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Teach With Your Strengths

December 21, 2005 1 min read
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How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students

Liesveld and Miller, both affiliated with the Gallup Organization’s education division, assert that decades of the polling organization’s research points to a “stunning fact”: great teachers make the most of their “natural talents” and don’t expend much energy trying to remediate weaknesses. Not stunned? Then you may be equally underwhelmed by the rest of this exercise in “positive psychology” and “strengths-based development,” which culminates in the opportunity to complete an online “talent assessment instrument”—the Clifton StrengthsFinder—to zero in on your own top five “signature themes.”

Decrying the ubiquity of the “pathology model” of psychology, which focuses on what’s wrong with people, the authors describe 34 “themes of talent” that teachers can tap into once they’ve discovered them (via the StrengthsFinder, of course). One of your themes might be “developer,” which means you’re skilled at such things as noticing hidden potential in students, or “futuristic” (“the kind of person who loves to peer over the horizon”). What exactly you’re supposed to do once you’ve determined your themes profile isn’t clear, and a brief “Where Do You Go From Here?” chapter offers little guidance. A suggestion that teachers advertise their themes on their classroom doors, for example, just seems silly.

The intentions are benign enough, and I’m all for giving the pathology approach—which has affected education in so many detrimental ways—another kick in the shins. But faced with statements such as “Decades of research have proven that talents are extremely powerful,” teachers may be left scratching their heads and perhaps wondering whether discernment in reading material is a strength they’re lacking.

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