Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Strengths Explorer: Caring

In your heart, helping other people is very important. You want to make the world better by helping people in small ways or big ways.
Clifton Strengths Explorer

Youth with Caring in their Top 3 SE themes, possess a heart for others. They love to give of their time to help others. The smallest act of kindness, they believe, can make a world of difference. Youth with this theme go above and beyond, not because of obligation or because of finishing a task, but because they know that in doing so, they are helping another person. These youths have big hearts; they notice when someone is in a bad mood or when someone is left out of the group. They make it their mission to encourage others around them.

One wonderful depiction of Caring is from a mentee in the Omaha metro area. At one Academy Session, the mentor brought a picture frame to Ally and showed her two wonderful drawings her mentee had made. The drawings were of the mentor and mentee together, and in one, a heart was drawn around the pair. The mentor shared with Ally that her mentee had drawn these to show her love and appreciation for her as a mentor. For mentees with Caring, nothing is too small to show encouragement and appreciation. Like this mentee, a simple drawing served the purpose of sharing the impact this mentor has had on her life.

32.7% of our mentees who have taken Strengths Explorer have Caring in their Top 5. Our mentees naturally want to help others. Encourage and build up your mentee’s Caring theme by implementing a helpful nature into your mentoring time. Find one thing to do each time you are together to help someone else out. Model this behavior for your mentee. Pick up trash if you see if on the floor. Push in your chair. Say thank you. Consider doing a random acts of kindness challenge, like this one, where you track random acts of serving others. Report back to each other on how these tasks went. Ask your mentee to pick someone they might normally not get along with, and ask them to think of one way they can serve that person. By reframing interactions as opportunities to help others, your mentee will be developing their Caring talent and will walk away with a more positive and hopeful outlook on the world around them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Strengths Explorer: Achieving

You have more energy and more goals than other people. You love a sense of accomplishment.
Clifton Strengths Explorer

Youth with Achieving in their top 3 enjoy getting things done. They thrive on challenges and goals that allow them to accomplish tasks-big and small. Gallup writes about those with Achieving, “the more you get done, the more you feel like a successful person…An award, a good grade, or praise can mean a lot to you because it feels good when your effort and ability are noticed.” Youth with Achieving are hard workers and are always looking to go above and beyond what is required of them.  

When you think about the youth in your life, can you name someone like this? I know I can. One student I interacted with at Johnson-Brock on our strengths day comes to mind. Once of the activities we love to do with youth on strengths days is ask them to depict the senses of their strengths. We give them utensils and a blank piece of card stock in order to show what their strengths sound like, smell like, taste like, feel like, or look like. The results are astounding. This mentee with high Achieving, was one of the first ones to complete her drawing. Her drawing depicted Achieving beautifully, but her actions did even more. Right when she was done, long before most others had started, she hopped up and asked, “what’s next?” When I explained that we are going to wait until others are done, she quickly found ways to do more. First, drawing another picture on the back of her paper, then starting to collect the markers, then practicing what she might share about her drawing. All this she completed before most other students were done.

24.9% of our mentees who have taken SE have Achieving in their top 3 themes. Youth with Achieving like to do; here are a few action items, taken from the Strengths Explorer report, that can allow you to help develop your mentee’s Achieving theme.
  • Challenges are important to you. If every goal on your list is easy, it might not feel good. Set some big goals. Do you want to learn another language…. Score three goals in a game…write a song… teach yourself to skateboard? Set some goals that will really make you feel proud when you accomplish them.
  • People might tell you that you are a “self-starter” because you are always working at something. Look at the things you want to do. Make a list, and decide what is most important. Then, do those things first.
  • You work harder and longer than most people. Try to be an example and a motivator to people who are working together on teams or big projects. Sometimes, just one very hard worker helps the whole group get more done.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What is Strengths Explorer?

