In my interview with Temple Grandin, she brought up a few key points that really seemed to resonate with people. ‘Building strengths’ was a biggie.
I worked in the school system for years. I won’t go into a tirade of how this concept of building upon the student’s strengths is not done; rather quite the opposite – everyone is made to fit into the box of test score production, or else…. failure, misfit, special ed labels set in. So I will leave it at this.
And yes, in all fairness there are individual teachers who most definitely do hone in on a child’s area of strength and look to build on it. They bring in books on the specific area of interest, create projects around it and try to teach skills by utilizing their strength as a springboard.
In my workshops with parents (parents classes) I stress that not every child is good at everything, just like we’re not ‘abled’ in every area. We need to see what each child is good at, what his/her interests are and hone in on that, bring that out, help each bud sprout in his/her unique way. Not everyone is academically oriented and that needs to be O.K. (I know this is a tough one since our world is so academically pressured and competition in this area is ridiculously and dangerously high.) We have to value strength in whatever area it manifests and then build around that.
I once had a parent talk about her child’s interest in snakes. Although she was disgusted by them, she went out and bought her 10 year old son a pet snake. The other parents jumped in with, ‘oh, how could you, I can’t even look at them.’ Her wonderful response was, ‘I want to encourage his interest. It doesn’t have to be mine; maybe he’ll grow up and be a scientist or zoologist.’ Now that’s an enlightened parent. It’s about her recognizing and encouraging his interests, separate (and different) from hers, not her agenda for him. Bravo to her. The last I heard, he was in high school doing great in science.
I was not good at computers. As an adult I took computer classes and hated them. I was bored and felt I could not grasp a lot of the techy stuff. It took me longer than others. But now that I have a specific interest – blogging and building my site through social media means- I am forging ahead in my computer skills. Well maybe not forging, but certainly progressing, slow and steady. So learning computer for computer sake didn’t cut it for me; but learning it for another purpose that was important to my interest, is what has done it for me. My area of strength doesn’t lie in technology but I learn it as a means to my endeavors.
I worked with an assistant teacher who has tremendous artistic ability. I felt she could really spread her art beyond the school auditorium plays and classroom decorations and projects. Here was a woman in her 60’s who used and sincerely felt every excuse in the book as to why she couldn’t do more with her talent – ‘I’m too old, who would want my work now, there’s so much better talent out there than me.’ She told me nobody ever encouraged her when she was young to pursue art. So she just did her paintings and pastel work for herself and friends.
The PS to this story is that she has written and illustrated a children’s book and had it self-published. Hopefully she will be taking a course at FIT in New York. And who knows from there. She has to push beyond those internal negatives and fight against all those excuses. Not an easy task but certainly doable.
The most important thing is to build good and positive feelings around what someone Can do rather than what they can’t do. Is it that they’re always spilling the milk because they’re clumsy and unfocused or that when it spills, they’ve learned and been allowed (where we parents are Not running behind them cleaning it up for them because we do a better job) to clean it up after themselves? And for that demonstration of responsibility they get an A. It’s those positive feelings that are crucial to carrying us into success.
When we do what we feel good at, we succeed. It’s up to us all to shine the light on one another’s strengths. We will then magnify and grow brighter.
How do we build on strengths? How do we help each other blossom?
First and foremost, EVERY single person has strengths.
- Take sincere notice and interest in another so that you begin to hear and see what excites them, what unfolds. Ask questions. See beneath the surface area of content. Maybe it’s not a specific thing like music or numbers; perhaps it’s more process oriented like planning, organizational skills, being highly responsible.
- Acknowledge the strength, the interest, the attribute. “I see you love drawing.” “I hear how you talk about fixing things – your eyes light up.”
- Encourage the pursuit of the area of strength.
- Support their engagement in it and with it.
- Help them expand their vision. As Temple Grandin says, ‘stretch them.’ What else can they do with it?
There is so much potential out there waiting to be tapped into. There would be so much more satisfaction amongst us all if we felt good within ourselves and felt our most authentic self was being realized and actualized.
We can all be a coach to one another helping to bring out and maximize our strengths and talents.
Care to share some of your areas of strengths? Who has helped support you in those areas?
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy and take away something positive from some of these posts. Please share in the Comment section; it’s easy.
3 pastel art giraffes made by Sheila, assistant teacher, given to me for my retirement/birthday. (A most meaningful gift, being a lover of giraffees.)