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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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A Major Weakness in Our Education System: Students Don’t Know Their Strengths

Students can spend 12 years in school (even more) and not know what they’re good at.

While they have hopefully mastered academics such as reading, math, and science, they likely have spent little to no time studying their own natural talents and strengths during that time. This is a major gap in our education system.

There has been a plethora of research on the development of individual strengths and talents and their use in the workplace, mainly by Gallup. The company had identified 34 different strengths, or ways or thinking and relating. Strengths are different from skills, such as learning to drive a car. Strengths are based on natural abilities we are born with, and through development, help us achieve high performance in that area.

Gallup data has shown that at times almost 70 percent of the world’s workplace is disengaged with their work. They are not enjoying what they do and doing just enough to keep their job. This has huge financial costs for the corporate world but also greatly impacts people’s sense of well-being.

What has the biggest impact of workplace engagement?

Strengths.

When people use their top strengths and are appreciated for those strengths, engagement increases.

That information only should encourage the education system (and those who influence it) to embed strengths training into the k-12 curriculum. From a young age, students should be exploring and identifying their strengths and need opportunities to use those strengths during the school day.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Students could engage in project-based learning, feeding their strengths in the process. Working within a team of classmates, a student who is strong in “ideation” that is creatively coming up with novel ideas could brainstorm some possibilities for the project’s design. A second student with strong communication skills could volunteer to craft a PowerPoint to share their learning and lead the presentation to the class. A student with strong organizing skills might serve as the groups’ “general manager” while another talented in strategic thinking could pinpoint the best route to complete project tasks.

Furthermore, students could appreciate and recognize each other’s strengths during or after the project.

The idea of strengths training could also be situated in career development exploration as students hit the higher grades. Students could get help in matching their strengths to different careers.

The fact that students generally don’t have time to explore their strengths during their academic career—and begin harnessing those strengths—just doesn’t add up. If we want a engaged, productive workforce, workers who are fulfilled and tapping their potential, we must start investing early in their strengths.