I am surprised at how much a strength based homeschool has impacted my sons’ overall growth and development. Here’s why it matters.
Before I was a homeschooling mom, I was in corporate training and development.
I actually went to school to be a special education teacher, but quickly learned that the traditional classroom environment was not a good fit. It left me feeling drained and honestly, unable to really make a difference.
Eventually, I took what I had learned about teaching and applied it to the corporate world.
It surprised me how much I loved it.
At one point, I was invited to attend a training session at Gallup.
Their book, Strengthfinders, was already a wild success. This intensive training was all about using individual strengths to leverage their overall ability and performance. Based on a ton of research, the approach was simple –
Teaching to an individual’s strengths, exponentially increases productivity and learner satisfaction.
The research also surprisingly showed that a learner, when allowed to progress in a ‘strengths based’ approach, increased his overall capabilities and performance, even in the areas that were weaknesses.
After completing the training, I saw the research prove itself, in my own work, again and again in a corporate setting.
When a learner is offered to the opportunity to focus on and really use their strengths, their overall performance improves.
Fast forward a decade.
I am home now. I traded that world of pretty suits, client dinners, promotions and expense accounts for a world of dishes, reptiles, reading delays and math anxiety.
My life has changed in just about every way, but one.
This strengths based approach, that I learned so much about and saw making such an impact in adult learning and development, is foundational in our homeschool.
A Traditional Vs. Strength Based Approach
When I try to explain what a strength based approach to learning is, I am often met with a placating nod and smile. There is a perception that spending most of our educational time on strengths, is somehow less rigorous or demanding as a traditional school environment.
(More than once, I have been asked what will happen when my kids are in the “real world” and don’t have their mommy around to let them do what they like to do all day long.)
This is unfortunate on so many levels. It denies what research and our own experience proves to us over and over again, in favor of what we were raised to believe is the only way for us to learn.
A traditional school approach weights all subjects equally.
Think about a typical report card. The list of subjects, each with its letter grade, are all weighted equally to determine a grade point average. This average is used to determine the overall effectiveness of the student. Math matters as much as history which matters as much as science and even PE.
This approach requires the learner to focus most on the areas that are difficult and not naturally strengths, in order to avoid “dragging down the average.” This means remediation and extra practice in the areas that are weaknesses.
Prior to my work with Gallup, I took this approach for granted. I assumed it was the best way.
What Gallup proved and continues to prove, over and over again, is that requiring extra work in areas that are not strengths might improve performance a little in those individual areas, but it does not improve the overall productivity and ability of the individual in any substantive way.
For example, a child with extra tutoring, may improve that failing grade to barely passing, but the child has not really progressed in any substantive way overall.
A Strength Based Homeschool: Why It Matters
Contrast this with a strength based approach.
The same child would be expected to still do math, but only for short periods of time, in favor of allowing the child to spend more time in the areas that are strengths.
This mimics exactly what we do in “real life.” Adults rarely pursue careers that require them to be average in everything, but instead pursue jobs that areas of interest and strength. For example, I am not a mechanical engineer for good reason, even though I was required to spend as much time on math throughout K-12 as someone who is.
It also bears repeating that a learner allowed to spend the most time studying in areas of strength, tends to perform exponentially better in all areas including the areas of weakness.
I think this is because the learner eventually applies what they learn more substantively in their area of strength, to the areas of weakness. For example, the child who struggles in math may naturally have a strength in science. Given enough time to pursue scientific endeavors, the child will eventually be able to apply what she’s learned to math as well.
It might be the confidence it builds. It might be that the child begins to think about math differently, because of the developmental and educational growth that happens in pursuing interests and strengths.
No matter what the reason, the simple truth is this – a strength based approach works.
A Strength Based Homeschool Series
Now through the end of the year, I will be taking an in-depth look at strength based homeschooling.
You can find all the posts in this series below.
A Strength Based Homeschool: Why It Matters (this post)
A Strengths Based Homeschool: A Behind The Scenes Look – includes sample learner profiles
A Week Of Strength Based Learning (see a real life week in the life of strengths based homeschooling)
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.