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Week 8: Developing Character Strengths (March 17-23)

View the videos (as outlined in Description of Weekly Assignments file) and post your thoughts and reflections by midnight on Thursday, March 22.

Post responses to two other colleagues’ posts by midnight Saturday, March 24.

 

Here are some prompts for your blog:

  1. Have your own character strengths been in your awareness since we last met? If so, have you noticed how you use your strengths? How do you feel when you use your strengths?
  2. Have you been done any strengths spotting in your students, friends, or family? If so, how did others react when you named their strengths?
  3. What are the chances that you will use strengths practice in the future?

18 thoughts on “Week 8: Developing Character Strengths (March 17-23)

  1. I really enjoyed listening to Ryan Niemiec talk about character strengths and how they are imperative to achieving life goals. The way in which he asks the questions makes you stop and think and reflect on yourself. What matters most to you in this life? What are your highest strengths and how might you tap into them? How might you use them to solve problems or build better relationships? How can we spark a flame in others by recognizing and acknowledging their strengths? These types of questions helps us to learn more about ourselves and being conscious of how we connect with others. Moving from a deficit mindset to a growth mindset and just giving people the benefit of the doubt. I also thought that the activity that he used was very powerful. What if we couldn’t use our strengths? My signature strength was gratitude and if I couldn’t be grateful or show appreciation for things and people I would definitely feel empty. This would cause me to focus on what’s going wrong instead of everything that’s going right. It would change my perception of life because with gratitude I see the goodness in everything, there would be no bright side and I would most likely fall into depression of some sort. I wouldn’t be ME. Finally, I felt that the activity of looking at the picture was also a significant aspect of how we look at the world and the people in it. I believe that our perceptions guide our behavior and attitude towards other people. If we don’t “tilt our heads” we won’t truly “see” people or understand them. Niemiec stated that, “there’s always more to the picture, there’s always more going on beyond the surface in every conversation.” This speaks true to the students that we work with. This is how we build positive relationships and helping others to see the strengths in themselves. Although we all have busy lives and have already recognized that it takes intentional effort to practice using our character strengths, it is vital to growth and positive change. Just as Mark Bezos stated, don’t wait to make a difference. Everyday offers the opportunity to affect someone’s life. Sometimes the smallest gesture or kind word makes a world of difference. You are helping your students to see something in themselves that they don’t recognize and this builds them up in more ways than one.
    I have definitely utilized strength spotting in all environments. When working with my students I take a negative aspect of them and turn it around. For example, I have a female student that I just started working with. She has a very negative attitude and is very loud and “in your face.” I told her that I see a boldness in her and that she just needs to use that in a positive way. This opened the door for communicating with her. She began with a smile and said to me (before I could point it out) “yeah, I know I need to work on my attitude.” One positive comment made such a difference. I’m constantly trying to help people see the good in themselves that I see in them; I even compliment strangers. The power of positivity is something that I will always use now and in the future.

    1. Chris,

      We share the same top character strength! When Ryan Neimiec posed the difficult question to consider what it would be like to totally eliminate your character strength for a month, I tried to picture what it would be like to not show gratitude and I found even thinking about this to be difficult! Since identifying it as my top signature strength, I think about it almost every day. My 40-minute commute to and from work each day provides a lot of time for reflection on how my day will go and how my day went. Yesterday as I was driving home, a song came on and reminded me of my brother, which led to a tangent about how thankful I am to have grown up with an older brother and sister to guide me through a lot of what I have experienced! Just a simple thing that I identified how my mind can wander off on tangents but many are related to my character strengths! I agree with you in saying that it would prohibit the positive thinking and cause a sense of depression when you cannot appreciate what you have in the world.

      I also watched the Mark Bezos TED talk and really enjoyed the quote he shared that related to not being able to change someone’s life every day, but you do have the chance to impact or affect someone’s life every day. This is a powerful thing to remember as a teacher. I think of my students and how I want to be there to best serve their needs, which can quickly lead to an overwhelmingly daunting task. However, if we are able to focus on what we CAN change and how we can positively affect someone’s daily life, we can harness that positivity and reflect on how the small, everyday impacts can lead to a greater change overall!

