Strengths-Based Social Inclusion

Written by Jerry Holy, Project UNIFY Coordinator; Sarah Wright, Senior Manager, Education Program Development; and Terry Pickeral, Senior Educational Consultant.

My personal strengths development helped me understand what I can do and what I am capable of. In my position of Coordinator, I have certain areas of Administration Operations, Resource Management and Communications that I work in. In each of these three areas, each of my five strengths are actively involved, helping me reach a higher and inclusive level among my colleagues. I have learned that each of my strengths has given me a new perspective on my abilities within the Project UNIFY Team. This perspective has shown me that I am capable of anything within the Project UNIFY Team.  It has also shown me that there are many opportunities within the Project UNIFY Team available to me. Those opportunities have allowed me to me a valuable team member in as well as outside of my organization. Jerry Holy

Jerry’s positive experiences in discovering and using his strengths reflect Special Olympics Project UNIFY commitment to strengths-based development.  Strengths-Based development helps youth and adults identify ways they naturally think, feel and behave.  These feelings and actions are defined as talents and directly align with the mission of Special Olympics, which states that Special Olympics provides an opportunity for “…the sharing of gifts, skills and friendships…”

Individual talents are important for each of us to build upon and use to contribute as a member of a team.  Teams should build on the strengths of all members to develop a more effective organization. Isn’t that what we learn in little league and school sports?  Even in the Olympics, individuals are trying to better themselves while representing an entire country.

We have translated this philosophy into deliberate practice. One of the tools Project UNIFY uses to identify talents is the GALLUP Clifton StrengthsExplorer and Quest that identifies each person’s talents.  Using a survey and review, individuals discover their top talents and how those talents play into everything they do.  These talents are also used in group settings to develop and improve relationships with others by understanding their talents. This type of activity can prove enlightening and useful in a variety of settings.

Project UNIFY is committed to social inclusion, and the focus on strengths is a big part of it.  Social inclusion is the belief that everyone can learn, engage and be successful in a group that focuses on everyone’s talents.  By Jerry understanding his strengths, he can envision his role in the team, and others can see how he enhances the entire group, and the value he provides. Social inclusion ensures fairness and equity so that all members of a group are equally engaged and empowered to contribute to the organization.

As schools understand our talents and become more socially inclusive, we feel safe, helped and engaged.  That results in feeling better about ourselves and having more positive attitudes about others. In an Oregon high school, students with and without disabilities who were part of a Partner’s Club utilized their strengths to work together to complete real-life tasks in their school community, which included holding a canned food drive.

Think how successful a school will be if it:

  1. sees students and adults by their strengths rather than their challenges,
  2. encourages us to share our strengths with others and
  3. creates classroom activities that build on our talents.

Think how great it would be if every student could reflect on their school experience in the same way that Jerry has reflected on his work with PU. How heartening would it be to hear about teachers being given support around their strengths rather than vilified for weaknesses?

The experiences Jerry expressed as an effective team member show the benefits of strength-based development and the reason Project UNIFY focuses on these strategies to create socially inclusive schools.

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