Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Strengths Activity- Strengths Deck

This week I am bringing you an activity that both you and your mentee can use in every match meeting to come. This is an adaptation from the 60-in-60 Document on the Strengths Drop Box which you can find by clicking here. Start by gather a set of index cards and some markers or pencils. Then, take time creating one card for each of your strengths (Top 3 or Top 5). Depict these strengths however you want to by writing and coloring on one side of the index card. 

Once you are finished creating your cards, go on to another activity (play a game, do a craft, etc). As you go about another activity during your mentoring time or the next time you meet, be aware of how your strengths are being used. When you notice a strength in yourself or your mentee, hold your card up, explain how the strength is in use, and then make a note on the back of the card.  

Keep the cards and use them often when you meet in order to strengths spot each other. This very simple activity will help you and your mentee on your strengths development journey. By creating awareness of our strengths during normal day-to-day life, you are helping each other claim their strengths in a personal and powerful way. Deliberately strengths spotting during your mentoring time, will help set an example and precedent for both of you to strengths spot people in other areas of your life, therefore helping you see others through a positive lens. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Practice of Gratitude

1. Tell us who you are! Find us at the places below and let us know you are listening. 
2. Offer meaningful recognition to someone in your life in the next week. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


I had the opportunity to meet with a strengths match today and the mentee reminded me about the labels that can often come with our strengths. This mentee, an 8th grader, had the strength of Competing as her #1 strength when she took Strengths Explorer. I asked her to share a time recently when she has used her strengths. She said she had an example but it wasn't a good one. She described gym class earlier that day when she was being a "try-hard", or someone that exerts a lot of effort, especially when it not something that is important.

I told her that our strengths are us at all times- at our best and our worst. They are neutral, and in any given situation it is up to us to apply them productively or destructively, positively or negatively. Labels come when someone either does not recognize this character trait as a talent within us, or when what they witness is our strength in the basement.

I often hear from mentees about the labels that have been placed upon them as a result of their strengths, but this was the first encounter I had with a mentee who self-ascribed this label. She said, "I was being a try-hard." It was an honest moment of self-discovery of her recognizing her strengths can fall into the basement, but also placing value upon her strength based on her cultural context. In her middle school context. trying to hard is seen as negative, and her Competing strength, which will do whatever it takes to win, can be easily construed as negative and result in labelling (by the self and by the other).

So what can we do as mentors to combat the negative value our mentee might give their strengths based on what is deemed as desirable in their context? We show up and follow Coach Osborne's traits of a mentor: agape and affirmation. We make a choice to continually love our mentee by showing up week after week, without judgement and without hesitation. We affirm that their strengths are their natural giftings; what is good and right about them. In this situation, the mentor and I helped the mentee to own her strength in a positive context, seeing how her Competing benefits her now and how it will benefit her in the future.

Strengths ownership is not an easy process, especially when you have had or continue to have negative labels and values placed on your talent themes are seen as less desirable. As strengths advocates, mentors, and role models, it is our job to help our mentees come to overcome these labels in their lives so that they can truly love and appreciate their authentic self. A mentee in the Northern Region on the survey last year responded that what he learned about himself from being in TeamMates was that he "was a pretty cool guy." Let's help our mentees get to this place sooner. Let's show up and commit to affirmation and agape. It is only through affirmation and agape that we can break through the walls that are built up as a result of negative labels in our lives.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Strengths Activity- Strengths Metaphors

A fun activity we have done with students is Strengths Metaphors. We often have a tendency to limit and confine our strengths to the two-sentence definition of the theme we find on the 34 list. Strengths manifest uniquely in each person based on their other 5 or 2 themes, their age, their background, their life experiences, and so much more. The Strengths Metaphors activity is a great way to break the themes of out of the boxes we put them in.

  • Fill out the worksheet or engage in a conversation using the prompts on the sheet.
  • Pick one of your top 5 or top 3 themes. 
  • Describe what the theme looks like, what color you would associate with it, what it smells like, what it sounds like, and any other sensory descriptors you would add to the selected theme. 
  • Share with your mentee and ask your mentee to share with you. Share with each other why you chose to assign these specific descriptors to the strength. 
  • If you have similar strengths to each other, discuss the differences between your metaphors. 
Here is a link to the printable PDF version of this activity on the strengths dropbox. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

It's so simple

Ally and I were at Norris earlier this week for their first strength day. We were meeting with the younger Strengths Explorer students, helping to facilitate the survey and talk through their results. There was one student who had to come from another building, so he had to wait until all students were done with their surveys so that the Coordinator could walk him back to his class. He finished his survey quickly and his Top 3 were Competing, Achieving, and Confidence.

