Read Your Strengths: Books that Reflect Learner

Choosing books that reflect strengths like Intellection and Learner are hard. Isn’t any book in which you learn something counted as a book that reflects Learner? The following books are ones that were pivotal to learning something that changed the way we work as a family. They were read as a response to something or an interest in something that then shaped my thinking in bigger ways.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
We are in the midst of the dichotomy of tutus-in-the-mud culture. Bea loves playing princess. She is also known as the biggest risk taker in the cul-de-sac on her bike. We have girly girls who have scrapes and bruises from their wild adventures. I think raising girls right now is pretty cool – they can truly be anything. Even though I love this stage, moms of boys definitely make me insecure about my girls. I get comments about how much easier boys are or how much more fun playing trucks is to playing princess. This book helped me embrace my girls. Orenstein gave facts and well-researched information about raising girls in this era and it took away a lot of the unknown scariness for me.

You Learn By Living by Eleanor Roosevelt
This series of essays is filled with advice about parenting, being a good human, and living in a world that is dependent on each other. Roosevelt certainly comes from a background and lifestyle that I’ll never experience, but her advice is practical and timeless. I learned a lot and was reminded that some of the most important things we can do as parents is listen and expose our kids to a bigger story.

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan is known for his books about the food industry – which I love. But this one is about his experience building his own writing house from the foundation up. I learned so much about the practical work of constructing a building. And, since it’s Pollan, I learn about the American history of architecture. Why certain styles have remained popular and where our national aesthetic originates. This was a subject which I knew nothing about and hardly applies at all to my daily life, other than the fact that I live in a house. Perhaps that’s why I loved it so much – I learned something completely new.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
I enjoy Gladwell’s approach to teaching psychology through storytelling. His style is easy to read and engaging. This is probably my favorite of his recent books, as it applies to a lot of our current conversations. School choice, class size, racial discrimination. Gladwell covers it all, and uncovers come common misconceptions. This book has helped us reframe some of our decisions about what we look for in schools and how we approach other big-little problems.

Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey
I read this when businesses were being demonized. Written by the founder of Whole Foods, it is definitely biased toward capitalism and business. But, Mackey also talks about a new way of doing business – a way that is not solely about the bottom line. It’s a dream about combining environmentalism, social justice, and the reality that we live in a capitalistic society. I’m not sure how much is true. I’ve certainly felt like Whole Foods is big business, however I learned a lot about how businesses are run and the decision making behind a lot of choices.

What are some of your favorite books that you’ve learned something totally new or different? How do you choose books that help you learn?


This post is Day 16 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.


Learning to Be Choosy

This has been a long week. Not bad, just long. Frank’s working on the tax extension deadline; Bea’s teachers are at a conference for the week so she’s home; we’ve had our sweetest sweet moments and our lowest frustrations.

One of the most difficult things about finding energy though learning is that learning takes energy. It’s more work to read nonfiction or even to read, for that matter. There are nights – mostly when Frank is working late – when I want to mindlessly watch a show.

But that’s not what energizes me. It’s a hard balance to achieve: Making time in the margins for thinking and learning and making time for rest.

We were talking at my MOPS group this week about quiet and rest and wondered if it means different things for different people. For some, laying down for 20 minutes is the rest that refreshes for the rest of the day. For others, taking a walk or going for a run all alone is what rejuvenates them. We all agreed that we need a certain amount of quiet – time to think, to breathe, to not care for anyone but ourselves.

It’s easy to say that it’s important to practice self-care. When I think about my day, if everything goes perfectly and according to plan (ha!!) then I can find a few minutes here and there for rest and reading. But when does that happen?

I need to remember that life not going according to plan is certainly not a kid thing. The other night, Frank came home early in the height of busyness and working late because of a huge IT problem that couldn’t be looked at until morning. Hopefully it’s an easy fix. Who knows what will happen if it’s not… Life doesn’t go perfectly for any of us. That’s life.

So, in the meantime, what do I do? For now, it means being choosy about what I read. Someone asked if I abandon a book that just doesn’t fit with what I’d like to learn. Years ago, the answer would have been no. I would have powered though, hoping for a nugget to takeaway. These days, I’m learning that time is limited and energy levels are even more so. I need to keep my mind active, to learn new things, but I also need to know those things will be beneficial. So, I’m choosy with my material.

It also means recognizing how I can best absorb information. I signed up for Skillshare earlier this year and loved the idea. But, I never found time to do it. Nap times would shift or I’d need to do something else. It just wasn’t realistic for this stage. As much as I enjoy listening to podcasts, it’s the same. Bea dictates what we listen to in the car and any time I try putting one on while making dinner, things are bound to go downhill, fast.

Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to take more risks with how I learn and what I can choose. But for now, I’m recognizing that to fulfill that need, I also need to have a high success rate.

How do you best learn – books, audio, video? When do you find time to recharge?


This post is Day 15 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Raising Learners

One of my favorite parts of staying home with the girls is watching their learning styles develop. Especially the past couple months, we’ve seen Elle’s little personality really emerge. Some aspects of each girl are totally me or Frank. Others are completely them or a cool mix of various family members.

unnamed-1Bea has always been an imaginative player and reader. As soon as she was mobile, she would pull books down, surround herself with a pile, and be content reading. Even today, she’ll approach us with a giant stack of books, ready to snuggle and read. I can gauge her days at school based on the height of the pile. It’s her way to connect, to learn, to unwind.

