WATERLOO — The DeKalb Central School District is focusing on developing people’s strengths and using them to succeed rather than fixating on their weaknesses.
The district uses Gallup CliftonStrengths to assess an individual’s strengths, which helps to unlock the full potential of students and staff, explained Superintendent Steve Teders.
“We have utilized CliftonStrengths for the past several years, and it impacts both staff and students in a positive manner by focusing on what we do well and leveraging our strengths to reach our full potential,” Teders explained.
Educators Rebecca Pfeffer and Amy Neal are the district’s strength coaches. They were among 10 educators who were invited by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership to become trained and certified as strength coaches in 2015.
The program is based on the concept of psychologist Don Clifton: “What will happen when we think about what is right with people rather than on fixating on what is wrong with them?”
“It captured the essence of working on what people do well, whether as a student or professional,” Teders said.
“It’s potential-finding versus weakness-finding and fixing,” Neal added of the concept.
The web-based assessment looks at 34 possible themes of talents, ranging from being an achiever or arranger to being a communicator or learner to having empathy and positivity. The themes are divided into the four domains of executing, influencing, relationship-building and strategic thinking.
Those taking the assessment receive their top five “themes of talent.” The chance of an individual having the same top five themes in the same order as another individual is one in 33 million, Neal said.
“It’s your fingerprint,” Pfeffer added of the assessment results.
Once a person learns his or her top five themes, he or she learns and determines how to use them.
In 2016-17, the district provided the assessment and subsequent strength training to is leadership team. The district then brought on its teachers and then small groups of students.
Today, all of the district’s administrators, guidance counselors, teachers, directors and front office staff — a total of 312 adults — have received the assessment. In addition, all high school freshmen, as well as DeKalb New Tech sophomores, juniors and seniors, have completed the assessment. The goal is to administer the assessment to high school freshmen each year, Neal said.
Knowing your strengths helps you perform well as an individual as well as on a team, as a leader, a parent and a spouse — “Whatever role you’re playing,” Pfeffer said.
The assessment identified Teders as a maximizer and developer, having consistency and seeking harmony.
For Neal, the fact that “ideation” was among her strengths identified by the assessment was no surprise.
“I love brainstorming. That energizes me. It’s not a burden to me,” Neal said. She said she also is able to call on Pfeffer’s identified strength of “discipline” to help keep her on track when she is involved in a brainstorming activity.
Pfeffer and Neal said other area organizations and businesses also are using the assessment and training.
The program offers a wide variety of resources for individuals once their talents have been identified, including training, blogs, apps and podcasts.
“There’s more development with it besides a ‘once-and-done,’” she said of the assessment and subsequent follow-up. “There are action items that you can do.”
“It can help students to maximize their potential,” Pfeffer added. “It’s a positive approach. It doesn’t kill the spirit.”
“It’s been very, very helpful, not just taking the assessment but the follow-up and coaching that follows,” Teders said. “We’re proud of the work that’s happening right now. We think it makes a positive impact. It’s good for student and good for our adults.”