The Power of Knowing Your Strengths

“How do you feel?”, I asked my daughter after our conversation.

“I feel totally awesome!” she exclaimed.

My son was not as expressive with his feelings as his sister after our conversation. However, in his easy-going way, he said, “I feel good.”

 

The conversation with my young adult children was about their talents. Talents are the lens that each of see the world through, it’s the thoughts, behaviors and feelings that naturally come to each of us. When time, knowledge and skills are put towards talents, then strengths are developed.

 

As a parent and educator, I am always excited when I learn a new skill that can benefit both myself and my family. The Strengths Communicator’s training with Leadership Vision has taught me a deeper understanding of the importance of knowing your strengths. I attended a two day training session in January and in March in Minneapolis. In between the training sessions I conducted six strengths conversations. After the last training session I completed six more conversations. The six-month training has allowed me to be a professional “story listener” as I listen for the behavior of strengths through the stories people tell me about their lives.

 

The Clifton StrengthsFinder is a tool that I have used with youth and adults over the past eight years. I first learned about the tool through leadership training and have used it extensively with the Girls Lead program.

 

The training gave me the privilege of having conversations with twelve people about their top five strengths. I was able to talk to family members, friends, colleagues, and complete strangers about their unique perception of life through the lens of their strengths.

 

The training allowed me to practice my listening skills and improved my understanding of the inter-dependency of the various strengths Each strength cannot stand alone. I imagine knowing your strengths is like the iceberg model:at the top of the iceberg are your top five strengths and the basic understanding of each strength. However, below the surface, the commingling of behaviors of each strength is supported by the culture, context, and environment. This commingling influences the perspective of each person to see the world through their own unique strengths lens.

 

People want to be listened to and heard. Each person also wants to know they matter and have value. I would end my conversations asking the person if they would like to hear what I had heard in the conversation. I reflected on the parts of the story that demonstrated strengths in action. Very rarely are people given the gift of having another person listen, reflect and identify their genius.

 

I have been an educator for over 25 years in a variety of different roles. My passion is to work with youth and educators to create positive learning environments –environments where people can thrive. What would our education system be like if we were all able to identify our own strengths and our students’ strengths? Then educators would be able to tap into those unique strengths and use those strengths to the advantage of the learning environment. I believe helping both youth and adults better understand their strengths can be one piece of the puzzle in creating positive learning environments.

 

The conversation with the people that volunteered has helped me to build a deeper understanding of how each of us sees life. I can now see the strength of Achiever in my son through his hard work, where I didn’t before our conversation. I now know that my daughter uses her strength of Strategic to think through alternatives to problems she needs to navigate in her senior year. I believe that deeper understanding and opportunity to listen to people’s stories has shown me the resiliency and beauty in each person.

 

If you would like to find out more about my speaking, training and consulting with educators and nonprofits in creating positive learning environments, contact me at kathy@wildewoodlearning.com for more information.

 

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

[Book Review] Differently Wired. Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World by Deborah Reber

I ordered the book, Differently Wired, from my local library based on a podcast interview I listened to on Zen Parenting radio. As I listened to author Debbie Reber, talk about her autistic, ADHD, and gifted son, I became more intrigued and wanted to read her parenting book based on her experiences with her son and her podcast, TiLT Parenting.

 

I picked up the book at the library ready to hear the typical parenting information about children with her slant on how we “should” be parenting our children. Instead I found something entirely different. The book is an honest and vulnerable telling of her journey of parenting a neurodiverse child. As I read the introduction, I had tears flowing down my cheeks because I could relate to having “square peg children” trying to fit in the round holes of the traditional parenting norms and education system.

 

I want to share with you a few definitions before I pull out a few aspects of the book that I believe would be helpful to both parents and educators.  Neurodiversity, or differently wired, people is a way to look at brain differences such as autism or ADHD as a result of normal and natural variation in the human genome. According to Reber’s research, on average, one in five children on the whole has a neurological difference. A teacher with a classroom of 25 children, on average has five (or more) children who may have ADHD, autism, giftedness, learning difference, anxiety, sensory issues or twice exceptional. Twice exceptional or 2e children are intellectually gifted and have one or more neurological differences. All these diagnoses can be grouped under the term, “differently wired.”

 

I am a parent with several differently wired children, and as I read through the book I found myself wishing I had this book long ago. At times I had wished the educators of my children had a better understanding of their needs and were able to adapt to those needs. The author described how her son’s needs that continuously were not being met by the traditional school system model, and therefore, she and her husband decided to homeschool their son.

 

Reber’s goal for writing the book was to redefine how neurodiversity is perceived in the world and to shift the parenting paradigm to one that acknowledges and includes parents’ experiences.  Debbie tackles this goal by describing 18 different “TiLTs” or shifts parents can consider in their parenting. She uses research and stories, plus providing reflection questions to ponder and tips for parents to put into action. This is a parenting book that many educators can also glean much information and ideas to ponder.

 

All 18 of the TiLTs were very applicable to a parent (and educators) with a differently wired child; however, here are several TiLTs that I wanted to highlight.

 

TiLT #1 – Question Everything You Thought You Knew About Parenting

Parenting a differently wired kid is not about being comfortable. Reber asks parents to question their beliefs about education, parenting style, nutrition, child’s social life and the personal characteristics of ourselves and our child. She suggests being curious about what makes ourselves and our children tick. Let go of how we think things “should” be for ourselves and our children. There is no, one “right” way on this parenting journey. I would also say that what works for one differently wired child might not work for another child. Break out of the limits we put up through social norms and imagine what could be for your child.

