One of my very favorite things about working with students is watching them come to understand how unique they are and how unique they can become. For nearly 5 years, I have taught the Transformational Leadership class at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta, and one of the core pieces of the curriculum is to discover and harness that which makes our students unique: their strengths. The tool we use with our students is StrengthsQuest, the Gallup StrengthsFinder test. The 30-minute test provides your top five strengths and an in-depth Strength’s Insight and Action-Planning Guide (MVIFI is in no way affiliated with Gallup and there are many strengths and attribute tests; we just really value the results of StrengthsFinder).
The students taking the test have either been in our Innovation Diploma program or the Transformational Leadership class and to date, we have aggregated the reports of 54 students. Over the past four years of testing, I believe I’m beginning to notice a few trends in the data and I believe these trends are associated with the types of students our school attracts and builds up.
What we’ve learned about our student’s strengths
38% of students have “Adaptability” as one of their five strengths. People who have this strength “live in the moment” and do not see their future as a fixed destination. Generally, those with this attribute make choices today for a future they hope to create. Of note is also the “Strategic” theme. Found in 27% of student reports, “Strategic” is categorized as having a special perspective that allows someone to “sort through the clutter and find the best route.” Those with the “Strategic” theme can identify patterns, imagine possibilities, and be comfortable in a world of “what-ifs.” Why do I think these numbers and trends are relevant? Mount Vernon is a community that believes when teachers come to know the curiosity and passions of their students, incredible things can happen. So it came as no surprise that “Strategy” and “Adaptability” were found in our students. At its heart, ours is a school which seeks to see students design a better world. In our world, the future is constantly changing and unpredictable. I believe that the students who grow up here, and those students who find a home at MV, are those that find a comfortability with ambiguity and know how to progress within it.
Using StrengthsFinder in your school or classroom
The first benefit of using StrengthsFinder is that the test gives students a common language to discuss how they could work with others. We have students create low-res badges to wear during project work so their teammates know which strength they are focusing on during the project. In addition to getting everyone on the same page, this common language is what helps us as teachers to form teams of students with different but comparable strengths (though it can be equally beneficial to partner conflicting strengths as well, to learn how to work through difficulties and challenge ourselves).
Active Research for Student Reflection
We challenge students to journal about their strengths and to reflect on how they can work best in teams. Students with the “Harmony” theme might discover they were able to resolve conflict by bringing their team together. Another student might describe how they used their “individualization” theme to place members into new roles within their group to maximize their strengths. Journaling can help students “own” their strengths and recognize how their own uniqueness can best contribute to group life.
Helping Students Share Their Story
Our students have been able to use StrengthsFinder themes to strengthen their college essays and job interviews. By knowing their strengths, students are able to contribute more to client work within iDiploma. When students know how they work best, they communicate better, collaborate better, and understand each other better. They become stronger as individuals, but more importantly, they create stronger and more productive teams.
You can easily replace all instances of “student” with “coworker” or “employee” as StrengthsFinder is just as useful in corporate and business settings as it is in education.
Below are links to Gallup and the StrengthsFinder test