      1. I really enjoyed Mark Bezos altogether. I see so many people wait to do things, even for themselves because they want to be more established, more stable, make more money, etc. But it really only takes a small gesture to make a huge impact on someone’s life. One hour of volunteering, babysitting for your neighbor that has a night class (i.e. ME) and needs someone to watch her littles, taking yourself to get a 15 minute pedicure. The little things in life. I remember my prior supervisor telling me about a letter that was left behind by someone (can’t remember if it was a teen or young adult) who had committed suicide. That letter said that if one person smiled at him that day that he would not kill himself. A simple smile would have made a difference for that male on that particular day. So I smile at anyone I make eye contact with. Kindness costs nothing, acknowledgment costs nothing, a shoe that probably wasn’t worth anything made all the difference to that person. I think that sometimes people are so consumed in their own lives that they don’t stop to enjoy the people or things around them anymore. Gratitude is such a great strength to have.

      2. I really enjoyed Mark Bezos altogether. I see so many people wait to do things, even for themselves because they want to be more established, more stable, make more money, etc. But it really only takes a small gesture to make a huge impact on someone’s life. One hour of volunteering, babysitting for your neighbor that has a night class (i.e. ME) and needs someone to watch her littles, taking yourself to get a 15 minute pedicure. The little things in life. I remember my prior supervisor telling me about a letter that was left behind by someone (can’t remember if it was a teen or young adult) who had committed suicide. That letter said that if one person smiled at him that day that he would not kill himself. A simple smile would have made a difference for that male on that particular day. So I smile at anyone I make eye contact with. Kindness costs nothing, acknowledgment costs nothing, a shoe that probably wasn’t worth anything made all the difference to that person. I think that sometimes people are so consumed in their own lives that they don’t stop to enjoy the people or things around them anymore. Gratitude is such a great strength to have.

    2. As teachers, it can be difficult to seek out the positives in both people and situations – especially at this point in the year! I think that learning about the growth mindset combined with our exploration of character strengths has changed all of our approaches to our students and the way that we look at our surroundings in school. I love what you shared about your student and her “boldness” and plan to use that term with some of my students as well because it definitely applies.

      I watched Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, titled “The Power of Vulnerability,” since it had to do with my own character strength of love. I feel that, in a sense, it connects to what you have discussed in your post. Most of Brown’s research is centered around connection because it gives “purpose and meaning to our lives.” As teachers, I think we get most of our joy out of the connections we make with our students, however, she holds that shame and fear of disconnection is a source of “unraveling connections.” We all have shame in some way or another, but in order to get past that shame, we must consciously allow ourselves to be vulnerable. This idea of vulnerability really struck me because I realized that in forming our connections with students, we, as teachers, are the ones who have to be vulnerable first and then teach our classes to be vulnerable themselves. By complimenting strangers or by opening that dialogue with your new student, you had to make yourself vulnerable first and foremost. From there, you really do set the stage for creating meaningful connections and promoting positivity. It likely inspires your students and your peers to be vulnerable as well, which makes them more willing to open up to you, thus opening those channels of communication.

    3. Christina,
      I also really enjoyed the Mark Bezos talk! (My son and my ex-husband are firefighters, so I totally get the mindset of being first on scene!) He made me laugh, but he also delivered a powerful message in a humorous way. As people who work in education, we can and do make a difference every day. Sometimes it is just hard to see that. But like your note below states, you never know how a little gesture like a smile could make the difference in someone’s day. I also share the same top strength as you and Kirsten – gratitude; and I totally agree with your self assessment that without your character strengths, you wouldn’t be who you are. I think being grateful makes it easier to give back, and to take the opportunity to make that connection with others. Part of my class project is to connect with some of my harder to reach students, and to help them find positive things about themselves. I hope I can reach them like you did with your female student with the negative attitude.

