What Makes Your Heart Happy?

February 4, 2017

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit discontented. When this happens, I often think, “What is it that makes my heart happy?” I take the time to name it and map out a plan to do it! Several years ago in grad-school, I took the Gallup Strengths Finder Test and read Now Discover Your Strengths. I absolutely love that book! Buckingham and Clifton focus on the neuroscience of playing to your strengths! It’s true; our brain is wired for success when we do that which we are most passionate.

As I was subbing for a principal who was out-of-town last week, I decided to put legs on this idea and try it with students. A precious first grader was sent to the office multiple times. You know…in first grade it’s just hard to keep your hands and feet to yourself. It just is! *wink* After we chatted about calming strategies and thinking before we react, I asked her, “What do you love to do more than anything in the world?” To which she replied, “I love to run, Mrs. Martin!” So, I made a deal with her. If you can keep your hands and feet to yourself during your Guided Reading block (45 mins), I’ll run with you. The smile on her face was priceless. We went out to the playground, mapped out our running path and I sent her back to class. 

However, while we were out there, she said, “Mrs. Martin, is this going to be like a race?” I reluctantly replied, “Sure.” To which she proclaimed, “You’re going down!” As I looked at my attire (black high-heeled boots and a pencil skirt) I couldn’t help but giggle and nod my head in agreeance. Indeed. An hour later, I raced this cute little first-grader, and she might have won! It was so worth it! Worked like a charm!

I did this a few more times. One student loved to read about dinosaurs. That became the motivation to follow directions in class. Who knew there was an Allosaurus? Not me. Children are amazing teachers. 

Another student loved to play her ukulele. That, too, became her motivation to finish the day on a positive note. This kid has serious talent. I must say, this “positive behavior award” was a TREAT for both of us! Want your heart to melt? Click here to hear Ashley play! 

Are we motivating students by tapping into their passion and strengths? If not, why not? 

The very next day, I met with a colleague for coffee. I worked with Mena at the beginning of the year to create her own website as a digital portfolio. As we were chatting, she expressed her writer’s block experience and how blogging had become somewhat less pleasant. Mena loves writing, and I knew that, so I simply asked, “What do you love to do more than anything? What makes your heart happy?” She said, “I love to write narratives and describe interesting scenery in detail.” She went on to share about many hooks she had crafted and yet to develop thoroughly.

My role was to connect the personal strength to the motivation. I did it with students, why not now? That’s what we say we do as leaders right, play to others’ strengths? The wheels in my brain were going round and round, and I said, “Might the two live together? Describe any one of the hooks you just shared, then compare it to your professional experience. It’s like looking at an image, but with words, and making personal connections.” Mena’s eyes were teary as I spoke, and I could tell she was ready to write. 

Check out Mena’s “new look” here. You won’t be disappointed! 

I LOVE seeing others motivated when they tap into their passion and play to their strengths! 

What makes your heart happy? 


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  • Kelly Malloy February 12, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    I LOVE this perspective – to often we lead with punishment rather than motivating students by the things that motivate them! I also loved the Strengths Finder book! I never thought to use it with my students.. but, now I might have to dig it out for a re-read!

    • Tara M Martin February 12, 2017 at 6:22 pm

      Thank you, Kelly. I appreciate you reading and sharing your reflections. Couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. LOVE IT!