A strength-based approach in early childhood education sees us move away from a deficit-based approach where one focuses on what is wrong with a child or what children cannot do. Instead, in a strength-based approach we look for opportunities to complement and support existing strengths and capacities.
Adopting a strength-based approach with staff is somewhat similar. Just over 15 years ago a small group of psychologists decided to shift their focus from helping move people past their problems, to focusing on what was right and strong with them. This simple shift gave birth to the positive psychology movement and the 24 character strengths.
The 24 character strengths are characteristics such as creativity, bravery, kindness and fairness. They are also hope, social intelligence, zest and passion for learning.
Strengths are characteristics that differentiate one person from another. Strengths are built-in thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Your strengths are what make you unique. Character strengths are the qualities of your personalities that really show you at your best. Strengths are things like being creative—or really funny. Strengths are a part of your personality, but how much you use each one can change depending on what’s going on at work. There are 24 character strengths which we each have in varying degrees. Our strengths are qualities of ourselves that come naturally to us; when you use them you are at your best and you’re feeling energized (rather than exhausted).
The most common character strengths in humans are kindness, honesty, fairness, gratitude and critical thinking while the least common are self-control, humility and prudence.
You might like to think of your 24 character strengths a little like an orchestra and yourself as the conductor. Your 24 character strengths are represented by each section in the orchestra. You can choose to bring each strength forward more strongly or you can choose to use it just a little. Your top strengths might be represented by the woodwind and brass, whereas some of the strengths you scored lower in might be represented by the percussion and strings. You as the conductor have control over which section you will point to and how strong you’ll bring forward your strengths.
Character strengths play a large role in determining how engaged we are at work. When we use our top strengths at work we are fully engaged. However, periods of stress and pressure can cause us to overlook our strengths and fail to utilise them. When you don’t use your top strengths at work this leads to being disengaged. Current research suggests that as many of 65 per cent of people are not fully engaged in work.
We can help people become engaged at work by:
Create an environment where they can use their top strengths at work
It’s important that staff are able to use their top strengths at work. Your primary strengths should be top of mind in every activity you do at work. It’s important to bring your strengths forward in a balanced way.
Let’s take the character strength of curiosity. If you use curiosity well at work you are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
You might be able to use your strength to extend on children’s interests. Curiosity allows you to think outside the box and ask children amazing questions to generate learning.
You might be able to use your curiosity to create strong relationships with parents. When new parents start you want to make a good impression, you’re curious about their family life at home, their beliefs, interests and desires.
However, you need to be sure that you bring your strengths forward in a balanced way. If you don’t ask enough questions, you might be underusing your strength of curiosity and you could be seen as disinterested or disengaged. However, if you ask too many questions you could be overplaying your strength of curiosity and be seen as nosy or intrusive.
To be clear, adopting a strength-based approach does not involve talking only about positive things or accommodating poor behaviour. It’s simply looking at what’s right about a person and analysing whether those things are being used appropriately. When you play from your strengths you are likely to feel more energetic and perform better than when you are trying to use a capacity that comes less naturally.
Creating a culture where colleagues and managers recognise and appreciate top strengths.
In 2002, the Corporate Leadership Council compiled a survey of almost 20,000 employees at 34 companies. Their findings showed a dramatic link between job performance and attention to strengths. When feedback emphasised what a person was doing right in the job, it led to a 36 per cent improvement in performance, while emphasis of performance weaknesses led to a 27 per cent decline in performance.
In many workplaces today we focus almost entirely on what’s wrong with each other—problems, struggles, and stressors, and sometimes we can lose sight of what is good and strong.
When your Educators are encouraged to focus on strengths, you create a culture of appreciative feedback. Setting up “Strength Spotting” experiences is one way to focus on what’s right. Strength Spotting is an experience where Educators focus their attention on their coworkers’ strengths and are able to describe observable behavior which demonstrates that strength.
Here is an example of Strength Spotting that a co-worker wrote for me.
“Adrian, I love your hope and optimism. The other day when Samantha expressed some new ideas you were the first to support her ideas and volunteer to give it a go. Your strength of hope is also clear when you work with the children in your room. Your language is always so beautiful and positive. It’s inspiring to work with you.”
By focusing on character strengths your team can start to be more innovative, more productive and more energised. Experiences such as Strength Spotting are designed to promote trust and grow an open, engaged and positive team.
For more information check out our new team workshop The Trusted Team. This workshop allows you to explore your Character Strengths and by the end of the workshop your team will be able to work more collaboratively, solve problems more creatively and see the bigger picture.
To find out more about your Character Strengths and how they can help your team, check out our new program “The Trusted Team”
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