One of the elements of a Positive Psychology framework to coaching is the use of a strengths- based approach. Explore the value of coaching from strengths, spotting strengths, and times that our strengths can limit our success. Consider the strengths that you have that guide your coaching skills in building from strengths. How do you practice prowling for strengths?
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening. I’m thrilled you’re here.
Steve: 00:35 Coaching from Strengths. In an earlier podcast, I examined five different psychological theories or frameworks that can be a base of coaching approaches. One of them, positive psychology, founded by Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, is the study of optimal human functioning that aims to discover and promote those factors that allow us to thrive. A coach can support a coachee in identifying and using their strengths and positive emotions. This allows the coachee to take action that builds wellbeing for themselves and for others. I decided to explore the strengths approach further. All of the links for the items that I cite in this podcast, you’ll find in the podcast, lead-in.. In a TED Talk titled, “Want to Bring Out The Best in People? Start With Strengths,” Chris Weir focuses on the power of uncovering students strengths and finding ways to focus and spotlight those strengths. He shares some of the broader research about an overall strengths approach. Listen in.
Chris: 01:58 And when I share these stories inside and outside of education, I get pushback. I get pushback from people that say, Chris, those are great stories, and they may work at an elementary school, but they’re kind of fluffy. They’re not preparing our kids for the big, bad real world out there. And to those people, I share these two numbers with: when you focus on strengths, you get an increase of over 36% performance. When you focus on weaknesses, you get a decrease in almost 27%. That is a shift, a swing of over 63%. And these numbers are not coming from Elementary School, they’re not coming from a secondary school. They’re coming from the Corporate Leadership Council that surveyed over 19,000 employees in over 27 countries trying to help leaders bring out the best in their employees. Companies like Lego, H&R Block, Caterpillar, Cannon, Lowe’s Hardware, corporations and companies in this big, bad, real world. Not so fluffy. But these numbers point to a simple message. Starting with strengths works for people, period. It works for corporations, organizations, it works for schools, it works for your colleagues, your students, and your kids. Because isn’t that our job as educators, as parents, as leaders, to bring out the best? I mean, part of the root word of education is to bring forth what is within. So what are we bringing out?
Steve: 03:33 Those increases in performance are really impressive. Early in my teaching career, I uncovered that anytime I wanted to speak with a parent about a problem that their child was having or creating at school, I always had to start by having a clear picture of the strengths that the child had. I had uncovered that any improvement in performance was going to begin with a positive attribute or strength that the child possessed. I was in effect coaching the parent when we could identify strengths of their child to build our improvement plan from. In a video. “Positive Psychology in Coaching and Professional Practices, Christian van Nieuwerburgh of Growth Coaching international, interviews Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, a positive psychology researcher. He describes the role of a coach as strength spotter. Listen to his thoughts.
Christian: 04:43 As you mentioned, strengths and and strengths. Use is, is get getting more adopted. I in many educational contexts. Do you want to say something more about how educators or leaders can just bring strengths use into their everyday practice?
Robert: 05:05 Yeah, absolutely. So first of all, I think there’s great utility in focusing on strengths, like everything in positive psychology, I don’t think it needs to be an exclusive focus on strengths. It doesn’t mean, of course, that we’re gonna ignore weaknesses or areas of deficiency or just, you know, relabel them, you know, areas of development or growth. Because the truth is, I think your strengths or your areas of development or growth and certainly there’s some research suggesting that we make great gains in developing our strengths. In part because we’re more passionate about them, they’re more energizing, we’re more motivated. I personally am pretty unmotivated to change my weaknesses because I’m not all that interested in them. What I tend to do is just avoid the situations that would bring my weaknesses to play. And instead I double down on the things that I already have some potential in and I find that I make good gains there.
Christian: 06:04 One of your great strengths, Robert, is spotting strengths in others. We work together sometimes and I’ve seen you do this in a way that’s so incisive and insightful and can really land with the person that you’re talking to. So, can you say a bit more about strength spotting and in others?
