Forgiveness to help me handle some of the behavior of administrators, and I’m going to try and better understand where that behavior is coming from. I’m also going to express my appreciation for good leadership when it happens. I will start by mentioning to my principal how much I appreciated her comments in front of my students last week.
  5. I’m going to more intentionally leave school at school. I want to detach better at home. Next week, my goal is to write down my thoughts and feelings about the day for 5 minutes before I leave school so that I can better leave them behind.

So, what do you think? Would Michael’s efforts change his experience? Would his demeanor, posture, and behaviors change enough that others might notice? Would they react to him differently? Would he become a positive force in his situation? What if every member of his school’s staff did the same exercise?

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