In TeamMates, we utilize two different CliftonStrengths platforms, StrengthsQuest and Strengths Explorer. We have spent the last year discussing one by one the 34 StrengthsQuest themes. Over this summer, we are going to dive into each of the Strengths Explorer Themes. Before we begin, we wanted to spend a week discussing what Strengths Explorer is for those who are unfamiliar.
Strengths Explorer is a simplified version of CliftonStrengths, aimed at younger individuals.

In TeamMates, we utilize SE with 3rd through 8th graders. The assessment itself is much shorter than StrengthsQuest, only taking 15-30 minutes, on average. The questions have easier language and the assessment itself is not timed, making this assessment accessible and inclusive to all students.    
Once the student is finished taking SE, they receive their Top 3 of 10 themes. These 10 themes were chosen by the Gallup Education department in the formation of Strengths Explorer. They are based on more dominant theme patterns within the 34 themes of CliftonStrengths. The 10 Strengths Explorer Themes are: Achieving, Caring, Competing, Confidence, Dependability, Discoverer, Future Thinker, Organizer, Presence, and Relating.

The online resources are also a bit different compared to other CliftonStrengths platforms. Strengths Explorer individuals receive a code, which then becomes their login in the future. They type this code in at the SE website here to first take the assessment then each time again to access resources. The online resources include the short and long definitions of the themes as well as a workbook with interesting and enlightening exercises to help students recognize their strengths. The SE website also has parent and educator resources available to help adults in the youth’s life understand the unique strengths of the youth.

Once a student reaches 9th grade in TeamMates, they take StrengthsQuest. Often we are asked what the correlation is between a student’s SE and SQ results. There is no direct connection between these results, but often we see some patterns between the two results. For example, a student may have Relating in their top 3, which may not directly become Relator in their StrengthsQuest results; it could also become Empathy, Includer, Woo, or another strength. The connection between the two assessments grow stronger, like any strengths do, if the student has a positive adult in their life that is helping them learn and recognize their strengths in action.

Knowing the individual strengths of a young person has shown to have profound impact on the engagement, hope, well-being and success of young people. Because of this, many school districts are investing in CliftonStrengths for all their students. This gives school personnel, teachers, and parents the tools to better understand the young person in their life. If you want to read more about the impact and research behind Strengths Explorer, click here to access Gallup’s technical report.

Help other readers out! If you are a mentor or coordinator who has worked with Strengths Explorer before, let us know! Comment and share you experience with your mentee. What age is your mentee? What are the SE themes? How do you use it in your mentoring relationship? How have you seen development and growth of your mentee from knowing their SE themes? 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What a year it has been!

 We are grateful to have traveled to many communities this year and while Tess and I did a great deal of “talking strengths” on the road, we learned just as much from the strengths discovery and awareness of mentors and mentees.

Realizing that some of the best strengths practice comes from conversations with one another, Tess and I decided to structure a new opportunity – a video series aimed at building conversations on the unique ways we see the world, based on our strengths, and based on our stage and season of life.

As we were sharing this idea at one of our first fall strengths sessions, Bob’s ideation guided us to our title:  Genn and Millie.

My perspective comes from the GenX generation and Tess’s the Millenial.  We witnessed Bob’s ideation in action as that title quickly came to mind.  Thankfully Bob helped us find the right description.

Often we discuss the impact of high school students thinking about their strengths in relationship to career planning and consideration.  In Wilcox, a student shared her long-term dream of becoming a forensic investigator, and we were able to rejoice how her futuristic, arranger, deliberative, restorative, and achiever strengths were leading her to not only a career she will love, but one that she will be uniquely suited for.  We also learned from students about ways to thank mentors through strengths language:  in mentor thank you notes, mentee’s writing about the mentor’s strengths in action; a great way to add to an authentic message of gratitude.

The forever cheerleader in me was honored by being able to pose with the Eagle Mascot in Johnson-Brock.  woo went to good use in those days, and in our full schedule at J-B, learning with school staff, mentors, and mentees. Fun fact:  I had the role of being the Exeter Eagle a few times over the years in high school.  All that

Many complimentary partnerships were witnessed, especially in co-coordinators Kristi and Esperanza, who met as TeamMates in Madison and have grown together as leaders, demonstrating the impact of a trusted friend.  The team approach at McCook and Clearwater-Orchard was shining through the light of caring adults – in mentors, school staff, and parents who are encouraging students to thrive.

