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Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Morning Check In: What are Your Strengths?

written by Paula E. Bird, copyright 2014

Recently I listened to a few sermon messages about talents: what talents (or gifts) we are given, how we use them, and whether we are living up to the promise of our talents.  I began to think about this subject area as it relates to becoming a better teacher or parent, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

Since I am a Suzuki teacher, I do not per se believe in talent as something that is inborn. Talent is not inborn and all children have talent are two of the main tenets of the Suzuki philosophy. I believe that we develop our talent with environment, repetition, and discipline, along with many other important actions. For this reason, whenever I hear or read the word “talent,” I substitute the word “strength.” I believe that the word “strength” adequately fits within the Suzuki model; Dr. Suzuki referred to this as a spectrum of abilities to adapt to various environments. I prefer to use the word “strength” to refer to this larger area of meaning.

As I thought about the importance of capitalizing on our strengths as teachers and parents, I also thought about how we could use our Suzuki belief to develop our strengths further. These sorts of thoughts led me to a broad consideration of what our strengths are and what different types of strengths there might be. At this point, I have identified four possible strength areas that we generally have: apparent, perceived, aspirational, and attitudinal.

Apparent Strengths

Apparent strengths are the strengths that we can readily identify in ourselves. These strengths are obvious to us as well as to others. For example, I am a person with extremely high energy levels. I identify high energy as one of my strengths. I am able to endure long time periods for performing and teaching. I am also decisive, which I think of as one of my strengths to make quick decisions based on available information. I am also curious, and this strength leads me to perform and enjoy research on many subjects that are related to teaching. All of these are my apparent strengths. I am sure that we all have several strengths we can identify in ourselves.

Perceived Strengths

Perceived strengths are those strengths that others perceive in us. Unfortunately, perceived strengths may not be something that we can readily identify in ourselves. Perceived strengths are different than the “mask” that we might think we present to others. Sometimes the only way we can uncover our perceived strengths is to ask others whom we trust to identify them for us. For example, although I would never have identified this trait in myself, my studio parents frequently tell me that I am very patient. I have been told this enough times that I now believe that I am a patient person when it comes to teaching. Other traits that others have described to me include self confident, knowledgeable, and gracious or kind. When I hear these types of descriptions applied to me, I wonder about it. I find it interesting that people describe me in these ways, because I would not have chosen these descriptors for myself. What others perceive as my strengths opens up my eyes to a different view of myself, including how I handle the information. Am I disbelieving, self-deprecating, humble, amazed, thoughtful, or indifferent? Thinking about this strength area will open up new conversations within myself.

Aspirational Strengths

Aspirational strengths are those strengths that would be needed by the person you want to become. If you want to be a good teacher, then you would decide what a good teacher is, what qualities that person would have, and what qualities you need to develop in order to become that good teacher. The same would go for any other goals that you might set. What type of person would you need to become in order to achieve these goals? These are all good questions to ask about yourself in order to keep growing as a person and a teacher. You are what you think about, so when you continually thing about the types of strengths that you need to have in order to become what you want to become, you will create these strengths in yourself and adopt these strengths as your own. This cycle will perpetuate itself, feeding and growing until you reach your goal.

Attitudinal Strengths

Attitudinal strengths are those strengths that derive from the way that your attitude looks at things. In other words, attitudinal strengths are what you make up your mind to be and think. For example, my husband might describe me as uptight and a perfectionist, but my positive attitude approach would be to think of myself as a high energy and precise, detail-oriented person. “Bold” is a more positive descriptor than “reckless,” and I prefer "cautious" to "fearful."

I think it is important that we be aware of what our strengths are in all of the four areas I have discussed. We should identify our apparent strengths in order that we may draw upon them to do our best work. We should discover our perceived strengths because we may then live up to what others believe about us. We should consider what our aspirational strengths should be in order to keep moving forward in the direction of our dreams and goals. Finally, we should be mindful of our attitudinal strengths in order that we discipline ourselves to stay in the positive zone of approaching life within our personal growth plan.

This week, consider your strengths and think about any strength areas that you can improve. Being mindful about ourselves will make us better observers of others and better teachers and parents in the end.

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