So far, Elle isn’t like that at all. She has a few favorite books and loves reading those over and over, but she’s a girl on the move. She stacks blocks, moves furniture, climbs, and explores. She’ll take the outlet covers off, examine them, and try to put them back. She learns by doing and is much more methodical in her approach to a new game or toy.

There’s something so amazing about watching these years first-hand. As a teacher, I would see the later stages of these connections. Now, I get to see the initial spark – what will eventually become fluent reading or writing. Ideas that feed into math and engineering.

Now, when we go to the library and Bea is asking more questions about how things work, we have a mix of fiction and nonfiction books. I’m trying to actively model how we learn – and not just through Google. (Though that’s an often used tool in our house, too!) It’s been fun seeing the books that are brought home – on electrical currents and the fastest races run. Even Elle insists on choosing a book to bring home. (Her’s are much more random and driven by librarian display picks.)

I don’t know if either girl will have the “strength” of learner, but in the meantime I hope to foster a love of discovery and learning. Regardless of who they choose to be when they grow up or what their own strengths are, I want to foster the tools of learning and the magic of the library.

How do you teach kids to learn? Is the library still where you go to find information?


This post is Day 14 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Letting Go of Grades

All through high school, I was a straight-A student. It didn’t come easily – I worked hard, stayed up late, went to tutoring (especially for math) in order to maintain that GPA. I went to a school where having a 4.0 meant you were high-average. I was nowhere near contending for valedictorian. It’s a trait my mom still mentions now and then – I was never smart but always a hard worker.

Raising a new overachiever

The downside to being a hard worker is that I would stress about school and grades – to the point of getting migraines right after every major midterm or final exam. (The performer in me never got them before the tests, always right after.)

When I went to college, my perfectionist tendencies followed, until I realized I was missing out on living in Paris because I was so worried about my GPA. So, I stopped worrying. My average slid down a bit, but I learned to be ok with that. I learned that an experience is as important as a grade. (Some would argue it’s more important…)

That’s when being a learner truly became a strength: I learned to learn, not to measure myself against a number but to take in my environment, my studies, my successes and failures. Those lessons have benefited me as an adult far more than any A on a paper or final exam.

It’s far too early to tell how the girls will relate to school, though I’m already seeing those stereotypical firstborn qualities in Bea: Pleasing her teachers, practicing, a love of homework. What I hope to instill in both girls is that, while working hard and grades are important, so is life. Life lived, lessons learned, relationships formed – these are the hopes I have for my daughters. Grades will get you into certain colleges which will, in turn, give you certain experiences, but not at the cost of something greater.

I’m thankful for my overachiever tendencies, for my migraines, and for the lessons I had to learn about setting boundaries for myself. Without those lessons, I’m not sure I’d go into the school-age parenting years with as much thoughtfulness and insight toward those perfectionist traits.

What kind of student were you? Grades-focused or life-focused? Or that magical balance of both? Any suggestions for finding that balance as a parent?


This post is Day 13 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

The Process of Learning

When I was in college, I chose not to minor in anything. Instead, I took elective classes from as many departments as I could, trying to get as diverse an education as possible. International studies, comparative literature, journalism – I loved dipping a toe in a range of ideas and types of classes.

One of my favorite classes (for my major) was a semester of creating an annotated bibliography. We didn’t write a term paper, but spent just as many hours – if not more! – in libraries, researching and analyzing books. I loved the process and the gathering of information. Plus, working in libraries housed in medieval manors just sweetened the experience.

As StrengthsFinder describes, the Learner

…does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert… The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there” (pg. 133).

img_1657It’s true. I love the process of learning. At work, I thrive when I go to conferences or on our professional development days. I seek to become better, and that means participating in discussions led by experts and keeping myself informed.

As a stay-at-home mom, it means reading books and articles that make me a better parent – not just about parenting but about the values I want to instill in our daughters. If I have a policy question, I’ll find a book. If I wonder about certain ethics, I’ll find a book. I so often read nonfiction, that I’ve had to make a conscious decision to balance my fiction picks.

This is an interesting strength to combine with Intellection, as one seeks to delve deeply and become an expert while the other focuses more on the journey, rather than the outcome. If a topic strikes a chord, I’ll read book after book about it.

One summer, I read as many books as I could about food – where it comes from, why we eat the way we do, how we can do better. Since then, our food choices have changed. We’re by no means perfect but all that reading and research changed the way we relate to food.

When we became parents, I read parenting books. Not necessarily What to Expect how-to types, but experience books: Raising girls; the French way of parenting; the history of parenting.

When I get excited about a topic, I want Frank to join in. I’ll set aside books for him to read, as well, hoping that he’ll become as passionate about change as I am. He rarely reads along, but is happy to hear me process my findings. I’ve learned to not get frustrated by this. We’ll never have a book club, just the two of us.

Right now, I’m learning about the balance of princess culture, about glorified presidents, about schools and success. As a learner, I also need to monitor my social media intake. I only put twitter on my phone when I want to read the news in real time. I often take Facebook off for stretches. When I see something interesting, it’s hard not to fall down the rabbit hole of article after article, so I’m learning to become pickier with the information I consume.

What about you? Do you like the process of learning or do you like the final outcome? How do you balance and weed out all the information we have?


This post is Day 12 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.