  2. I was not expecting the character strength quiz and discussions to affect me in the ways that they have since first taking the strength survey to identify my “signature strengths.” I have always really enjoyed personality quizzes such as the Myers-Briggs and color personality test to learn more about me and others that I work with. This quiz shed some light on a lot of areas that I hadn’t brought to the front of my mind! I think the project that I chose for this class on exposing my students to the 24 character strengths has allowed me time to focus and reflect on my own character strengths. My top strength was gratitude, and I have spent a lot of time reflecting how much I call on that strength in various situations. I also think about the strengths that were near the bottom of the list and how I can pull them more into fruition in my daily life. Ryan Neimiec’s talk about the four stages of light allowed me to reflect on my strengths as well. I liked his analogy of having all of our strengths on “pilot light”, serving as potentialities at any given time. When the strengths move to a flicker, they are becoming more prevalent and start to take more form in our everyday life. Strengths that shine through as a beam can best be described as calling on a specific strength to apply to a given situation, where strengths that possess a full glow can be used in new ways and across many different situations. I would consider my signature strengths to be most closely related to a full glow, while the next “tier” of strengths could be described as a beam and flicker, with my strengths 18-24 as a pilot light, waiting to be called forth. I feel confidence when I use my strengths because I have more appreciation for a strength-based approach versus a deficit-based approach.
    I have been using strength spotting with my first grade students as a part of the project for this class. When I see a student exhibiting strength, I find the coordinating tag that I created for each strength and pass it out to the student for them to display on a little lanyard necklace they can choose to wear or hang on the wall. The students really enjoy earning the strength cards and talk and compare with each other what strength cards they have earned so far! I really enjoy how it has focused my attention on student’s strengths, as well!
    Attributing much of this to my project and the work I have put forth to creating a curriculum and materials around the 24 character strengths, I most certainly see myself using this in the future with any grade level that I teach. Even though some of the language surrounding character strengths may be a little difficult for my first graders, we have found ways to discuss each character strength in a meaningful, understandable, and age-appropriate way thus far. I enjoy how it relates closely to Carol Dweck’s growth mindset and how it capitalizes on the fact that we ALL have ALL 24 character strengths. I also like how it focuses on student strengths and our motto for this class, “Focus on what is strong, not wrong.” This mindset has really shaped me most walking into a Child Study, IEP, 504, or Eligibility meeting. As these types of meetings often focus on how the student is lacking or falling below benchmarks, we as educators must also take the time to reflect on student strengths and how we can best harvest these strengths in a meaningful way for students to succeed!

    1. I would really like to hear more about how you are integrating strength spotting and earning strength tags in the classroom. First graders are typically moved up or down a scale (clip chart) based on behaviors so it is nice to just recognize students for the strengths that they are exhibiting. We (my children’s elementary school) had a random acts of kindness month where any student that was observed doing a kind act would get recognized and given a treat. This was noted by a bingo styled chart and if the class that had the most by the end of the month received a party of some sort. Just another way to get students to be intentional with their act. We definitely need to implement ways to focus on the good aspects of the students and the progresses that they make.

    2. I am always so impressed by your posts! They incorporate so much of what we’ve learned from this course. For a long time, I also have been interested in surveys, tests and self-assessments such as Myers Briggs, enneagrams, etc. Finding out my character strengths through the VIA survey has definitely been an eye-opening experience. It’s been very easy to consider my top five strengths in my everyday practice, but I love that you brought up how you consider the strengths that may have fallen lower on your list of rankings. I had never considered doing that myself but it does really tie into Neimiec’s point about “pilot lights” and the potentialities of other character strengths. I’m inspired by your post to look at my own character strength list and categorize them into tiers based off of his analogy of flicker of light, beam of light and full glow.

      I also love your idea of giving the students tag cards. This helps make your lesson visible to some students and helps them actually see what strengths are. I’m curious to know whether you’ve included other types of visuals into your project. As an art teacher, I’m always eager to make my lessons as visual as possible. I, too, have tried to focus more on what is “strong, not wrong” with my students. I wish that I was able to sit in more on IEP, 504 and eligibility meetings to advocate for some of my students, but being an elective teacher, that simply is not a reality and often times, we are not given a seat at the table.