Middle schoolers showed us how to own their strengths and recognize the strengths in classmates, especially in Mullen and Freeman.  One of our favorite strength-based activities includes asking participants to consider one strength, and describe it by drawing on a piece of paper.  What does it look like?  What does it sound like?  Feel like?  Even smell like?  We typically have limited art supplies and time, and the impressive creativity of students absolutely solidifies our belief in the simplicity of ownership:  just take these words and use them as tools to bring your best self to the table. 

Another meaningful component to our strengths travels this year included the reminders of community support and it’s positive impact on TeamMates chapters.  In Scottsbluff, hosted at the awesome Runza conference center, long term mentors shared about their challenges and joys in the mentoring journey.  Later we were fortunate to attend Gering’s Citizen of the Year honoring our friend and TeamMates champion Maurie. He was honored for his dedication and tireless energy in the community, but it was his humble gratitude, thanking everyone in attendance for their contributions, that exemplified his character and integrity.

I experienced many heart-warming moments like that.  It was in the middle of a strengths training in Doniphan that I found a connection to a family friend and learned that the amazing coordinator Dawn is a cousin to my amazing friend Erin.

  In Waverly, I was reunited with my second grade teacher Mrs. Hill.  In our brief conversation together, she spotted my strengths just as she did back when I was 8 years old, leading our class Christmas play as the narrator.

Strengths match meetings in the metro are some of my favorite times, especially hearing the ways elementary students claim and aim their strengths.  In meeting with Jerry and Johnny, I asked Johnny about his elementary school, Twin Ridge Elementary in Bellevue.  I noticed upon arrival and all through the hallways that everyone seemed to carry joy and energy, so many smiles and laughs.  I asked what might be behind that, and Johnny quickly shared “Well, EVERYONE smiles here!  I’ve been going to this school since I was in kindergarten, and everyone just smiles all the time!”  Johnny leads with caring as a StrengthsExplorer talent, and I am so grateful he, like many others, were willing to share those moments of awareness with us this year.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Together We Transform Lives

This year, since coming on staff, I have had the opportunity to attend trainings at Gallup, travel to countless communities to advocate strengths, make ridiculous yet informative videos, write about individual strengths, and grow in my own knowledge and ownership of strengths.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned personally this year is the power of knowing my limits. Gallup co-founder Don Clifton believed that a lifetime is not enough to learn about your #1 strength. After years of naming, claiming, and aiming my top 5, I find I am still learn something new about my strengths each day. But this year, because of my training, I had the opportunity to learn my full 34 strengths. When most people learn about their full 34, they go straight to the bottom, looking at what are their “weaknesses.” These aren’t actually our weaknesses, but our “lesser talents”, according to Gallup. Through a strengths-based lens, our lesser talents are opportunities to utilize blends of our other dominant strengths or find complimentary partners who have these talents.

While musing about my lesser talents one day (which you really should not do…woops… my Intellection got the best of me), I came to a realization that these lesser talents are also tools to help us understand our own limitations. If you have ever met me, you know I am a “yes” person. I love to give of my time, talent, and treasure to others. This often results in my plate being a bit too full. Utilizing the realization of my lesser talents as my own limits, I felt compelled to step back from several commitments at the end of their term that did not coincide with my best self. I realized these commitments conflicted with my most natural talents and often left me more anxious and less engaged day-to-day. By understanding my lesser themes or less present domains, I was able to create health boundaries and give myself a bit more room to breathe in life.

