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The Big Fresh February 1, 2014 Strength and Weakness

Brenda Power

Sometimes you don't realize your own strength until you come face to face with your greatest weakness.

                                                                 Susan Gale

My father always said, "Everyone's greatest strength is their greatest weakness and their greatest weakness is their greatest strength."  It has taken most of my life to understand the wisdom behind these words. He often used them when I was frustrated with a person or with some aspect of myself. He would try to get me to understand that a person's flaws are typically due to great strengths they possess. I am very detail oriented and organized.  If you want something done well, planned and executed as designed, I am on it. It is this strength that causes me to struggle with the unexpected and be inflexible when plans go awry. 

There was a time when I would get down on myself for the parts of me that I wished were different. Then my father's words started to come to me in moments when I needed them. Rather than criticize my inability to "go with the flow," I celebrated my organizing gifts and used them to deal with those chaotic moments. I may not like chaos, but my strength allows me to handle it.

We are quick to define ourselves and others narrowly. We sort people by static characteristics and often emphasize the negative. Rather than see the weakness, what would happen if we celebrated the inverse strength? The colleague who resists change has strong beliefs.  The leader who is slow to make decisions listens and considers before she acts. The person who never seems to stay on agenda thinks outside the box. If we try to see the strengths in weaknesses we may begin to appreciate varying points of view and collaborate more effectively. 

We can all learn, grow, and change, but we each possess certain qualities that define who we are. I have found myself looking for the strengths in people and trying to understand the behaviors, words, and actions of others by viewing them through the lens of strength. It is amazing how this has shifted my viewpoint and the energy in my relationships.

I have been thinking a lot about how this type of thinking is critical to share with our students. The student who cannot sit still . . . has the potential to be incredibly productive. The student who takes forever to do something . . . is attentive and thoughtful. The student who can take the entire class off-task . . . is a future leader. We need to show our students the potential they have and how to use their strengths and weaknesses to make a difference in their lives, the lives of others, and their world. I hope to continue to learn from the wisdom in these words.

This week we celebrate middle school literacy. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Clare Landrigan

Contributor, Choice Literacy

Clare Landrigan founded Teachers for Teachers with Tammy Mulligan. She spends her days helping educators from New England and beyond do the hard, thoughtful, and rewarding work of improving schools for young readers and writers. You can find Clare and Tammy's latest thinking at the Perspectives blog.


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Here are two features from the archives that explore different facets of middle school literacy.

Maggie Beattie Roberts and Kate Roberts present a step-by-step process for close reading in middle school involving multiple passes through the same text:

Heather Rader considers the cultural divide between teachers and students who are "screenagers" when it comes to texting.  If u r getting LOLed out in ur classroom u might want 2 read this:


The Olympics are just around the corner, and Sarah Klim has suggestions for read alouds in a new booklist:


Kasey Kiehl at the Middle School Teacher to Literacy Coach blog writes about the challenges of modeling thinking for students in Unscrewing Our Thinking Caps:


The book Join the Club! takes you inside Katie Doherty Czerwinski's classroom as she designs and leads middle school book clubs, tackling everything from first lessons to dealing with struggling students:



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Katie Baydo-Reed lays down the law for her eighth graders about capitalization and the use of periods, with excellent and hilarious results. This piece will make you laugh out loud at the gaps between the ways teachers and teenagers think:


We also feature Katie in this week's video. This brief conference with a boy previewing a book leads to a discussion of the value of reading books you wouldn't necessarily choose on your own in middle school:


Jennifer Schwanke explains her strategies for Making Classics Relevant for Middle School Students:


Katie Doherty Czerwinski has design tips for creating cozy reading spaces in middle school classrooms where there is no space or budget for a whole-class rug area:


Jeff Anderson concludes his series on explanatory grammar moves by exploring participles, included in the Common Core eighth-grade standard covering the use of verbals:


That's all for this week!



Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.