    3. Kirsten,
      I love how you tied the character strengths into Ryan Niemeic’s concept of the four stages of light. I agree that your signature strengths are the ones that are usually on full glow, with the lesser ones being in the flicker stage until you call on them. Since we did the survey, I have been so much more aware of my signature strengths and how much I use them. I also have been trying to use my lesser strengths more often.
      It is fantastic that you have been using the concepts and ideas that we are exploring in this class to help with your SpEd and 504 meetings. While these meetings have a tendency to focus on the weaknesses of a student, it is important to remember how hard these meetings can be for the parents. I always try to remember to highlight the strengths of the student before we address areas of need. It frustrates me when I ask a teacher for input on a student and they don’t have anything positive to say.
      Your practice project is coming along so well! I love the idea of having the character strengths on tags for the kids to display. I bet they love it too!

  3. For my blog posting this week, my first choice was to watch the TED talk with Murray Gell-Mann, because it was titled “Beauty, truth, and physics?”. Since my second character strength was appreciation of beauty, I thought that this would be a good choice. Unfortunately, most of the video was beyond my understanding, because I don’t even have a rudimentary grasp of physics! However, when he talked about emergence; Professor Gell-Mann made a statement about life that I totally understood. He stated that you don’t need something more to get something more. He related it to the layers of an onion, and how each layer was the same as the one before it. I was able to tie this directly to my strength of appreciation of beauty. This is something I understand very well; I have always seen the beauty of things around me. Nature inspires a sense of awe; and I can see the little things around me that make life beautiful.
    When Ryan Neimeic talked about not using one of your signature strengths, I had a hard time figuring out if that was even possible for me. I can’t imagine not being in awe of a beautiful sunrise, or a perfect flower. Without that, I think I would feel empty. Since taking the strength survey, I have become more aware of the fact that my signature strengths are the very heart of who I am. Appreciation of beauty was my second strength, but my first was gratitude, and I think that is why I can’t imagine living without an appreciation of beauty. Brene Brown spoke about practicing gratitude and joy, and in my personal experience, these two things are interwoven. When you are grateful for things, it is easier to experience joy.
    Mark Bezos spoke about making a difference, and how every day offers us a chance to impact a life. It would be difficult for me to continue in SpEd if I didn’t keep that in mind every day. There are days that I come home from school feeling used up and empty. (Or like the person who was sent in to get the shoes!) Using my character strengths to appreciate the beauty in my students makes it possible to go back after having a day like that. For me, the practice of strength spotting gives me the chance to help the general education teachers get to know my students in a different way. It really helps if I can point out that the girl who constantly shouts out in class has a really kind heart; or that boy who follows her around at recess with a million questions has an insatiable curiosity. Sometimes my students come with a pre-formed “reputation”, and it is my job to help the teacher see them for who they are deep down, not who they are on the surface.
    All of the TED talks were this week were interesting and moving, but I think that I was most moved by the talk given by Guillaume Niery. His experiences with free diving, and the impact it had on his body when he dove, would make most people not even want to try something so dangerous. However, he spoke so eloquently about his experiences with seeing the world beneath the surface of the water. We spend so much time chasing things on the surface, that we forget to look beneath. We should all remember to live in the moment, and experience the peace and transcendence living in the moment that brings. And remember to take that deep breath.

    1. Marchia,
      I really appreciate your point of view when it come to strength spotting. It is so easy to label students and allow their reputations to overlook their qualities. Teachers have such a huge impact on the students, even in how they view themselves, that it is important to make sure they are looking deeper than the surface behaviors. I love when I speak with teacher and they can say, “She/he needs to work on this but I have seen improvement with this” or “she/he is still struggling but I see the effort that they are making.” This means that they are recognizing the progress and not expecting overnight results. Great way to use your character strength to empower other teachers to use their character strength.