On a program level, as I reflect back on this past year, I am in awe of the power of local community. The highlight of this year on staff with TeamMates has been the transformation that happens when people know and own their strengths in community. The impact of mentoring, relationships, and strengths collided when I got to travel to a community and see the magic that happens at the local level. From McCook to Columbus to Johnson-Brock and everywhere in between, we have a rock star group of strengths chapters. You Program Coordinators and Board Members work tirelessly to ensure our students and their mentors receive the tool that will transformation their lives: their top 5 strengths. Research from Gallup has shown us time and time again that when a person has someone in their life who recognizes and develops their strengths, they have an increased sense of hope, wellbeing, engagement, and success.  That’s what you, Mentors, Program Coordinators, School Staff, Board Members, and Volunteers do for our youth each and every day.

So, thank you. Thank you for giving of your time to the mission of TeamMates. Thank you for spending hours on end recruiting, submitting data, making matches, sitting with kids, and scanning paperwork. Thank you for devoting one hour a week to build hope in a young person’s life. Thank you for attending training. Thank you for keeping safe and healthy boundaries with your mentee. Thank you for prioritizing the strengths revolution. Thank you for being on this team, because together, we transform lives. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Input: Curiosity Begets Utility

People exceptionally talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
Clifton Strengths Finder

People with high Input have an unquenched thirst to know more. They are continuously seeking more information, more knowledge, and more resources. One of my favorite Input-ers is my coworker Allyson Horne. She explains her Input by sharing that her favorite sentences end in a question mark. By asking questions, Allyson shows her love for and interest in the other person’s life. Questions are natural and normal in every conversation for someone with Input. They have an insatiable curiosity. Gallup writes, “A few minutes of surfing on the internet may turn into hours once their curiosity takes in.”

People with high Input often collect things. Unlike someone with high Context who may collect maps or historical stamps, or someone with Relator who may save letters and pictures from loved ones, the collections of someone with Input consists of artifacts that can be used in the future. This means articles, books, quotes, websites, facts, or other tools are often saved. They collect this information from the motivation of future utilization. They might not be the ones to utilize the information per say, but they will be the ones to share it with someone else who can put it into action.

18.1% of mentors and 15.2% of mentees have Input in their Top 5. Here are questions to help you and your mentee have strengths-based discussion around the theme of Input:
  • Tell me about what you are reading. What is next on your list? What particularly interests you?
  • What do you want to know most about? Are there specific problems issues, or subjects you want to learn about?
  • What new words have you been collecting? How do you try them out?
  • Whom do you find intellectually stimulating?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ideation: Thinking Outside the Box

People exceptionally talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
Clifton StrengthsFinder

People with high Ideation are what the world might naturally describe as “creative.” These individuals have a knack for coming up with fresh, new, and original ideas. These ideas often come from being able to see situations from a new perspective and connect the dots. They thrive in brain storming sessions and are often a valuable part of a team that is “stuck in a rut.” They receive a lot of energy and excitement when they are in a space which allows the free flow of ideas from their brain. They are often described as people who “think outside the box,” being forerunners and innovators that come up with brand new routes that haven’t been taken before. Although Ideation manifests in situational settings, it may also manifest in an individual’s life through their love of art, music, or writing.  

Those with high Ideation are idea generators, but these ideas often do not have value associated with them, meaning one idea isn’t judged as better than another. Rather, their ideas are often given in bulk. Sometimes the individual may have other themes that “sort” these ideas, like Maximizer, Strategic, or Restorative, which naturally work in tandem with their ideas to decide which is the best for the given situation. On the other hand, some individuals may need great thinking partners who can help them sort through their ideas with them, in order to discern which option is best. Pure Ideation itself does not necessarily give value to the ideas, so theme dynamics [another theme in the individual] and/or complimentary partnerships [another person with differing themes] are necessary for implementation.   

15.9% of our mentees and 8.1% of our mentors have Ideation in their Top 5 talent themes. If you or your mentee has Ideation in your Top 5, honor that strength by allowing your mentoring time to be a place in each other’s lives where your ideas can flow. Think outside the box about new activity ideas you can do together. During this brainstorm, write down all your ideas. Then talk through each one and decide if it’s possible to do. Then, consider charting a timeline and deciding when it would be best to do each activity. By giving space for Ideation to flow freely, even during your mentoring time, you will be growing and honor the strengths of your mentee.