“The point here is not that you should always forgo this kind of weakness fixing. The point is that you should see it for what it is: damage control, not development. And as we mentioned earlier, damage control can prevent failure, but it will never elevate you to excellence.”
Top 10 Donald O. Clifton Quotes (2024 update). Quotefancy. (n.d.). https://quotefancy.com/donald-o-clifton-quotes#:~:text=1.,your%20strengths%20will%20develop%20infinitely.%E2%80%9D&text=2.,strength%20at%20the%20right%20time.%E2%80%9D
THE MEAT (The Main Idea)
As a distinguished psychologist, often hailed as "the father of strengths-based psychology and grandfather of positive psychology," Clifton dedicated himself to studying the positive aspects of individuals. His focus was on unraveling what was right about people rather than dwelling on how to fix weaknesses. This path led to his groundbreaking work, CliftonStrengths, a thorough assessment that identifies individuals' natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
This assessment generates a personalized report, much like a DNA strand, showcasing 34 talents ranked from strongest to weakest. When Clifton speaks of weakness fixing, he refers to the tendency of some individuals to concentrate solely on the lower portion of their 34 talents, striving to improve them. From his perspective, such an approach is comparable to implementing strategies of damage control, rather than genuinely fostering personal development. So let's explore the parallel between "weakness fixing" and damage control.
Damage control is a strategy typically used when harm has already occurred and your only option is to attempt to salvage the situation. Clifton's stance challenges the widely accepted notion that we need to be "well-rounded" individuals and that involves addressing our weaknesses. He contends that this conventional approach leads to mediocrity, not excellence. Instead, Clifton encourages a shift toward authentic development, where individuals channel their efforts into honing their strengths and talent, ultimately reaching a level of excellence - an approach that resonates with me.
THE CHEESE (Added Depth)
As an educator with over two decades of experience, I used the tools I was taught in undergrad and graduate school. I received numerous amounts of advanced training and hours upon hours of professional development. My specialty is in the area of special education. I've witnessed firsthand the process of pinpointing areas of concern and implementing strategies to fix perceived weaknesses. And here is what I now know, I dedicated too much time to trying to fix areas where students could only make incremental progress. Regrettably, I neglected the potential of guiding them in the process of identifying their strengths - an approach that could have yielded the results we truly desired.
Students with disabilities often enter the educational system with pre-existing needs, and they are acutely aware of these challenges. In the realm of special education, the norm has been to shine a spotlight on these weaknesses, attempting to make incremental improvements, as Clifton bluntly suggests.
Progress in special education is typically measured in small moments, and significant gains are rare, as reflected in the limited declassification rates in schools. A concerning statistic highlighted by New America in their educational policy blog reveals that only about 26% of students identified with a disability are declassified between third grade and age 19. This indicates a trend where students are more likely to remain in special education throughout their academic careers. This raises a pivotal question: What if we approached education from a CliftonStrengths perspective, focusing on students' strengths rather than their weaknesses?
In a personal experience with an organization I worked for, the implementation of CliftonStrengths across divisions and grade levels showcased a profound impact. This particular account touched my heart and still makes me teary-eyed. When a. teacher introduced the CliftonStrengths (Explorer edition) to her class of students with disabilities, 19-year old students with Down Syndrome made a heartbreaking revelation: "I have strengths?" This statement encapsulates the essence of the issue- students going through almost two decades of schooling without being told they too are good at something. They too have strengths.
What would it take to reshape education by embracing and leveraging students' strengths? What if, instead of fixating on weaknesses, we empowered students by recognizing and cultivating their innate abilities? We do not need to implore damage control methods on our children. Instead, let's develop them to excellence through identifying their strengths.
THE OLIVES (A Surprising Element)
This section may prick a few fingers, but please know I am using reflections of my practices, to form these thoughts. So stick with me, and I invite you to reflect on your own techniques and see how strength-based teaching may impact your classroom or school.
Imagine education as a rose bed. We, the educators, are the gardeners cultivating growth.
In our role as gardeners, we nurture and shape the rose blooms and aim to prune away each thorn on every rose- the weaknesses in our students. We believe that the rose will be more manageable and bright once dethorned.
Yet, are we truly improving the rose in the right way?
Don Clifton's teachings have faced challenges, with some interpreting his methods as telling us to ignore weaknesses. This is not true. Clifton urges us to be aware of our weaknesses while emphasizing the importance of naming our strengths. It's about having the language and ability to call upon the right strength at the right time to achieve our goals.
In education, we tend to hyperfocus on weakness. But consider this: when we incessantly remove thorns from roses, we create wounds and openings, potential entry points for diseases. How similar is this to repeatedly telling a student that they are not achieving at the same level as their peers? What harm are we inadvertently causing in the long term? What emotional wounds or vulnerabilities are we leaving open for other detrimental influences to enter?
Just as an over-pruned rose becomes susceptible to diseases, students consistently reminded of their perceived shortcomings may become vulnerable to the negative impacts of self-doubt and lowered self-esteem.
Clifton's wisdom invites us to stop using damage-control methods on our students. Instead of perpetually pruning the thorns, let's celebrate the unique strength of the rose (thorns and all). We can create a resilient garden of learners who embrace their full potential despite their imperfections. An educational garden that shines light from above (strengths) to give the rose the best possibility of growth.
If you are interested in learning more about CliftonStrengths, click here: https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/252137/home.aspx