Building on Strengths; Unleashing the Talent and Bringing Out the Best in Others and Yourself

I am very proud to announce the third book from the IMPress publishing team, Kara Knollmeyer’s new book, “Unleash Talent: Bringing Out the Best in Yourself and the Learners You Serve.”

In education, we spend too much time trying to “fix people” instead of bringing out their best not only for themselves, and for our organizations. Kara’s book gives inspiration and practical strategies on how to bring out the strengths in the people you serve, no matter if they are colleagues, bosses, and most importantly, our students.

It was a blessing to write the foreword for the book and I share it with you below.

Kara’s book is now available on Amazon and is practical and refreshing read.

I was done with teaching. Feeling frustrated and that I wasn’t making a difference in the work I was doing, I decided it was time to move on and try to find another profession. Although I loved working with students and enjoyed many aspects of education, teaching had fizzled far from passion into a “job.” I was ready to quit.

To be honest, if I’d had the opportunity to work somewhere else that year, I would not have stayed in education, nor would I be writing this foreword in a book related to education.

With no other options for money, and due to a number of serendipitous events all seeming to occur at the same time, I was offered a one-year position in a school in a new school district. I remember feeling relaxed and comfortable during my interview for that position. The principal interviewing me didn’t barrage me with questions but instead gave me a list of twenty topics we could focus on, and I got to pick. It felt less like an interview and more like a conversation with respected colleagues. We laughed, I cried (seriously), and we talked about things in education that I was extremely passionate about. Things I had forgotten I was passionate about.

I received the job offer a week later, and although I was excited, I still wasn’t convinced teaching was for me; in fact, when I had the opportunity to interview for a job outside education after I had accepted the teaching position, I called my new principal and told her I had an interview for another job. Wanting to be honest, I told her I wanted to explore the job, even though I was under contract with the school. Looking back, it seems like a crazy move, telling my boss before day one of my employment that I was going to explore another option. I will never forget what she said to me on that phone call: “George, we know we would be blessed to have you, but we also do not want you to second guess taking this position. Take the interview, and if you get it, make a decision that is best for you. If you want to still work for us, we would be very lucky and excited to have you.”

I thanked her, hung up the phone, and never took the interview. I knew, at that moment, she was someone I wanted to work for—and I am so grateful I did.

Throughout that first year, I felt trusted, valued, important, and treated as an expert in the areas that I was given to oversee. There is a difference between being valued and feeling valued, and I definitely felt valued. I noticed that, instead of rushing home at the end of the day, I would stay after and work on different elements of the school, connect with other staff members, and push myself to learn and get better.

I learned then that, while it is important to believe in yourself, it is much easier to do that when someone believes in you first. So even as I focused on developing my talents and strengths, I started treating my colleagues and students the way my principal treated me. I began to be intentional about noticing and encouraging people’s strengths as opposed to focusing on their weaknesses. I’m not alone in this. When teachers feel trusted, valued, and important, the way they treat their student changes too.

This quote is tweeted out at conferences all the time, and it drives me absolutely crazy:

“Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.” —Urie Bronfenbrenner

I want to think about some of the math involved here:

  • How many years does a child spend in school?

  • How many adults do they interact with?

Based on whatever numbers you come up with for the above, do you really think that “one” (or even five) is enough?

Me neither.

Too often though, when you talk to students about the teachers who have made a significant impact on them, they do not list ten or fifteen, but sometimes only one or two. Even worse, sometimes zero. Obviously, all educators want to make a positive impact on their students, but then we do things sometimes without thinking about the long-term implications for our students. “Response to Intervention” (RTI) meetings are often focused too much on fixing what is wrong with a student instead of on the child’s strengths and on what gets him or her excited to come to school every single day.

I’m not saying we should ignore our weaknesses, only that we should start with our strengths. If meetings were periodically held about you and what was wrong with you and how you could be “fixed,” how excited would you be to come to work every single day?

Students are no different, and making sure they feel valued is a much better way for them to grow.

I’m sure some people disagree with this statement. They offer objections like, “Well, the ‘real world’ doesn’t always value people.”

That’s true. But my aspirations are not to solely prepare students for the real world. I want to empower them to create a better world.

It is no longer okay for our students to be only able to list one or two teachers that inspired them, as it is no longer okay for educators to be able to list only one or two inspirations in their own career trajectory. This is why I am so excited about Kara Knollmeyer’s book. Kara is someone who lives from her passions and wants you to be able to unleash your own. And in so doing, you can inspire and empower others to live from their strengths and passions.

This book is for all educators, school staff, and parents. Kara believes that we first need to support the adults in our school buildings with the goal of helping them tap into their talents so those talents can be used to support students. If you know your staff well and know what their passions are, you can match teachers with students who have similar passions, and the connection can help create strong relationships.

My own passion for bringing out the best in those you serve is mirrored through every word of this book. One of my favorite quotes in the upcoming pages from Kara is the following:

“Great leaders do not care about showcasing their talent to the entire school. The best leaders use talents to help their staff and students realize how great they are.”

The legacy of an educator is not in what they do, but what the learners they serve do because of their inspiration, dedication, and passion. As you read this book, you will find practical strategies to bring out the best in yourself as well as others.

I am passionate about what has been written in these pages because I was blessed to have a leader who did all of the things Kara talks about, and she not only changed my career but made my life better as well. I am grateful because in a very short time, I went from not wanting to be involved in education to not wanting to do anything else. One person made that difference. You can be that one person.

When we all focus on unleashing talent together, imagine where our schools, students, and educators can go both as individuals and organizations.

I hope you enjoy Kara’s inspiration throughout these pages, and I look forward to hearing the stories of students’ and teachers’ lives being changed because of the work you have done. Thank you for taking the time to read this, but more importantly, thank you for being the “one” who makes a difference for others. There are people, like me, who will always be grateful.

Source: George Couros