As educators, we often find ourselves poised to invest into and help each student become the best of himself/herself. But when we step back and think a little deeper, we often discover that our view of student development can largely be influenced by a formal curriculum, or what we believe to be good for them.
This is where the tricky part lies. What we think is right for the students can sometimes be biased or influenced by our own worldviews. This could result in the mismatch of action-ables: what we believe to be energizing to students could drain them instead.
As a StrengthsFinder coach, I recently joined a student outdoor learning activity (carried out in Singapore) and had a brief but precious opportunity to coach a student leader. Out of this anecdotal account, I hope to share how the StrengthsFinder tool can effectively help to create great and personalised mentoring moments. These moments not only bring fulfilment to the educator's experience, they can greatly heighten students' motivation.
The students were attempting high-rope elements, and they were supposed to walk across from one end of the element to the other. This can be highly challenging as it involves walking on a thick rope in mid-air. When the activity was underway, everyone was enthusiastic and cheered loudly for their friends. Soon after, the students became tired, and the cheering died down. Student C was sitting nonchalantly on the ground, and her classmate (Student D) was hanging up in mid-air, scared. Her progress was relatively slow, and no one was helping her. The crowd was just waiting for her to "finish up" so that they can move on. At this point, I asked Student C to encourage her, but she was not very compelled to do it. This was when I realised that a good thing could sound very prescriptive, and it was clearly better to work alternatively.
Four Key Steps towards Effective Student Development:
1) TUNE INTO THE STUDENTS' INTERNAL MOTIVATION, INSTEAD OF RELYING ON EXTERNAL MOTIVATORS
Student C was recently assessed for her Top 5 Talent Themes and went through a StrengthsFinder workshop conducted by us (Strengths School™). I remembered that she had the Empathy theme as one of her Top 5 dominant themes. As a StrengthsFinder Coach, I knew I could tap into what makes her tick. In the next few moments, I immediately thought of a questioning frame that could help engage her based on her talent themes.
2) FRAME QUESTIONS TOWARDS THE STUDENT'S MOTIVATION
I decided to restart my conversation with Student C. I drew her attention to Student D again, and ask, "Hey, how do you think Student D is feeling right now?" The key is in framing and relating the question to the need of the talent theme. Student C, who has the Empathy theme, possesses a need to be able to relate to the emotions of others around her. Immediately, her response was, "She is feeling really scared right now."
3) EXPLORE ACTION-ABLES WITH THE STUDENT THAT ENCOURAGEs MATURITY
The response by Student C triggered an opportunity to take up ownership of the situation and to be involved in caring for her friend. This is when a coach can move towards application of the talent theme. I asked, "So, what do you think you can do to help her as a friend?" She immediately replied, "Get to her, cheer and encourage!" The tides have just changed! She literally just resolved to do something which she was reluctant to do which I asked her to earlier! It is often important to grab the coaching moment and move someone towards application. This can help translate often to team successes and encourage the talent theme to move towards a strength.
4) FIND WAYS TO VALIDATE THE EXPERIENCE
When Student C started her rah-rah (encouragement) campaign with a whole new motivation, you could tell that she enjoyed doing it, and Student D moved along the obstacle course a lot more smoothly. As with every learning experience, the debrief is vital. I immediately asked the two students to a casual chat, and we recounted what happened. Student D shared with the group in a dramatic manner that she thought she was going to die. This gave me the opportunity to ask Student D, "Just curious, so what helped you to overcome all the overwhelming fear?"
Student D replied, "Oh the encouragement made a whole lot of difference!"
"Oh! Interesting! Where did the encouragement come from?", I inquired purposefully. She then pointed to Student C, who then looked surprised. (Validation from the recipient of an act is usually more powerful than if it is given by the teacher in retrospect.)
I then continued, "Wow, nice! Student C, see how you made a difference in the experience of others?. It started with you empathising with others because you have the innate talent to, and you decided to do something with it! You have indeed a part to play in the success of others, and also the whole team! How do you feel about it?"
Student C replied, "It feels good!"
I ended the conversation by concluding and celebrating with Student C. She has indeed made a difference with her Empathy theme. I encouraged her to make such an experience an everyday one. She needs to continue to invest intentionally into using her talents.
That particular day, everyone attained personal success. More importantly, the team attained success as a whole simply because one team member offered what she had within her -- instead of keeping it under wraps.
CONCLUDING NOTE: Student development really begins with the individual student in mind. This is the true form of student-centric development. To be effective, it starts with knowing the student first. In this case, we have learnt that StrengthsFinder provides personalised handles (through profiling and talent definitions) and developmental tools for educators to grow students uniquely towards desired outcomes.
Are you an educator considering streamlining your mentoring process? Consider using the StrengthsFinder tool as a means to revolutionise your practice and your relationship with your students. You can find the assessment tool here.
Contact me if you are interested in finding out more about the Singapore StrengthsFinder Workshops for your students and yourself!