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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Turning a Child's World Around: Schools, Families and StrengthsExplorer -- Gallup Called to Coach: Kelly Parks (S7E16)


On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Kelly Parks, CEO of Live Stronger Daily, LLC, about how her new book Exploring My Strengths helps educators and parents weave the 10 Clifton StrengthsExplorer themes into the lives of children, and the impact this has on kids, the classroom and the family.  

Our guest host was Maika Leibbrandt, Gallup Senior Workplace Consultant.


Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.

[3:31] Maika Leibbrandt: So Kelly, I think we hear that a lot -- this desire, especially from educators or people who are connected to children in other ways -- they'll hear about strengths or they'll hear about the movement that we do with adults, and they'll think, "Why aren't we doing this in schools?"

But sometimes they come up against this hurdle, and it doesn't quite come to fruition. What was that like for you, from the moment you realized this needs to be in schools. What kind of hurdles did you overcome to get to where you are now?

Kelly Parks: Well first of all, as a teacher, I remember going to -- I needed to have resources. I would go in the summertime to teacher supply stores, and would look for the most perfect poster or supplemental materials to go up on my walls, to help me teach the content and focus on what I needed to teach the students that year. And I realized quickly that in the schools, that there were no resources for the strengths training for students.

And so, as a teacher, you always create what you need. And so that's how this idea was born. 

ML: So how did it start? Where were you at the very beginning? 

KP: Well what I did was, I was working with a couple of schools here in Arizona, and there's a superintendent, Glen Gaddie, who invited me to do the strengths training in his schools, and I invited him and the administrators to get together to brainstorm some ways in which we could make the strengths training for children fun, memorable, relatable -- because there was nothing out there.

So I wanted to get their ideas. And there was a curriculum director -- her name was Fayth Silveus -- she's brilliant and talented, and she said that she had written a children's book before. And so I said, "Let's start looking at that." And we decided to create some characters that would go along with each of the Gallup 10 youth themes. And then from there, we created some narrative and some poems to go along with each of the 10 themes. And with many revisions, we were able to create the Exploring My Strengths book. 

[6:00] ML: I'd like to jump into this book. It might be like an "unboxing" because I haven't been able to preview the book. ... I'm so thrilled about it. I think what stands out to me are these 10 characters -- being able to not just think about them as talent themes, but to give them a personality, a persona. 

So we've got Andy the Achieving Ant, Camille the Caring Cat, Connor the Competing Coyote (and I do love a good alliteration, so you already scored there), Caleb the Confident Cougar, Dan the Dependable Dog, Dixie the Discovering Dolphin, Freddy the Future Thinking Frog, Ollie the Organizing Octopus, Percy the Peacock With Presence and Reggie the Relating Robin. These are fantastic! 

What do you feel this does for kids, not just to see them as talent themes but to have some characters alongside them? 

KP: I think it gives a dimensional look and makes it fun. Children are visual learners -- most of them -- and they have short attention spans, a lot of them. So you have to have something that -- if you're teaching something new, you have to have something they already understand and connect with. And so I wanted to create something that could do that for them. Because, for example, Andy the Achieving Ant -- well, what do ants do? A lot of children have seen ants, and they know that they're always working. And they're always achieving something.

And so that was really fun to see children actually connect with Andy the Achieving Ant, and say, "Oh, I'm like that!" So it's been really fun. 

[12:35] ML: Kelly, as somebody who's led teachers and thinking about it from your adult mind, what sort of advice do you give teachers who say, "All right, I'm in. Where do I begin? How do I get this in front of my children and incorporate it into my curriculum?"

KP: The first thing I would do is use this book to introduce each of the 10 Gallup Youth Themes, because what we're trying to do is create terms that the students can create a common language -- it would be like a common strengths language between adults and children -- because it's important to create terms that you can actually have a conversation around. 

Competing or Presence -- what does that mean? And so you have to have visual representations of that. So I would start with the book and maybe for the younger children, I'd have them color. I have a coloring book. Have them color some of the pictures as you're talking about each of the characters, and then from there, one of the very fun exercises we do is I have teachers -- when they're reading other children's stories -- ask good coaching questions. "Well, what -- in this story, we have some characters. I wonder what their strengths are? What would you think about that?"

