A Challenge to Principals: Focus on Staff Strengths

As the new school year begins, classrooms are abuzz with teachers planning, collaborating, and preparing for their students. The air is filled with hope of great successes for every child. As effective teachers prepare for this success, their focus is not on areas of "needs improvement" for their students, but rather on areas in which they can help the students excel.

Therefore, I would challenge every principal and educational leader to take a cue from their incredible educators and start the year with the same positivity toward their faculties and staff. I would encourage educational leaders to focus on the talents and strengths of their faculties rather than focus on areas of growth for the upcoming year.

Unfortunately, in education as in culture, we focus more on improving areas of weaknesses rather than developing strengths or leadership abilities. As discussed in my upcoming book, What Schools Don't Teach, the conventional approach is about simply maintaining an individual's strengths while focusing on "fixing" any weaknesses. It's about identifying improvement areas and developing an improvement plan. You have to look no further than any job performance review or teacher observation to see that our approach is all about "fixing" weaknesses. The focus is never on developing our talents or strengths. So, yes we should be aware of our weaknesses, but they should not be our focus. Individuals who focus on developing their strengths are exponentially more successful than those who focus on improving areas of weakness. Imagine what a school could accomplish if the talent of everyone was fully utilized.

There is an array of talents which your faculty may possess. Some of these talents include confidence, organization, maximizer, innovation, dependability, relating, team building, and risk taking. When these and other talents are identified and developed then they become strengths which help your faculty maximize their potential.

As a teacher in one of the top systems in Georgia years ago, I recall that I had to focus on something called a PAC (Personal Assessment Cycle) during each school year. Can you guess what the focus was of the PAC? If you said areas of growth, then you are right on track. There was no focus on what strengths I brought to the position, or areas where I could help the school or students excel, but the focus was simply on the areas where I could improve. When improvement is the main focus, then we become consumed with "not failing" rather than on "excellence". Ironically, this is also the mindset we teach our students as well.

By contrast, studies show when people work in jobs where their strengths aren't utilized, they are not emotionally engaged in their jobs. Sadly, two-thirds of respondents don't feel like their strengths are utilized in their jobs. This means two-thirds of adults are not fully engaged in their work, have lower productivity, and do not view themselves as having an excellent quality of life. Now imagine if teachers felt like their strengths were being used, then you would have a faculty with higher job satisfaction and engagement. Research suggests that teacher turnover and attrition cost over $7 billion dollars per year with over 40 percent of new teachers leaving the field within the first 5 years. What if these numbers could be reduced by simply empowering your faculty to use the strengths they already possess?

Imagine a school where faculty and staff felt high job satisfaction and felt like they could focus on "excellence" rather than "not failing". Now imagine the positive effect of students being educated in this type of environment? Education could finally return to a focus on excellence rather than mediocrity.

So, if you would like to save your district a lot of money, increase job satisfaction in your faculty, and provide a positive environment where your students have the opportunity to excel, then take up my challenge this school year and focus on the strengths of your faculty and staff. Remember the air is filled with hope for the upcoming year. Make that hope a reality!