Practical Strategies for Teachers

Why should you care about teacher strengths?

In His Own Words: Ed Kelley, Humanities Teacher, Culver Academies, Culver IN

I look an individual’s character strengths. It might be a student who is somewhat reserved, but is very creative—one of his or her top strengths. Now that the character strength has been discovered, I need to find a way where I can utilize the creativity in a discussion where he or she will feel comfortable. We were recently discussing “romantic art.” There is a girl in class who loves studying art and loves the romantics. I am going to focus on that pursuit of passion and encourage her to share her love of art with the class. When we have a class discussion, I am going to prod her a bit and say, “This is where you are strong. Let’s see it come out. Tomorrow, we are going to be talking about Joseph Turner, one of your favorite romantic painters.” By sending that email, I will get a response that says, “You know what, I am really excited about tomorrow’s class. I am usually reserved with discussion, but because I realize that I am creative, and I love art, I will feel more comfortable participating in the discussion.” I will give her an opportunity to speak first. I will say, “In an effort to initiate the conversation, let’s have Barbara speak first about her interest in art.” That is one way to get a student to communicate with the group when he or she is usually reserved, but now feels more comfortable.

Another example would be a student who is somewhat reserved or concerned about how he or she is perceived by their peers. His or her top strength, however, is humor and playfulness. When we study Gulliver’s Travels and Voltaire’s Candide satire, both stories can be quite funny. It is not always humorous, but it is often through parody in which humor is implied. I will approach the student. “You are funny. Your peers think you are very funny. You are often reserved, because maybe you are afraid to be the academic in the class discussion. Can we utilize your humor when we are talking about parody or satire? Can you think of any films you love because they are funny that you can share with the group?” Often, that student was more than happy to say, “You know, I love these (specific) films. Let’s talk about them in discussion tomorrow.” I will then reply, “Sure, you lead the discussion.” I am approaching students and their reservations, and focusing on their character strengths to bring out a skill that needs to be further developed .

– From SMART Strengths, Copyright 2011: John Yeager, Sherri Fisher, David Shearon