The Creative Strengths Spotter in Middle School: Prepared for Sock-cess
Guest post by Greg McDonough. Greg is the innovation space coordinator at Lake Forest Country Day School in Lake Forest, IL. He is passionate about student-led learning and has presented on topics such as the role of play in STEAM learning, and recording and podcasting in the classroom. Greg is a Certified Microsoft Innovative Educator and a proud recipient of his school’s 2018 Yvonne Banks Caring Teacher Award.
In a school where students wear uniforms, clothing isn’t something teachers often find themselves contemplating. Yet a sampling of sixteen different t-shirts had a transformative impact on the beginning of the 6th graders’ school year at Lake Forest Country Day School.
Coming into any school year with an advisory full of middle school students is rife with challenges. At our school, the junior high model leads to many new freedoms and executive functioning responsibilities. This year in particular is a challenge. Coming out of a pandemic where less than 25% of surveyed students felt they had a strong connection with adults at their school, educators have an obligation to take every chance we can get to know our students at a deeper level.
This summer, both via one-on-one coaching and a webinar hosted for teachers, I had an opportunity to learn from Kathryn at Sparkitivity about the ‘Creative Strengths Spotter.’ The Creative Strengths Spotter is an introspective tool backed by decades of research. It allows students to self-analyze in an accessible way by viewing themselves through the lens of a variety of characteristics that support creativity.
The combination of both one-on-one instruction as well as seeing the program in a group session was extremely beneficial. Having the teaching modeled and learning with a group gave me an opportunity to ideate different ways to bring the tool into the classroom. An element that stood out was Kathryn’s explanation of how students’ unique strengths could appear as weaknesses if their innate creativity was not fostered by educators.
Implementation of the Creative Strengths Spotter
Our 6th-grade team launched the Creative Strengths Spotter the same way I was coached by Kathryn.
Each individual student received a sheet of pictures of t-shirts, each marked with specific creative strength. We asked students to highlight phrases they felt described themselves. Students were coached to highlight a strength even if it was a ‘maybe.’ They could highlight as many or as few strengths as they wanted.
Students were then asked to look over their highlighted strengths and choose a few from that list that particularly defined them and mark those strengths with a star. This was the portion of the activity that had the most unexpected variance. Some students knew right away what their three strengths would be, while others took about as long as they did initially to pare down their lists.
Finally, students were asked to rank their top three in order to determine their most prominent creative strength.
The Sock Showcase
An integral element of the Creative Strength Spotter Training was the showcase of strengths at the conclusion of the exercise. Participants would share their greatest strengths with one another. Kathryn mentioned visuals to display such as headbands, name tags, or even verbally sharing.
At our school, we decided to add an additional element of flair to our showcase. Each 6th grader received a pair of socks and fabric markers. They were challenged to utilize their creativity to design socks that represented their top creative strength.
It was impressive to see all the students’ creativity on display. Several students designed a pair of socks with two different strengths, some cut off the toes of their socks, and one, in a particular moment of middle school brilliance, produced a creative strengths puppet.
It really crystalized the activity for the kids and gave them something that they could take home and keep moving forward.
Impact on Students
This activity was fantastic for students at the middle school level. When we first began going through the introspective stage, one student claimed, “But I’m not creative.” By the end of the first step, she had highlighted over half of the creative strengths as representative of her.
Even students who were initially skeptical of the activity were excited by the project and design component from the socks.
Impact on Educators
I learned more about my students’ views of themselves from seeing what they wrote as their strengths and hearing conversations among them than I had from any other opening activity, particularly compared to the usual “get-to-know-you” fare.
One of my advisees had “imaginative” as her top creative strength. That gave me the knowledge that, rather than just being quiet, she was constantly thinking about other topics and her own ideas. We have now done a number of advisory team-building activities based on her creative ideas.
Another of my more boisterous students put “sensitive” as the top creative strength. This was, frankly, not at all how I viewed this student. I approach this student with far more delicacy and thoughtfulness than I may have otherwise based on this information provided by the student.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have utilized the Creative Strength Spotter in my classroom. Despite our uniforms, Lake Forest Country Day Students have a vast array of individual strengths. This activity allows us to honor each and every one of those strengths in a way that supports our students and our school’s mission.
I hope more teachers take advantage of the opportunity to try this fantastic tool.
Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.