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Monday, May 20, 2013

The New Bill of Rights for All Students

By Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education

Gallup has a silver bullet for solving many of the world’s problems. Here it is: Every student in the world, from pre-K to higher ed, needs:

  • Someone who cares about their development 
  • To do what they like to do each day
  • To do what they are best at every day
That’s it. It should be the new bill of rights for all students -- and frankly, all people -- worldwide.

This insight is rooted in Gallup’s most important findings -- everyone in the world wants a good job, and no one ever became successful by trying to improve their weaknesses. They became great by playing to their strengths and leveraging their innate talents. These two findings have absolutely everything in common with the new bill of rights.

A “good job” is not just any job. True, it’s regular work -- a job. But most importantly, it’s about being engaged in your work -- something Gallup is an expert on, having conducted more than 24 million workplace engagement surveys worldwide. And being engaged in your work -- experiencing “flow,” as some experts call it, at its finest -- is mostly about three key ingredients: having a manager or someone at work who cares about your development, doing what you like to do each day, and doing what you’re best at every day. We know that if you have a manager who focuses on your strengths, for example, the chances of you being disengaged are virtually zero. On the flip side, if you have a manager who ignores you entirely, there is virtually no chance that you are engaged.   

Ad man of the century, Roy Spence, has become a nationally-renowned guru on how individuals and organizations can find their “purpose.” His message is that the purpose of life is to play to your strengths. And yet, our entire educational system and work environment is built around a deficit-based model. We have created a world where we spend almost all of our time focused on what is wrong, rather than what is right. 

Throughout the U.S. educational system, we harp on what is wrong with schools, how ineffective teachers are, and what our kids don’t know. We do this across our workplaces as well when managers give employees reviews -- that is, if you’re lucky enough to have a manager who actually takes the time to give you one. The focus is on “constructive criticism,” the polite way of saying what you’re doing wrong and what you’re no good at. Imagine what the world would look like if we found a way to maximize human potential by everyone doing what they are best at every day. The impact is unfathomable. 

Gallup estimates that -- at most -- 30% of the United State’s workforce is actively engaged in their work. We also know the outlook is pretty miserable in schools; in elementary school, engagement peaks at 76%, but then decreases each year students are in school -- down to 61% in middle school and then 44% in high school. If schools focused on students’ strengths rather than their weaknesses, students would be more engaged throughout their entire education.  

After surveying citizens in 160 countries for the past six years, Gallup knows what a life well lived looks like. Those who rate their lives the highest in the world have one important factor in common, a factor that is the strongest predictor of how they view their lives: career wellbeing. In short, they like what they do, they do what they’re best at, and they most certainly have someone who cares about their development. 

We need a new Bill of Rights -- not just for students and not just for the United States -- but for humankind. If you want to “fix” our economy and “fix” the education system that fuels it, we’ve learned the hard way that it can’t be accomplished by hammering away at weaknesses. 

We need to find what’s strong, not what’s wrong. And that starts with each human being playing to their own strengths. That’s a journey that starts at birth and goes until death, from pre-K to post-career. Share the new Bill of Rights now:
  1. I have someone who cares about my development.
  2. I do what I like to do each day.
  3. I do what I’m best at every day. 
It will change the trajectory of students’ lives -- and of human development throughout the world.

Learn how to achieve better student outcomes in higher education with the Gallup StrengthsQuest Operating System.

Brandon Busteed leads the development of Gallup’s education work. His career spans a wide range of important work in education as an educational entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and university trustee. Busteed’s work involves integrating Gallup’s research and science on selection, strengths, engagement, and wellbeing to improve student success, teacher effectiveness, and education outcomes. His mission is to create a national movement to measure the education outcomes that matter most, connect education to jobs and job creation, and to promote a paradigm shift from knowledge mastery to emotional engagement in education.


Paul McNeal said...
May 20, 2013 at 2:20 PM  

Brandon - this is great and most definitely needed. But what about those students who are entrepreneurial? What do they want? I think inside of this student bill of rights should be something that speaks to and encourage our students to launch their own business and become job creators themselves. That is what we do at TBF ( We come along side those students who desire to become business owners and we show them we care about their development, about their future, about them as individual people. We provide a global community for them to engage with, learn with, take action with and celebrate with. We encourage them to be the best at what they do and to do their best everyday. I think it would be great to add that to the Student Bill of Rights :)

Lynn Johnson said...
May 20, 2013 at 4:01 PM  

This is the most inspiring blog post I have read in a long time. This is exactly the focus of my work and I just love the 3 point framework you have laid out. It's easy to understand. It's easy to remember. And it's right on point. I will share widely. Please let me know if there is anything I can do specifically to help you spread this message.

John Franco said...
May 20, 2013 at 6:38 PM  

And who knows what the purpose of a student is? That's a lifelong journey of discovery. I think we need also to show students how to find and acknowledge their higher calling and create an environment that fosters it. Our economies are still demanding engineers and lawyers and tends to dismiss those values and pursuits.

Keaton Wadzinski said...
May 20, 2013 at 7:23 PM  

This is brilliant, I'm so glad Sir Ken Robinson posted this. I'm a student about to graduate high school, and I've been immersing myself in similar research around passion based learning for the past year. This is an incredible study, I certainly plan to incorporate it into my education reform work. Engagement is the key.

Amy Palmer said...
May 21, 2013 at 8:12 AM  

Love this! This is something that I have known instinctively for many years, but it is so great to have research that backs it up!! I have used the Strengthsfinder with my clients (I am a sales coach), but I have also worked with students and parents for many years in the education industry and have seen first hand what happens when 1 or all 3 of the Student's Bill of Rights is missing... Thank you for this.

Allyson said...
May 28, 2013 at 2:40 PM  

Excellent post. A strengths-based mentor is a key component to that Bill of Rights! As an organization, we strive for making that happen for as many students as possible. As an individual, I am fortunate to have many incredible people reminding me of not just what my strengths are, but how I can better utilize them.

DCOwen said...
May 30, 2013 at 10:09 AM  

Love the simplicity of the 3 points, and how powerful they are. I actually am also leaning toward the emphasis that you have, that of putting the adult first. I have been thinking that if we can provide educators with the tools, skills, and confidence to develop relationships with kids, without the fear of administrators and politicians breathing down their necks, then they will feel like they have the time to let students explore their own interests and strengths. I just wrote a post about this, and referenced this terrific Gallup article:

Anonymous said...
July 20, 2013 at 1:56 PM  

I work as an instructor in an after school enrichment program, and this is the place to introduce and develop tools, skills, confidence, and relationships with students. This is where the freedom from bureaucracy and pedagogy is. It is the place where students can get engaged and participate in exploring and discovering their interests, their communities, their world. I don't think most people realize this. I don't think most after school programs realize this.

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