My mother was a strengths coach long before the Clifton StrengthsFinder even existed. Throughout her decades-long career as a teacher and school psychologist in New York City, she made it her mission to help troubled children find their strengths. Although she didn’t use the strengths terminology at the time, she believed that what others perceived as a child’s weaknesses were often strengths that had yet to be discovered or properly applied.
When I gave my mother’s eulogy at her funeral, I shared a particular story about a time I was able to witness her gift for helping children find their strengths. My mother would occasionally take my younger sister and me to school with her when we were children, and these trips to her school became an important part of my life education. One day when I was sitting in her office, a young boy named Jose walked in. The school had labeled Jose as a problem child, and his teacher had sent him to see my mother, the school psychologist, in hopes that she would “fix” him.
According to Jose’s teachers, he could not sit still in class. He would constantly tap his feet, drum his hands on the desk and often spontaneously stand up and dance. Jose described these actions as impulses he could not control. The teachers had no patience for him, but it was hard to blame them when they had more than 30 other kids to manage.
I remember Jose’s sad little face when he walked into my mother’s brightly painted office. With his head down, he clearly expected to be berated and chastised. But my mother had a smile that could disarm anyone. And when Jose finally made eye contact with her, she smiled that warm, connecting smile and he couldn’t help but smile back at her. “So,” she said, “I hear you like to dance. Can you show me?”
Realizing that he had escaped punishment, Jose sprang from his chair and delighted us with soulful and heartfelt dance. It didn’t matter that there was no music playing -- Jose had music playing in his head at all times. My mother immediately recognized that this perceived weakness that prevented Jose from sitting still was an indication of a talent, and she knew he needed to be at a school where his strengths could be developed. Bending the rules a bit, she completed an application for Jose on behalf of his parents so that he could attend a special public school for children in New York City with dance talent. He was accepted.
After my mother had set up Jose at his new school, she did not follow up with him. I have always wondered what became of him, and often imagine he is a world famous dancer, delighting fans doing what he does best every single day. Had my mother not identified and sought to develop Jose’s strengths, he would have most likely continued his educational career being labeled a problem child. In fact, New York City’s high school graduation rate was only about 46% at the time, so Jose’s “weaknesses” and problem child status might have resulted in him never even finishing high school.
These days we are fortunate to have access to StrengthsExplorer, Gallup’s strengths-based program to discover and develop the unique talents in children, ages 10-14. StrengthsExplorer helps educators and parents:
• learn about a child’s unique talents
• focus on a child’s talents and strengths
• help a child understand how to use his or her strengths every day
• bring positive change to a child’s life
Having witnessed Jose’s positive experience and as a mother myself, I cannot wait to use StrengthsExplorer with my daughters.
Like many strengths coaches I know, my mother helped others, not for recognition, but because it was her calling. Although she did not learn about the Clifton StrengthsFinder until well after retirement, she innately understood the concept of positive psychology and devoted her life to the pursuit of helping children reach their potential. Taking the time to recognize a child’s strengths only takes a moment, but it’s an opportunity for positive change that can affect the rest of a child’s life.
Jamie's top 5 strengths are: Achiever, WOO, Focus, Arranger and Competition.