    2. Marchia,

      I really LOVE how you use strength spotting to help the general education teachers see the strengths of your Sped students. I think that it can be hard sometimes to find positive characteristics in children that are challenging, but this is a good reminder that all people have strengths and it is important to see those. I also agree that realizing, every day is an opportunity to make a difference is HUGE for teachers, because there are days where we feel like we have given all there is to give, but we have to remember that our kids depend on us, and look up to use, so we need to be the best we can for them!

  4. “Who you are is what you repeatedly do.” For me, this quote from Ryan Niemiec’s Ted Talk was most impactful and has stuck with me since watching his presentation. I’ll start this post by admitting that last week was NOT a good week for me. March is usually a tough month leading up to Spring break (as it is for most teachers), but last week in particular was especially rough. I’m not sure what the central cause was but I what I am sure of is how “on edge” I felt pretty much all week. Each day, I felt overwhelmed and irritable. Between grading, planning, grad school assignments and extracurricular commitments, I felt stretched thin. After a weekend of being stepping back to reflect on what could have been the cause, I am in a much better place. I’ve realized how important it is to have balance in my life and how important it is to say “no.” I simply over-committed last week and that contributed to my irritability. So how does this connect to our assignment this week? After watching Niemic speak, I realize my own “beam of light” and “full glow” had temporarily gone out. It was definitely a wake-up call. I had stopped repeatedly using my character strengths and therefore had stopped being who I am. My top character strengths are humor, judgment, perspective, love and prudence. I decided that going into this week with a refreshed mind and inspiration from the Ted Talk, I decided that I would try to use at least two of my character strengths in different capacities as the week progressed. I chose humor and judgment. Humor is my top strength and bringing smiles to others brings me a lot of joy. I like to tease with my students and have a playful demeanor in the classroom while still being firm. My students have expressed that they enjoy when I make corny jokes, or as they like to call it, when “Ms. Florek has had 200 cups of coffee.” I have consciously tried to demonstrate that energy this week and I really do feel like it’s improved my attitude and fosters good behavior amongst my students. I also tried to incorporate judgment by trying to think things through more before reacting and looking at situations from more than one side. I’ve been trying to take five deep breaths when I feel overwhelmed and have also been better about making to do lists to prioritize my tasks. Putting things down in writing has helped relieve stress as well.

    Who I am is made up of my character strengths. They are what create my personality. I’m sure that I will lose sight of them again at some point in time, but I certainly am glad that I know what my strengths are so that I can be more cognizant of how, where and when I use them.

    I definitely try to touch on my students’ character strengths in the classroom – especially when they are struggling or are telling me about a difficult situation. I’ve had the benefit of teaching some of my students for three years, so at this point I think I am able to identify what some of their character strengths may be. I did do a bit of experimenting this week and asked my roommate to take the VIA survey so that I could see if there were any similarities in our results. Surprisingly, she and I share the same top three character strengths, but in a different order. Her additional strengths of forgiveness and social intelligence did not match my own, but it was very interesting to hear how she was answering some of the questions and how satisfied she sounded when she found out the results. She most definitely agrees with them, as do I.

    1. Emma,
      I felt the same way this week! Stretched thin would have been an understatement. Unfortunately, I didn’t over commit and some weeks are just this hectic for me. I had a major part of my capstone paper due, working to finalize my project curriculum for this course, running my kids to all of their many activities, and going to work….with all of our “challenging” kids and the teachers and administrators that keep reprimanding them excessively. But those “challenging ” kids made my day. You’re right…they love corny jokes and when I try to act cool. I had one of my students try to teach me a step from the step team, it was a complete mess. But like you said earlier, when you allow vulnerability it allows then to open up to you and connect, to trust. I have mastered using my top five character strengths of gratitude, honesty, kindness, perspective, and appreciation of beauty and excellence. These were easy because like you said they are who I am and I repeatedly used those strengths even before we took the survey. The others are the ones I need to intentionally use more often. I also think that you were spot on about reflecting weekly, even daily. This allows you to step back and really think about what went wrong, what went right, and what could have been done differently. I always try to get my kids to reflect on situations, whether good or bad and we talk about how that made them feel and what they could have done differently (if it was something negative). This has really made a difference in their perspective. I’ve also started using a sheet every week with my students where they list three compliments they received, challenges they overcame, how they helped someone else, and times they have made someone else happy. I’ve found that it’s easier to prompt them than just having them write. I think this “ignites their flicker.” They begin to recognize their own strengths and also how they helped spark a light in someone else.

