a pedagogy of strength

For a couple semesters Rhonda has been part of a teaching pilot that employs the StrengthsFinder survey to help students identify their personal strengths. If you aren’t familiar with StrengthsFinder, basically it is a psychological test. In the test you are presented with 117 paired statements and you choose the one that best describes you. The end result is you are identified as having five strength themes out of 34 possible themes. That may not sound like very many categories, but there are actually millions of possible combinations.

Anyway, the underlying concept is that culturally we tend to focus too much on weaknesses. We are often tied to the notion that we can do anything if we try hard enough. Instead, as the argument goes, we would be better off investing in our strengths, making the most of the things we do best.

So here are my strengths…

  1. Ideation (I like ideas, particularly encountering new ideas and creating new ideas.)
  2. Strategic (I’m good at planning, problem-solving, and so on.)
  3. Relator (I’m good at connecting individually with others.)
  4. Learner (I enjoy learning new things.)
  5. Maximizer (I like to help people focus on their strengths and improve them.)

I have to say that I think the Relator strength is a little off. That’s one I’m going to have to think about. Otherwise though, these are right on. Maximizer in particular is telling. I think that might be why I’m better working with our professional writing majors, who want to write and enter writing careers, than with other students for whom writing isn’t a strength. (Rhonda, on the other hand, has the "Developer" strength which sees the potential in everyone.) I’m sure the Learner strength also informs my teaching. I guess I need to keep in mind that not everyone enjoys learning new things as much as I do.

Ideation and Strategic are obvious strengths for me. It’s important to note that I don’t have other strengths like Activator or Command which would take ideas and plans and execute them, or Analytic or Deliberative which would focus on all the details.

If I was going to put all this in a sentence I’d say this test says that I like to learn new things and develop new ideas and big picture plans to take things we are doing well and really push them toward excellence. I think that’s pretty well played out on this blog.

I think it would be interesting to see the strengths of students and colleagues. It would likely give me insight into how they see themselves. Of course, there are a hundred ways to critique a test like this. You can’t think that you are really these things. It’s just a tool to get you thinking about the things you enjoy doing and the things that you are good at. For students who are more often keyed into their weaknesses, thinking about strengths could be a refreshing approach. For colleagues it might be helpful to learn who is good at what. From my perspective it’s easy to assume that of course everyone enjoys coming up with new ideas and loathes having to slog over details or follow through procedures. Obviously that’s not the case.

In any case, a pedagogy of strength would seek to help students figure out how they can employ their strengths to best achieve their goals. Obviously, being a "learner" would probably be a good strength for being a college student, but every strength has a role to play if you can just figure out how to use it.

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