Connect Leader Shares Ideas About Playing to Student Strengths at In-Vogue TEDx Event

Jan. 17, 2013 -- CNM Connect Executive Director Ann Lyn Hall is encouraging an educational reform movement that plays to students’ strengths, not one that incessantly dwells on their weaknesses. “We currently focus on what is broken,” Hall told 300-plus education peers, leaders and supporters at the 2013 TEDxABQED event on Jan. 11. “I want us to focus on what is working… Drawing on strengths leads to transformational change.”
July 16, 2015

At the African American Performing Arts Center in Albuquerque, Hall was one of 17 inspired speakers who shared their unique perspectives on education through the in-vogue TEDx format, which calls on speakers to convey engaging ideas in 18 minutes or less. The mission of TEDxABQ is to “unlock the creative & economic potential of New Mexicans through events that draw out inspiring ideas, generate meaningful connections and foster innovation.”

“I was honored to have been chosen to speak at the first Albuquerque TedX event on education,” Hall said. “There were some amazing speakers who represented a variety of perspectives on education from all grade levels and disciplines.”

TEDx events, which have taken place in 1,200 cities and 133 countries, are off-shoots of the original TED events, which were born in Silicon Valley as a way to disseminate “ideas worth spreading,” TED’s slogan. The original TED events focused on technology, entertainment and design, and some past speakers included Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Bill Gates, Al Gore and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The taped speeches are made available free online, which has spawned a growing, global audience for TED and TEDx events (the “x” in TEDx refers to TED-style events that are independently organized external to the TED non-profit organization).

Hall’s speech, the video of which will be posted online soon, focused on the idea of nurturing students’ strengths. She cited research that says focusing on a student’s area of strength leads to achievement improvements of up to 400 percent, while focusing on areas of weakness leads to improvements of up to only 20 percent.

“My goal in my talk was to provide a different way of looking at education – to see what is going right in our educational system and to focus on growing those areas,” Hall said. “Unfortunately, I think education is often portrayed in very negative ways. But I’ve seen over and over again the amazing educators that we have at CNM – and I wanted to find a way to acknowledge that work.

“I wanted the audience to understand that at CNM we purposefully connect our students to their strengths.”

Below is an excerpt of Hall’s speech at TEDxABQED. For photos from the event, click here. A link to the video of her speech will be provided when it becomes available. CNM Film Crew Technician students filmed the video for the event.

STRONG VISION, STRONG STUDENTS

Our current educational system is broken. Or is it?

In the past year, I’ve seen local and national news portray educational systems with words like “failing schools, high drop-out rates, lack of accountability.”

None of these headlines gives me much hope.

And I know, that there is a something else going on behind these headlines – that this isn’t the whole story. Our current system is based on deficits. When applying to college, students take a placement test to see what areas are the weakest so that than can be remediated.

As part of an educational reform movement, we currently focus on what is broken. I want us to focus on what is working.

I met a teacher about 10 years ago who helped me understand that my perspective on education is very different. I met him at a very large, national educational conference with thousands of participants – all of whom have a commitment to high quality education.

As he was talking, he called our attention to the table where there was a pair of cheap drugstore reading glasses for every person. This is the pair that was in front of me – they don’t make a strong fashion statement. He asked everyone in the room to put on the glasses.

Just like that day, when I put on these glasses, I can’t see very well. Things seem to get much larger and are quite blurry. What he said to the room was that we needed to change our vision  to focus on what is strong – what is whole.  And as he said this, things became a lot clearer.

This experience reminded me what I have always known to be true. Drawing on strengths leads to transformational change.

With these glasses I see schools that are learning how to raise reading scores by four grade levels in six months, not a failing school. With these glasses, I see teachers who will do everything in their power to make their students successful, not incompetent teachers.

The research supports this. Spending your time focusing on an area of strength creates improvements of up to 400% compared to focusing on an area of weakness which creates improvements up to 20%.

In my daily work at a community college, I see this in action.  I connect students with the awareness of their natural strengths – so they can grow these. This focus on strengths not only changes our language but also our expectations and outcomes. We’ll see schools that meet our students where they are, challenge them to grow and reflect back to them the strengths they already have.

I have a challenge for you today. Change your vision. Focus on what is strong. Together, we’ll change the future of education.