Ways schools leaders can support others in offering their best selves to the world

Some principals and teacher leaders see their school communities as a bundle of strengths to be developed and more consistently applied in achieving important goals.

YMCAOthers view their schools as problems to be solved, gaps to be diagnosed, and weaknesses to be remedied.

In my experience, schools in the former category are far more effective in creating the focus and energy required to achieve their goals.

Leaders in strength-based schools are skillful in supporting members of the school community—students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other staff members—in developing and more consistently being their “best selves.”

Here’s a university-level example: Jane Dutton and her colleagues at the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan created a “reflected best self assessment” process in which students ask 20 friends, family members, or colleagues to provide them with three written stories about how they added value to their lives. Students use the 60 stories to write a “reflected best self portrait” which describes them at their best. They then set goals to more consistently be their best selves.

According to Dutton, those who engage in this process “experience a deep affirmation of their unique greatness” and “see themselves as being much more efficacious.”

The technique Dutton uses in itself isn’t that important—resourceful teachers and principals could easily adapt it for use with students and teachers in their settings. What’s significant is its emphasis on strengths rather than weaknesses.

While most of us could undoubtedly benefit from acquiring new skills—for instance, becoming better listeners or clearer communicators—our success for the most part will be determined by our ability to develop and consistently apply our unique strengths to worthy and compelling purposes.

Schools that continuously improve teaching, learning, and relationships for the benefit of all students will be lead by principals and teacher leaders who help school community members, young and old alike, appreciate and more consistently offer their best selves to the world.

Question: How can leaders help others in the school community identify, develop, and experience their best selves as learners and as teachers?


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