    2. Emma,
      Thanks for sharing your reflections. I can empathize when you explain how over-committing slowly starts to take a toll on your mental and physical health until it just hits you and it feels overwhelming all at once. Since starting grad school, and especially this year, I have had to practice both how to say no and how to ask for help. I realized that I don’t like saying no to things (such as serving on extra committees at school, taking on additional projects, etc.) because I feel like I am going to miss out on a valuable experience and because I don’t want to let people down. However, I also know what it feels like to be bogged down by the things I cannot say no to! Learning how to balance that time and realize that by saying no to things can actually benefit me by having enough time/energy/motivation to complete the other tasks I need to complete effectively. This year I said yes to quite too many things and actually bowed myself out of a program that I was accepted in to increase technology integration into the classroom. It required monthly meetings, weekly blog posts, and time dedicated in the classroom that I didn’t feel like I could balance with two grad school classes and teaching all at once. Ultimately I was bummed to have to let it go because it was a valuable program, but I had to make the decision that was best for me and for my students (and my grad school career – hah!)

      I like how you utilized your character strengths to refresh your focus and energy! I think that is a perfect way to combat the stress that comes with the end of a school year in sight. Best of luck to get through until spring break!

    3. Emma,

      I also have had a rough week (or two, considering I have been late posting these!). I really appreciate how you acknowledge the rough week and struggle and then turned it around into an opportunity for you to use your character strengths. My top character strength is kindness, and yesterday I took the day to be with my best friend who is having her first baby in May. We spent all day shopping and getting her house ready for the baby. Being able to help her out, buy her some gifts, and just help her out in any way that I could really rejuvenated me. I think this is a perfect example of how using your character strengths helps you to feel like you again!

  5. To be honest, I have not really thought much about character strengths. These past couple weeks have been particularly challenging for me, so it was not something I focused on, but now reflecting, I should have been, probably would have helped. I think something that Ryan Niemiec said in his talk that really struck me, was not how I feel when I am using my signature strength, but what it would be like if it was taken away for the next month. When he was talking, I thought about how kindness and social intelligence (my top 2 character strengths) would be devastating to lose, and why. Why would it be so bad to lose these things, well because it does truly make up who I am, I would be lost without that connection with my students and friends and family. I absolutely thrive off of being kind to others, and try to do it as often as possible, but still wish I could do it more often.
    I don’t think I was aware of strength spotting, but it is something that I inadvertently do when a student may be having a rough day, or is upset about something. I feel as though I know my students pretty well, both their strengths and weaknesses. One of my students, we will call him Joe. Joe is an extremely bright, kind, well-mannered, young man, but his confidence is fairly low, and he struggles with perfectionism and OCD tendencies. While he is doing SO much better than he was when he first started 5th grade, there are still some days where he is very low. I always take the time to talk with him about how he is feeling, and then try to use his positive attributes to help him understand and recognize all of the positive things about him that make him unique and perfect the way he is! I don’t necessarily talk about character strengths specifically, but definitely about his positive qualities.
    I chose to watch the TED talk by Brene Brown, partially because she was speaking on the strengths that I have and are interested in, but also because I have heard such great things about her as an author. After listening to her talk, I could relate to many things that she talked about regarding vulnerability. While they made sense, I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion myself. For example, the “whole-hearted” people who value vulnerability, and see it as necessary, I think that is absolutely true about people in my life who I believe are part of the “whole-hearted” group. I think that this was something that struck me, because I am a very planned, type A person, and unfortunately life is not wrapped up in a perfect little box like she showed during her talk. I think by using my character strengths of curiosity, courage, and zest could help me to feel as though there is value in the vulnerability in life, and that life doesn’t have to look like that perfect little box to be valuable and worthy.

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