Want kids to love school? Stop telling them they stink and find their strength.

Teachers Should Be Talent Scouts

Want kids to love school? Good schools don't just teach subjects. Good schools teach you about yourself.  We don't have subjects, we have special, unique people walking in and out of our classrooms each day. It is time to start treating students as the individuals they are! A focus on strengths is the secret to a better school. We want students to be leaders, but we never let them lead. Let's change that! Here's how.

Talent Plus Passion equals purpose. Dr. Brad Johnson - Want Kids to Love School? Here's the secret

Do you want your teachers to be six times more engaged in teaching? Do you want your students 30 times more likely to be engaged in school? Would you like to triple your teachers' quality of life? Then, focus on strengths, not weaknesses.

Recently, I sat down with, Dr. Brad Johnson on Every Classroom Matters. He says

“When you combine student talents with their passion you’ll find their purpose.”

We must move the emphasis from standards to strengths. Sure, we need to help kids with their weaknesses. Most people need basic math, reading, and writing.  But when we hyper-focus on weaknesses, we forget to nurture talent.

If Baryshnikov was born to dance, why should he die in trigonometry?

While I've already written up the show that inspired this post, I've been thinking about three of the ways Brad says we can focus on student strengths and make our schools stronger. (Read more, in his book What Schools Don't Teach.) Here are some thoughts on what all of our schools should be doing.

3 Secrets to Implement if You Want Kids to Love School

1. Encourage teachers need to bring their talents to their teaching.

Figure out a way to teach with what you love. You'll be more excited. Your students will too.

If you want to be more exciting, be excited. Think of what you love. Use it to teach.

2. Help students enjoy and appreciate their strengths and the strengths of other students.

A grade is not a measure of value as a person. Everyone matters or no one matters. (Hat tip Harry Bosch.)

Sadly, ask a student about where they stink, and they'll answer.

Ask them about their strengths, and they'll shrug.

What’s wrong with this picture? Don't we give genuine compliments? And we only focus on the weaknesses? If a parent did that, we’d say they were a bad parent. Why are some schools getting away with it?

3. Create leadership positions for students.

Instead of giving strict instructions, we should be appointing leaders. Brad says,

[tweetthis]We want students to have a leadership, but we never let them lead. @DrBradJohnson[/tweetthis]

Here are some of the job titles from my classroom this past year:

  • Project Manager (PM)
  • Assistant Project Manager (APM)
  • Lead Graphic Designer
  • Production Coordinator
  • Lead Programmer
  • Database Auditor
  • Audio Engineer

In my classroom, if there’s a job we create a title for it. Jobs have a responsibility. If there is responsibility, there is accountability. Accountability and responsibility cause incredible learning activity.

To teach leadership, we have to have leadership positions. Yes, it changes our classrooms. It makes us more of a coach. But that’s the way it should be.

Let students lead. Give them responsibility. Don't be a dictator.

How Do You Measure Up?

Do you give tests to help students find their strengths? (I do.) Are you only looking for weaknesses you can “fix”?

A 2007 neuroimaging study by Arnaud D’Argembeau of Belgium found the forward most region of the medial prefrontal cortex is important in

“Helping a person reflect on their traits and abilities versus those of others.”


How do we help students know themselves? Look for their strengths first.

Strength-finding is part of the brain that we can develop. We can shift from standards to strengths, from standardization to personalization, from weakness to wonderful.

As we look for strengths, we'll build stronger schools.

As I started this year, I showed a picture of an uncut diamond to my students. I asked them what it was. Most didn't know. I said it was valuable, but sometimes didn't look like it. I said it represented them and it was an uncut diamond. My job this year is to help them find their talent. We might only find a few facets but that we'd look for it. I will know I have succeeded when I have told every parent and student something truthful that I've noticed that student does well.

The mentality of looking for strengths instead of deficits changes everything. The classroom becomes a place where we rejoice in talent. We celebrate talent. Students point out strengths of each student. I would daresay, it even makes class more fun.

How do you look for talent? How do you spot strengths? How do you communicate such a mindset to your students? Empower students with hope, don't crush them with their incompetence. We can do this. We can help students find their talents. If you look at people who tell stories about great teachers, it was almost always those teachers who saw something in the student they didn't see in themselves.

Be that kind of teacher. Be the noble teacher. Be a talent scout.

Tips for minimizing teacher stress

  • Discover 10 stress-busting secrets for healthy teachers. What simple routines will help you handle the stress?
  • Simple advice for coping with stress at work.
  • Learn tips to help you deal with difficult colleagues and students (even those who "hate" you -- yes it is possible!)
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4 thoughts on “Want kids to love school? Stop telling them they stink and find their strength.

  1. A powerful and much needed message is what I would call your post – bravo! I wholeheartedly agree, the emphasis on weaknesses means a lot of students think of their teachers as enemies. Furthermore, how can we expect students to be outstanding in their fields when we don’t focus on areas they find comfortable? I sincerely hope your message reaches as many people as possible.

  2. I start years with multiple intelligences and part of my spiel is “Everyone is intelligent. It is my job to find out how you are intelligent” and as my students would tell you – I did indeed find intelligence in everyone

  3. Hi Vicki, great post!

    The points you make here fit SO well with my experience. I often find that people just don’t have the language (or confidence) to talk about their strengths – not just kids, it’s often the same with the adults I work with too.

    One thing that I find very effective is to facilitate students (or staff, which is more my area of expertise) with exercises using a deck of strengths cards. This helps legitimize the conversation around strengths and provides a simple stimulus in the form of words and photos, helping them articulate what their strengths are. It’s even more powerful when they use them to talk about what they appreciate in other people.

    I did an activity recently where the students all reflected on the strengths they saw in each other. The best bit was when they all told their teacher what they most appreciated in her!

    If this is something you’re passionate about, perhaps I could send you a pack of our ‘At my best’ strengths cards to have a play with (see them at http://shop.atmybest.com).