I want to write something about recognizing the strengths in those around us and in ourselves. I work in a school that specializes in educating students with dyslexia and related learning differences. A couple of days ago, while attending a college workshop for high school counselors, another counselor started asking me questions about what my students can do after they graduate. During the course of the conversation, I had already acknowledged that many of my students struggle with standardized test scores. I know she did not mean her questions with ill intent, but I definitely got the feeling that she was curious how they could possibly go to college or be successful. Many of my students are successful in a traditional college setting. But I also found myself explaining to her the strengths of the dyslexic mind, such as big picture thinking and spatial reasoning.
I spent the last two days in the cold, cold woods with my 12th graders on their senior retreat. Spending time in this “untraditional classroom” makes it really clear just how many strengths my students have. Many of my skills made me successful in traditional educational programs. I can read and write well and have a decent ability to memorize and reason. I always did well on standardized tests (except when I took the ASVAB in senior year, which tested things like mechanical comprehension and assembling objects, in addition to the typical English and math). Things like reading comprehension and expressing my thoughts on paper come pretty easily to me. Every day, I see my students struggle with these tasks.
But on retreat I get to see my students shine. I get to see them take their strengths and work together as a team. My students solve problems in unique ways. They see things in a way that I cannot see them. They persevere and push through obstacles where I just give up. They use visual-spatial reasoning in a way that I never could. It is awe-inspiring to watch them tackle a problem and solve it.
So as you observe the young (or old) people in your own life – your children, your students, anyone you come in contact with – remember that each and every one of us has gifts we bring to the world. Each of us was created to contribute in some way. We all have strengths! It is easy to focus on the struggles, but it is important to recognize the successes. You may have people in your life who do not fit the mold of what society expects. That’s okay. It’s actually pretty awesome! This is where we find the artists, inventors, leaders, and thinkers who will change the world.