Robert: 06:30 Sure. So first of all, just strength spotting is just looking for strengths in other people. And kind of like how I said, hold these frameworks from positive psychology loosely, I would hold a strength label loosely. We’re not interested in pigeonholing people with labels or in demonstrating how correct I, Robert am. But you know, if I met a student or if I met one of you, I would kind of be on the prowl mentally. Just, you know, I wonder what’s going on. I wonder what the best you is. The first thing that I like about that is that it makes me pretty positively disposed towards you. I’m not looking at, oh, what are your politics? How do you vote? You know, who are you rude to? You know, there’s, there’s plenty to divide us.
Robert: 07:22 I’m basically looking for what could I admire in you? What could I see that I could learn from that I think could be laudable in some way? So I’m just looking for the good in you. And again, not in a pollyanna way. I recognize that all of us are complex and we all have some minorly ugly qualities about us, myself included. But I just come in sort of with that mindset and then I just see where people are really excited and where they seem to excel. Sometimes, in all honesty, I just make up labels for what I’m seeing. But most often, I’m using labels that are kind of commonly understood. Like, oh, you’re pretty persuasive person. Oh, you explain things really clearly. You’re, a great explainer. Oh, you’re really funny.
Robert: 08:25 Right? Strength and humor, whatever it is. And I don’t buy into the idea that there are say, 24 strengths. I think there are hundreds of everyday strengths and you just have to have a vocabulary for it. So, for example, a strength that I think is common among teachers that I don’t think is on any of the formal strengths assessment, I call it antenna, like a bug has an antenna. And that is, you’re kind of taking the sweep of the entire room, right? You’re thinking collectively, are my students getting this? Are they engaged? Are they paying attention? Are they distracted? Who slept well, who didn’t? Who’s passing a note? Who’s fooling around, where the side conversations happening? And I’ve seen teachers, they can be, you know, writing up on the board with their back to the class, and they know, and they just turn around and they’re like, “you two.” And I’m just, how do they know this?
Robert: 09:23 And I think it’s because they have the strength and antenna, which I would describe is being particularly attuned to your attentional periphery and being able to see sort of the whole gestalt rather than just every little detail. And it’s just wonderful because once you introduce a word like that, now we could all have a conversation about it. Like, who do you know that has antenna? How do they use it effectively? Are there potential downsides to it? Could they be too perceptive and make people feel guarded or self-conscious? What would be the right amount to use that? But I think in just bringing these kind of discussions in, you end up having closer relationships, you’re more validating, and you could potentially end up working better together.
Steve: 10:16 I love that phrase – “on the prowl for strengths.” I remember years back when I was training mentors who were working with beginning teachers, we would watch videos of the new teachers, and I would model a post-conference. The mentor trainees would frequently ask me how I had so many positive elements to share with the teacher. They were surprised when I shared that I spent most of my time looking for those positive elements. Finding a growth area for a new teacher doesn’t take a lot of searching. Tracking how the teacher’s existing positive moves impacted student learning always provided a step to build from, and it often connected to an area where improvement could have a big impact. Building from a strength encouraged the new teacher’s belief that she was capable of strengthening her teaching to reach a desired goal. Another item that Biswas-Diener mentioned is the value of conversations about our strengths, which at times can identify how our strengths may actually detract from achieving our goals.
Steve: 11:27 A personal example for me is that I’m often reinforced for my stories that serves as examples of an element that I’m explaining. The satisfaction that I gained from that strength can lead me at times to add one more story
Steve: 13:13 Questions about strengths and styles are often in my initial pre-conferences, because in my role, I’m most often coaching folks that I’m meeting for the first time, so I often use questions like these: Would you describe your natural approach to instruction? What’s your classroom management approach? How is your style in administration similar and different from what your teaching style was? How is your approach to coaching similar or different from your earlier teaching in a classroom? I’ve always reinforced the role of listening in being able to build an effective individual coaching process. I’ll now add a thought of being on the prowl for strengths. Consider the strengths that you have that guide your coaching skills in building from strengths. How do you practice prowling for strengths? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Remember, you can always reach me at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 14:29 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.