The ONE Thing to Focus on to Start the Year Strong

At the beginning of a new school year, there are countless things we could focus on. For the first few weeks of school, though, I’d like to suggest focusing on only one thing: your biggest strength.

Typically, we identify what we’re not good at and spend extraordinary amounts of time and energy trying to change it. Following the insights of Marcus Buckingham and the strengths movement, though, we should really focus on working with and building up our strengths if we want to be most productive and effective at work.  The implication for teachers? The quickest way to getting the results you want with your students is by working with your strengths.

The first question to ask yourself is, what do I enjoy doing and what am I good at?
If you’ve been teaching for a while this is easier to answer, but even if you’re going into the classroom for the first time you can predict what you’ll be good at based on your previous experiences. Are you really organized? Do you build relationships easily? Do you like speaking in front of groups? Do you get excited by setting goals and working toward them?  Do you like solving problems?

How can you leverage those strengths in the classroom?

If you’re strength is… Focus on…
Building Relationships Praising students, learning students’ interests and making connections to them in class, working one-on-one with students as they practice, sharing your story (appropriately) during class, holding tutorials with small groups, contacting parents for positive things, connecting with students during lunch and afterschool
Being organized Creating procedures that maximize class time, offering meaningful classroom jobs to increase student ownership, using planning periods efficiently, creating systems for keeping students & parents informed of their grades and upcoming assignments, organizing field trips and guest speakers
Working hard towards goals Emphasizing a meaningful class goal or individual goals, creating ways for students to track their progress towards the goal, articulating the importance of the goal and what traits will get them there, outlining a path to success, celebrating milestones along the way

Building strengths can make up for weaknesses.
If it makes you a little nervous thinking about not focusing on the things you need to improve, I’m right there with you. But then I think about all the time I spent as a teacher spinning my wheels and beating myself up trying to be more organized without ever becoming officially ‘organized.’ I could have been using that energy building relationships with more of my students since that’s what really gave me energy and helped me thrive at work. Would being more organized and getting lesson plans done during my planning time have helped my students? Sure. But building stronger relationships also would have since we always work the hardest for the teachers we like the most, right?  And if you love working towards goals, for example, but are nervous about being able to connect with students, focus on working with them towards that meaningful goal as your way of connecting with them. I’m not saying to completely ignore your weaknesses, rather to focus more on your strengths than those weaknesses.

In the end, many strategies can lead you and your students to success, but the one you’re best at will get you there faster and with a smile on your face.

YES Prep is looking for a few more excellent teachers for the 2014-15 school year. Visit to learn more and apply today!

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