By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
It has been ten years already since our then-thirteen-year-old daughter came home and proudly proclaimed, “Mom, I’m a phlegmatic.” She went on to explain that this means she is a peacemaker and a pleaser who prefers to take the path of least resistance when there’s a problem to solve. I remember being impressed that she seemed to know so much about the Four Temperaments—phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic, and sanguine—based on a medical theory that dates back to Hippocrates.
She enthusiastically shared with us that her junior high English teacher was planning to take student temperament into account when she was grouping them for cooperative learning tasks. What a brilliant way, I thought, for this teacher to acquaint herself with her students, familiarize them with their own strengths and weaknesses, and facilitate relationships as the classmates get to know one another. My next thought was a question: “Could we do something like this in elementary or intermediate school?”
Enter John Trent’s The Treasure Tree. Written for a younger learner, it details the journey of four furry friends—a lion, a golden retriever, a beaver, and an otter—and takes the reader along as the characters navigate their way through a treasure hunt. As the animals’ personalities unfold, the reader quickly sees that the strength of each animal complements the weakness of another. The reader ultimately figures out that each animal is a valued member on the quest for the treasure. And though the book is written for elementary-age children, students at any stage of development could have fun trying to figure out which animal has characteristics that parallel their own. They can even take this personality inventory based on the book. Turns out our phlegmatic daughter is most like the golden retriever.
Once students find themselves and their dominant personality style in the story, use the book as a springboard to talk with students about which traits they see in their parents, their siblings, their classmates, their teachers, their teammates, and their friends. Make sure students know that one of the reasons we engage in self-exploration is to celebrate our strengths and heighten our awareness of our weaknesses to promote acceptance, understanding, and growth. Students also need to be aware that personality types shouldn’t be judged as good or bad, but that within the types, some skills are more desirable for certain tasks than others. Find out how students think knowing more about their personality strengths could help them as they find their way in school and life.
What else can we do to help our students sharpen existing skill sets and subsequently pinpoint areas for growth?
Do your students learn through sight (visual learners), through hearing (auditory learners), through touch (tactile learners), or through whole-body experiences (kinesthetic learners)? Share this information with your students and find out if they think that how they learn really matters as they engage with your class. Ask them how their learning outcomes might change if they were to target their individual learning strengths as they set their self-improvement goals. Ask how they might benefit from working to sharpen a learning style that isn’t their strength. What and who might help them go about finding success in attempting that?
In their book The 5 Love Languages of Children, authors Gary D. Chapman and Ross Campbell take an in-depth look at how children communicate. Here’s a brief overview of the ways in which that works:
- Acts of service. These are the students who connect by being your helper. They love to serve.
- Gifts. These are the students who communicate their love with gifts, like drawing you pictures or bringing you flowers.
- Quality time. These students want and need a lot of your time and attention.
- Words of affirmation. These students thrive on affirming you by telling you how nice you look or how much they love being with you.
- Physical touch. These are the students who love hugs, handshakes, and high fives. You may also find them by your side at every turn because physical proximity is important to them.
How does knowing, understanding, and embracing these love languages change the way we interact with our students as we spotlight their strengths? How about how they connect with one another? And how can students extend this connection to their family? How might knowing a child’s love language change how we interact with him or her on a daily basis? How about when there’s a conflict?
There are a lot of different ways to find out what our students are interested in: First and foremost, just ask them. But be ready because they’re likely to go on and on. Ask questions like these: “What sparks your interest? What do you like to do best? What excites you and makes you yearn to know more? What subject(s) do you like best? What subject(s) could you benefit from liking better? How might partnering with someone whose interests are like yours help you grow? How might working with people whose interests don’t align with yours at all stretch you?”
As another option, let them take a paper survey like this one to find out what they’re passionate about. And while all of this information is useful now, it can also help guide students as they’re choosing their college and career paths down the road.
We would be remiss in addressing strengths and weaknesses if we didn’t mention physical endurance and strength. Maybe we don’t aspire to be gold-medal Olympians, but we can all do something to stay active and become stronger. Are students strong runners? Maybe they’re good at kicking a ball. Swimming or water aerobics might be their thing. Hopefully they’re getting outdoors for twenty minutes a day to build physical strength. We won’t ever know the areas in which we can shine physically if we don’t venture out, build on skills we already accomplished, and try new things to reach different heights.
Has your school selected and agreed upon its core values? Use them as a discussion starter. Ask your students which character traits they perceive as their strong suit. Maybe they see themselves as humble, trustworthy, respectful, and kind. Encourage them to give examples and share their stories. Find out how they think other people see them as well. What would they say draws people to them and makes others want to connect with them? Who are their character role models whose example they want to emulate? Then challenge students to take an honest look at what they would benefit from improving by asking which virtues they need to work on. Maybe they’re not very good at playing by the rules, turning in their homework on time or keeping their promises. Encourage students to find an accountability buddy so they have someone to help hold them responsible, cheer them on as they work to better themselves, and celebrate with them when they’ve reached their self-improvement goals.
One final thought: We don’t have to see a weakness as a lack of strength. Instead, let’s look at a weakness as if it’s just not a strength . . . yet.
Currently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
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