While he was waiting, I saw him messing around, looking a bit bored. He started stacking markers together making a tower, like most kids (and many adults) do. So, I went over to him and asked him if he wanted to do a fun activity. I said, "I wonder if you could make a marker sculpture to depict your strengths." He quickly took on the challenge and we gathered all the markers to one table. He got to work. I didn't make one full lap around the room before he declared, "I'm done". I went over to him, surprised (although I shouldn't have been given Achieving and Competition), and asked him to explain his sculpture to me. He said, "it's a race." He pointed to the standing red marker and said, "that's me" and to the two markers lying down on the right, "this is the finish line." He noted that he had achieved getting to the end of the race, while winning it at the same time. "Look at all the other racers behind me!", he exclaimed, in a true Competing fashion. I added that he spoke with the confidence to know he would come in first place. Over the course of  2 minutes, we were able to gather resources and come up with an activity where this student got to claim all three of his strengths.

Here is a picture I took of the mentee's sculpture

You see, there's a lot that goes into implementing strengths in a chapter. There are codes, and schedules, and training, and handouts. While each of those elements are important for implementation, we cannot let those things get in the way of our purpose in it. You see ,strengths is so simple. It's about these moments when we see the ownership of strengths in a student or adult and are there to cheer them on. We get to say, "Yes, that's it" and "That is what is uniquely good and right about YOU!" Strengths allows us to recognize our talents and use them to reach out full potential. So grab the resources around you- if it is a stack of markers, a paper and pencil, or just a conversation partner- and use them to name and claim your strengths. I promise that in the process you will come to a greater recognition and ownership over your strengths and a sense of wonder for the strengths of those around you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Best Gift to Give

Yesterday, Ally and I were in Plattsmouth, NE for their Strengths Day. I kicked off the morning with a training at 7am with 10 mentors. As I walk talking about strengths, I was explaining the Student Success Model from Gallup. Since it was Boss's Day, an example came to me regarding the parallel to the workplace.

I talked about the difference between two bosses I have had. One boss, from a previous job I had in college who was very laid back and aloof. He was concerned with his own work and outcomes. My work contributed to that, so every once in a while, I would have interactions that were not that negative, but also not encouraging. He would say things such as "where are you at with this project, would you be able to get it to me quicker?" Beyond checking in and asking about my work, our interactions did not go very far. I wanted to have further conversations, but it did not seem like he had the time nor the desire to do so. He was not a bad boss at all, but rather met the requirements for being a supervisor.

If this previous boss met the requirements for being a supervisor, my current boss sets the gold standard. She listens, wants to know about me and my work, as well as pushes me to be a better version of myself. She course-corrects me when necessary, not in a corrective manner, but in an instructive manner, showing me where I could improve and helping me see outside of my own perspective. This boss sees a better version of me and helps me realize it.

My current boss is a mentor to me. She is what we hope that all mentors are for their mentees. It is what we aim to do when we introduce strengths into the mentoring relationship. Strengths isn't a "patch" or a "fix it" for a bad relationship. If strengths had been introduced to me at my first job, I likely would not have received it well from that boss. Introducing strengths into the mentoring relationship is designed to take a pre-existing, healthy, adult-to-student relationship and enhance it. It is meant to take you from a mentor to a champion.

Can we be more like my boss? Instead of going to meet your mentee and thinking, " gosh, she's late again" or "geez, he needs better manners", let's think "I am so glad they came today", or "I can't believe I get to be a part of  the life of this kiddo." Our mentees do not need another adult correcting their behavior or being disengaged from their life, they need an advocate and a champion; someone who sees the best version of them and helps to make that a reality. The best gift we could ever give our mentees is just that- showing up and calling out their potential.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Strengths Activity- What You Love

The activity I wish to share with you all today is one of the TeamMates Strengths Team's favorites! Strengths is more about simply identifying talent; when done well, it reaches the core of who you are. What you love is an activity that guides you there. The activity it simple: it is a set of questions based around the Five Clues to Talent that Don Clifton discussed in the first strengths book, Soar with your Strengths. Here is a link to an article from Gallup that explains these Five Clues for those wishing to learn more.

This activity involves mulling over this set of questions: 
  • Who are you? 
  • What do you love? 
  • What do you need? 
  • In the best of all worlds, I would spend more time doing ___________.
  • What is the best form of support you can receive? 

At TeamMates we do this activity in true artistic fashion, by asking for participants to somehow depict the answers to these questions. We have had pictures of hammocks, mountain ranges, stick figure families, logistical diagrams, a heart divided into chambers- whatever your brain can think of has likely been used as a visual depiction of this activity. We find that using different mediums- drawing, listening, molding, smelling, etc., can help to active our strengths in a ways you have not experienced before. 

If you simply use these questions as discussion starters, or you choose to depict them in an artistic format, this activity will foster conversations for you and your mentee to draw out most authentic selves.