For the first few years of my teaching career, I mostly thought I was pretty bad at my job. I was disorganized and felt like I was constantly dropping the ball in my planning. I watched many of the teachers around me perfectly organize their classrooms, use their planning time strategically (how do they do that??), and stay on top of all the paperwork that came with being a homeroom teacher. I felt like I was a mess.
For context, my Top 5 Strengths are:
I’ve now learned to focus more on my strengths, which means I’m not constantly beating myself up about what I’m not good at (only once or twice a day!). And I spend more of my time on things that come naturally to me, which makes me feel more successful in my work. At YES Prep, we mostly use Strengths Finder, but these tips apply to any working styles or leadership framework you’re used to.
Here are 5 ways to leverage your strengths as a teacher:
- Tell people your strengths! If people know what you are good at, they’ll naturally look to you when they want that perspective. This also means that your work with your co-workers will go more smoothly since they’ll better understand your working styles and where you’re coming from on a particular task. My top strength is Restorative, for example, so I naturally find and try to fix problems. It’s essential for my co-workers to know this so that they don’t think I’m just trying to poke holes in everything we do. I just want to think it through and make it as good as it can be. One of my managers helped me leverage this strength by asking for me to identify possible problems and obstacles at specific steps in the planning process. Thanks, Nella!
- Find a planning partner who is very different from you. No matter what your strengths, getting a different perspective on how the students might respond to your lesson is a win for your students. It may be a person you work with constantly or someone you get together with once per month. My most successful years as a teacher were when I worked closely with someone who was strong in execution. I could babble on with ideas and jump into a half-baked plan and my planning partner would filter through it to figure out the logistics, prioritize the tasks for it, and determine an actual plan that we could execute successfully. I’m looking at you, Phil & Geneva!
- Ask people you trust how you’ve demonstrated your strengths. If we are typically focused on our weaknesses, we probably can’t do this well on our own. For example, I have Significance, which I only interpreted as meaning I am self-centered (because I probably am). Once I talked to people about it, though, I realized that it also means I’m motivated by being involved in important work and want to be part of something big. Closing the Opportunity Gap, anyone? That’s pretty big and much more motivating than just feeling self-centered.
- Find out the collective strengths of your team. If you’re on a team and no one in the group has strengths in strategic thinking, for example, it will be hard to analyze your work and make changes to keep the team progressing. If adding someone to the team isn’t feasible, as it often isn’t, you might get someone with that strength to observe a meeting and give you feedback, for example. The key is to know what the group’s strengths are so that you can determine the best way forward.
- Spend most of your time working in your areas of strength. If you’re spending most of your day banging your head against the wall trying to make up for your weaknesses, you’re going to be miserable and your school is missing out on the strengths you could be bringing to the table. If you love logistics, volunteer to coordinate field trips or help determine grade level-specific routines and procedures. If your strengths are in relationship-building, volunteer to chaperone events and check-in at lunch with high risk students. And if communication and influence are strengths, you’ll shine as an advocate and spokesperson for your students and school.
What have you learned about yourself from identifying your strengths? How do you leverage them as a teacher?