And actually have them think about and defend their answers. "Well, he is competing because he really hated to win in this story." And so, to have children actually respond in that way and really deeply understand each of the 10 strengths by first learning with the book and then moving on to the content in the curriculum that teachers already have in their classrooms when they're reading stories and having comprehension questions at the end of the story. They can insert some strengths questions, like "What do you think?"

So it's a lot of fun, so that's how I think we first start -- is actually naming what these strengths are and how they actually play out in real life. 

[18:52] ML: What are you tracking, in terms of success, when you think about this for your teachers? Is there some element of benefit for the adults in the classroom as well?

KP: The benefit is that if you're a good teacher, you really want to know what makes kids tick. You want to know their inner motivation because if you have to discipline them, you want to know their natural way of thinking, feeling and behaving. And you shouldn't be disciplining all children the same, because each child is so different. And so I think that is important for a teacher -- also, for administrators. 

So I think just getting to those terms and having those conversations about who is this child, and what are their needs and how do they see the world? I know, for example, and let me share this -- we put this in special education as well. And in special education, you have psych evaluations, hearing and vision screenings, and there's all kinds of assessments that come into play so you can see the child in a well-rounded way. 

Well we've added the StrengthsExplorer assessment results to the conversation, and it has expanded -- I feel like we have more of a 360-degree view of a child, and the parents really appreciate it, the administrators love it, and the parents -- if you come to a SPED meeting and they're talking about your children's strengths and how they play out in the classroom, it's so beneficial. 

[20:40] ML: I'm so excited and delighted by this idea. Can you walk us through that specific example, looking at special education as a space where already they're being run through so many different results and so many different conversations. What does a typical parent-teacher conversation look like, now that you've got StrengthsExplorer results as well? How would something like that work? 

KP: Instead of looking at what's wrong -- we're so focused on what's wrong -- we're now focused on what's right. And what is this child's natural way of feeling, behaving -- the way they see the world.

I remember one of the SPED meetings, the SPED director said there was a child that was, I believe, Organizing, and the mother wasn't so organized in her life. And so she would come to school late every day and she just felt very disorganized starting her day. And so she would shut down for the rest of the day.

When it was brought to the table that this child is Organizing, the teacher said, "Oh, I can totally do that! I will help her -- when she gets here, we're going to have everything organized." Teachers are so great. Once they know what to do, they totally can be creative and help facilitate what a child needs.

And so this child's world was turned around just by including strengths in the conversation. I think that it's benefited so many areas in the school, but in the home setting as well, between parents and children -- instead of parents just knowing what their strengths are and talking to each other, it's now, OK, let's talk to our children now about their strengths. And how can we as a family also improve our conversations, improve our relationships, and just the results that we're getting.

ML: I like the credit that you give teachers and I would say also, probably, family members or parents -- that it isn't that we don't want to focus on what's right; it's that maybe we don't have the equipment or the understanding to do it. Once you help us understand what to do, we'll jump right in. What a great bridge you're building between that desire to really live out the mission and the ability to do it. 

You can start using your CliftonStrengths today:


Kelly Parks, CEO of Live Stronger Daily LLC, is a Gallup Certified Strengths Consultant who works with schools to improve and optimize both relationships and performance outcomes of administrators, teachers, and students.

As a former elementary school principal and superintendent for 22 years, she built three charter schools from the ground up, maintained an A rating from the Arizona State Department of Education, and received national recognition as a Title One Reward School.

Kelly has blended her experience in education and certifications in Strengths training to create a Strengths curriculum for school leadership, staff, and students. She has partnered with Strengths Specialist, Amy Merrill, to create a comprehensive curriculum that reaches every facet of the school organization for an effective and lasting positive impact. Schools utilizing her strengths program have decreased student bullying discipline by 24% and reduced staff conflict by 61%.


As a Gallup licensed publishing partner, she has coauthored a children’s book called Exploring My Strengths. This book introduces youth to each of the 10 Gallup Strengths Explorer themes with fun, relatable, and memorable characters. She has also created supplemental teaching resources utilizing the characters for use in the classroom or for parents at home, such as posters, coloring books, and bookmarks. These resources are available at www.excelsiorcurriculum.com or on Amazon. Kelly's coaching website is livestrongerdaily.org.



Kelly Parks' Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Connectedness, Relator, Belief, Strategic and Learner. 

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