Strengths for Teachers

Why should you care about strengths stories?

Strengths language can help keep both you and your student focused on the “good” of a person—what constructive forces work—even when things are not necessarily going well. It is so easy to focus on what is wrong, but using strengths can help you take a step back from a conflict situation and get a fresh, positive view. This can help you and your student understand challenges through a newer, more practical lens that makes it easier to develop strategies that work with what a person already has, rather than what they need. You can appreciate why you feel so strongly about some things, but do not care so much about others. Finally, you can find new ways to connect and build the high quality relationships with colleagues, partners, and students that will extend your collective strengths.

What Teachers Need to Know about Strengths

There is fierce debate about what makes for a great teacher. Millions of hours of video, for example, show what teachers do and compare that to students’ “knowing” strengths in the form of high-stakes testing results, but what about other aspects of teacher greatness? How do students’ strengths team up to play into their teachers’ greatness? As you have seen, when teachers know and understand their own and their students’ strengths and how they are compatible with each other, they provide the best opportunity for greater student satisfaction and academic achievement.

There is, however, a leaky bucket of teacher retention in the United States today. Unfortunately, nearly 50% of teachers do not stay in the profession for even five years, citing difficulty with lack of planning time, workload, classroom management issues, and poor relationships with parents and administrators as some of the their many sources of dissatisfaction. Turnover accounted for by retirement is relatively small compared to teacher job dissatisfaction and teachers pursuing other jobs. In the climate of accountability fueled by national initiatives such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), teacher emotions already affected by the perception of overwork and undervalue are vulnerable to the challenges of reform agendas. We have found that playing to strengths significantly re-energizes the teachers we have worked with in both public and private schools.

What Students Need from Teachers

Quite simply, students need to matter to their teachers. When young people feel and think they matter to others, they tend to be more positive and are more motivated to succeed. School success matters, too, and is considered to be one of the leading developmental assets among middle and high school students as compiled by Peter Scales and his colleagues at the Search Institute.

Bill Milliken, the author of the Last Dropout, and a high school dropout him­self, agrees with the Search Institute’s assertion that there are five predictors of young people’s success in school. The first is to have a personal relationship with a caring adult in your life. The second predictor is having a safe place to go to. Thirdly, success is also determined by getting a healthy start as a young child. The fourth predictor of success is the development of marketable skills. Finally, giving back something about yourself as a person, that is valued by your community lets you be part of something bigger than yourself. In some schools this is called community service, but a more apt term may be “servant leader.” Milliken goes even further to say, “Programs don’t change people. Relationships do.” You’ll read more about this in Part Two of the book.