 

TiLT # 6 Let Your Child Be on Their Own Timeline

The traditional school system has a hard time with this concept, children learn different skills when they are ready to learn that skill. Neurotypical children can struggle with measuring up, and neurodiverse kids start picking up the messages of, “I am dumb”, “I am not good at _______”, or “I will never measure up.” Such messages can be crushing to a child’s self-worth and spirit. Parents start worrying about a child being able to progress at a certain rate, and teachers start to push students beyond what they are ready for developmentally. When this happens, the child can experience increased anxiety and confidence crumbles under the pressure. This pressure is more pronounced with differently wired kids. To help combat this pressure, Reber suggests that a parent can start pointing out how your child is excelling, in both academic and character areas. Often those strengths are overlooked, when in reality such strengths are the foundation where growth can occur.

 

TiLT # 10 Practice Radical Self-Care

Parents and teachers all need to practice self-care. If you don’t put on your oxygen mask first, you can’t serve the others around you very well. Self-care looks different for each of us; however, to practice radical self-care, it has to be intentionally good for your mind, body and soul, and JUST FOR YOU! It is very important to plan one (or more) small acts of self-care every day.

 

TiLT #12 Make a Ruckus When You Need To

Advocate for your child because nobody better understands the needs of your child than you. As an advocate for your child, you need to find the people, resources and schools that will understand your child’s needs. That is not always an easy task. Many times it will take you out of your comfort zone, and solutions may be many miles from home. Reber provides a list of skills you might need to advocate for your child at school. Here are a couple suggestions: building relationships, asking questions, staying calm and knowing your child’s rights. Speaking up for your child intentionally and respectfully for a change or action needed is what advocacy means for parents.

 

TiLT # 17 Help Your Kid Embrace Self-Discovery

Reber believes that the greatest gift we can give our differently wired kids is the knowledge of who they are, how their brain works and what they need to do to create the life they want. Self-discovery can be an ongoing conversation of helping our children understand they are different and that is great! When a child knows what they need and has the words to communicate those needs, then he can be confident in advocating for himself. Conversations about strengths and challenges on a daily basis can help, plus having communication that is open and honest can support both yours and your child’s self-discovery.

 

I hope you go to your local library or online bookstore to get your copy of Differently Wired. One of the messages in this book is to let our differently wired children know that there’s nothing wrong with them. Nothing needs to be fixed or changed. We are all just learning. Learning helps us to figure out how we operate and the additional skills needed to work on. The 18 TiLTs are just the beginning of how parents can support their differently wired children, and give them the skills needed to make life a little easier.

 

 

What is so personal about learning?

 

Several weeks ago I attended a hand lettering class at our public library. The instructor pinned to the board many different examples of hand lettering quotes. She had done beautiful work. My first thought was, “I can’t do that!”

 

The instructor led our group through a step-by-step process. She demonstrated how to hold the marker and how to make the letters so there was enough room on the paper to do shading. Then she showed a simple way to make a banner. As I followed her steps and continued to practice during the class time, I started to get the hang of hand lettering. It was fun and relaxing!

 

The next week I bought a couple of new pens and a box of markers just for me! Hands off kids! Then I practiced. I practiced while watching TV. I practice while sitting on our bed listening to a podcast. Last Sunday I felt I was good enough at doing several different styles of lettering that I hand letter a quote. The picture on this post is my creation from last weekend. I go for progress, not perfection. I posted a picture of the quote on my Instagram and got a few hearts.

 

I challenge you to think about a time you learned something new. Something that took a bit of practice before it started to come together. A project where you felt like you were in the flow, could lose time and the action was providing you joy. That is personalized learning in a nutshell.

 

Personalized learning is not new in the world of education.

 

Personalized Learning can be defined as learning in which the pace and the approach of learning are adjusted for the needs of each learner. Plus the learning activities are meaningful, driven by interests, and often self-initiated by each learner.

 

Personalized Learning (PL) may be called differentiated, student-centered, or self-directed learning. Each one of the approaches is dependent on the amount of student choice and voice allowed by the classroom teacher.

 

I have been a long-time advocate of personalized learning for children because it allows the child to learn through his or her own interests and develop at his or her own pace. I believe learning is a personal endeavor and can be an adventure!

 

Personalized learning is a great way for students and teachers to lean into strengths! PL is built upon students becoming aware of his or her talents and using the experiences to build those talents into strengths.

 

PL can be a great way for children and teens to become more self-aware. Self-aware of innate talents, learning styles and environments that support his or her learning. The more awareness by the student the more neuro learning circuits being developed in the brain. Through personalized learning, children can become self-advocates for developing their own understanding and educators can support the students in becoming confident and capable learners.

 

I come back to my endeavor of learning hand lettering. I know my hand lettering class was PL for me. I made the choice to attend the class, practice the lettering styles and buy the tools I needed for the project. When I was working on my project, I was lost in the flow, having fun, and mastering the process.

 

Practicing my hand lettering also helps me to learn some vital mindsets such as:

  • Perfect is good, but done is better.
  • I am not good at hand lettering, yet.
  • Keep practicing and it will come.
  • No growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.

 

Plus I am building my innate talents by learning a new process, developing creative ideas and determining the arrangement of my next project.

 

Don’t be too surprised that I am on to another hobby or project sometime soon. I am aware I enjoy the process of learning and I don’t feel I have to be an expert to be fulfilled. My hand lettering project has helped me to become more aware of my talents and through spending time doing something I enjoy I am building my talents into strengths.

 

So as a parent, educator, teen or young adult, how do you support your own personalized learning?