One of my most powerful tools that I have been using with children recently is the identification of strengths and weaknesses. Now, I would hope that as adults, we are all able to recognise that we have strengths and weaknesses. However, kids who are struggling in school become so focused on the negative aspects of their learning that they often come to believe that they only have weaknesses. The resulting self-perceptions of, “I am dumb,” are all too common.
I like having one on one conferences/chats with kids whose self-esteem seems to be dropping. I take two large sheets of card and a stack of post-it notes. I explain to the child that EVERYBODY in the whole world has strengths and weaknesses, whether you are our school principal, Barak Obama, me or their favourite musician/artist/ sport personality. If everyone had to sit down and create a strengths and weaknesses chart, everyone would have strengths AND weaknesses.
I ask the child to identify his strengths on the post-it notes and stick them up on the chart one by one. One thing always amazes me: No matter who the child is or what they are achieving at school, they just keep going on those strengths. The beauty of post-it notes…you have to start moving them up and around and about to fit in all the strengths. In most cases I have to stop the gathering of strengths because of time limitations, but kids love it when you acknowledge for them that if you just let them keep going they would keep on those strengths until the end of the day.
And so we move on to weaknesses. Usually kids only manage to come up with a few. Now you have two posters about yourself and there are tons of items on the one side and only a few on the other – this makes great visible proof for kids. And it works because the kid, and only the kid, came up with the strengths. Owning the process…I love it.
Sometimes, with the weaknesses, I have a discussion if I feel the weakness is not really a weakness. For example, last week a child put “handwriting” as a weakness where I felt his writing was legible enough. So we stuck the post-it note on the back of the strengths card. Another little boy felt that he was not finishing his work as fast as other children and he saw this as a weakness. In discussion, he realised that the goal was not finishing the work first, but rather finishing it properly, so we were able to remove this post-it note from the weakness chart. I do believe that post-it notes are one of the best inventions ever.
The end result is a child who walks out of the room feeling these things:
1. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses no matter who they are.
2. I have weaknesses that I may work on improving, but boy…just look at my long list of strengths over here. I might be a future artist, scientist, sports analyst, inventor … and the world needs all of those.
3. What our strengths and weaknesses are, is who we are. Who we become as adults is dependent on our strengths and our weaknesses. Imagine how boring the world would be if we all had the same strengths and weaknesses.
Ultimately, the difficulties a child may be experiencing are demystified, because their difficulties are normalised. Many other people have them too.
“I am normal. I am me and me is okay.”