Using Students’ Strengths

Tommy Mattinson in England is a man who knows wherein his strengths lie.  My evidence:

Gurners face off for title at Egremont Crab Fair

World champion gurner Tommy Mattinson has been spending the week loosening up his face as he prepares to defend the title for the 13th time. Competitors are heading to Cumbria this weekend for the famous competition, which is part of the Egremont Crab Fair. Contestants put their heads through a horse collar and contort their faces in a bid to be crowned champion in the much-loved event.

Horse Wearing Blinders and a Horse Collar Kicking Up His Hind Quarters - Royalty Free Clipart Picture

It is possible to visit the BBC site and view a picture of Mr. Mattinson’s prize winning mug, but I don’t suggest you do so unless you’re willing to get set for eight hours of uncomfortable dreams.  All the station agents in my subway dream last night had Tommy’s scary visage, making it a very long sleep indeed.  I only bring this up to make an exaggerated point that successful folks know what gifts and talents they possess, and use them to craft a satisfying career and life outlook.

I know my students would have been enchanted to see and discuss, and possibly imitate, Tommy Mattinson’s features, but I am thinking of his “accomplishment” in a slightly different way.  That is – when you’re good at something, make the most of it!  Thirteen years in a row this man has achieved the title and dubious honor, but clearly the guy loves it or he wouldn’t keep entering.  I chose to focus on this idea for inspiration in my classroom yesterday, and found a way to remind children to utilize strengths in order to work together to accomplish a project.


An innocent exercise in estimation prompted the activity:  the morning’s warm-up writing directed each student to make an estimate as to how much money they would need for a trip to Disneyland for the weekend.  Reports from as modest as $100 to a grandiose $25,000 (renting out the entire hotel for the family…) caused an interested hum of speculation.

A perfect gap of 30 minutes later in the day presented itself and I gave a quick assignment to work in the groups students were already in for an earlier reading task.  Each group would get the use of one computer, and in half an hour should report their findings to the class with revised estimates based on a little simple research.

Any elementary school teacher could forecast when would happen next:  yes, it did.  Nearly every single child rushed to the bank of computers along the wall, leaving only the most hesitant or polite children waiting helplessly with paper and pencil and nothing to write down.  Fifteen minutes later I called a halt to the activity and we agreed to abandon it.  However!  Never one to let a learning opportunity slide away, I led the kids through some analyzation as to why the assignment ended up in chaos.  As we talked and listed the tactics that didn’t work, I brought in comparisons to a team catch game we had played earlier.  In thinking and discussing, we all came to see that what were strengths in some:  (tall enough to reach the tossed bean bag first, or quick enough to scoot around in front to intercept…) were real liabilities when over used.  (All the tall kids grab at the beanbag and it falls uselessly to the ground, for instance)

So to get neatly back to Mr. Mattinson’s creepy face in the horse collar at the Crab Fair in Egremont:  using your strength to achieve a goal only works when you have the proper venue.  In other words, I assume Tommy Mattinson saves his best/worst face for festivities and not for funerals.  He knows what his talent is and he uses it when it will guarantee the most success.  Teachers can and do, instruct children to consider carefully what every one brings to the business of school.  In a world reliant on group work to solve massive global problems, this skill is possibly one of the most critical we can reinforce.  Cheers.


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