How To Identify The Native Genius In Teachers


Posted By Casey Watts On 02/28/2022 at 11:00 am

Guest Blogger
Native Genius
Culture of Collaboration
Empowering Educators

Imagine This . . .

It’s 1:30 in the afternoon.  You’re sitting in on a team planning meeting with six teachers.  One “leader” is evident- This person is the one running the planning meeting.  This person is telling everyone what will be taught next week.  This person may have been given the role of “team lead” or it could be self-imposed.  Regardless, the remainder of the team nods their heads, with perhaps the occasional verbal agreement (or, if you’re lucky, disagreement), and the meeting ends only to be conducted in the same way week after week.  It brings me to the all familiar phrase:  “If nothing ever changes, then nothing ever changes.”

But what you’re hoping for is a team of teachers that are invigorated when working together, excited to learn together, eager to contribute, and inspired by the crucial conversations that take place when they collaborate.  THIS is the more than ideal scenario.  THIS is how collective efficacy might look and feel like.  THIS is where the greatest impact on student achievement lives- in the work we do collaboratively.  However, few actually witness this culture of learning and collaboration during their career with any one school.  In order for this hope for your team to become a reality, the group must value and envision these things collectively.  And in order for this to happen, each individual’s native genius must be recognized, provoked, and cultivated.  By who??  Yes, by YOU.  If you have ever experienced or are currently experiencing the imagined scenario I cast for you earlier, you must NOT see yourself as a bystander who is a victim of the situation at hand.  You must NOT await a “leader”, “manager”, or “supervisor” to step in and steer the boat.  John Maxwell said it best in his book, The 360-Degree Leader.

“To do nothing in the middle is to create more weight for the top leader to move… Leaders in the middle can have a profound effect on an organization… Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit.”

Leading well means identifying the native genius in the people around you.  This is a tall order and seems almost impossible to accomplish.  Why?  Because this type of work, identifying one’s native genius can be very abstract.  It also can be tedious, mind-consuming work.  But the outcome is, without a doubt, SO worth it! 

In her book, The Multiplier Effect, Liz Wiseman defines native genius as “something even more specific than a strength or a skill…  something that people not only do exceptionally well, but absolutely naturally… they do it easily and freely.”

What I want you to imagine is sitting in the balcony of your organization.  How do people interact together?  How do certain individuals take a step forward or back?  In what situations?  What do these individuals simply naturally do?  What can you notice in your people that they may not themselves notice?

Now, can you hold them up to the light and celebrate what they natively do so that you can grow this genius in them and multiply your organization?

Perhaps you’re thinking, “YES, I can do that,” quickly followed by… but, uhmmm, HOW exactly??  I want to share with you HOW you can begin to identify the native genius in the people around you by taking on certain mindsets as identified by Liz Wiseman and provide you resources to begin taking action with these mindsets.

Mindset #1: People are Smart

Seems like a simple mindset, right?  Think again.  We have the tendency to give, give, give advice.  According to Michael Bungay Stanier, author of The Advice Trap, we often fall into the “advice trap” because we believe we are supporting our people and helping them to solve the problem.  We believe we understand what’s happening, but the case is usually that we do NOT.  Here’s what Stanier says happens when we rush to give advice instead of assuming people are smart and staying curious longer:  it demotivates the advice receivers; it overwhelms the advice givers; it compromises team effectiveness; and it limits organizational change. You can find out more about these and how to “tame your advice monster” from The Advice Trap book.

What Wiseman says is that when you view people as smart and assume they will figure things out, you are sure to evoke the genius in them.  I challenge you to pause when you hear about problems or questions that need answering.  Think first, “Is this a problem I am directly required to solve?  Is this a question to which only I have the answer?  Or is this a problem or question that could allow me to multiply the native genius in this person/ these people?”  If you answer “YES” to the latter, here’s what I suggest you do:

  • Only ask questions and pause to listen and paraphrase what you think it is you understand.  In the words of Micheal Bungay Stanier, “Stay curious longer”!
  • Allow time in between moments with the person or people.  Tell them to think on it for a while and get back to you when they’ve had some time to reflect.  This also provides you time to reflect on how you’re adding value to them, instead of adding value to yourself.
  • Celebrate when mistakes are made so that they have the energy, empowerment, and motivation to take initiative in the future.

Mindset #2: Intelligence is Dynamic

You inevitably have certain people in your life that, when around them, you feel intrigued, intellectually stimulated, or brilliant.  This isn’t because you are “smarter” than them in some way.  And it’s not because you just enjoy being around them.  It’s deeper than that.  According to the research of Liz Wiseman (2013) and Carol Dweck (2006), intelligence grows when it is exercised, and intelligence is exercised when we surround ourselves with environments and people that provoke our own intelligence.

When you hold onto this mindset, and believe that intelligence is dynamic, you can practice self awareness and better analyze your environment and actions.  Ask yourself the question, “How am I allowing and/ or encouraging others to exercise their intelligence?”  I have crafted an Intelligence Dynamic Assessment to help you reflect on this very question.  You can access this survey and other exclusive content by registering as a website member at .  Take the assessment and then do something with it!

Mindset #3: Curiosity Sparks Intelligence 

We’ve all heard the familiar phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat.”  Perhaps that’s true for a cat.  But as a growing, learning, intellectually gifted human being (and I use that term for each of us in our own unique ways), I would argue that a lack of curiosity kills our culture, our creativity, our competence.  Remember the previously referenced phrase from Michael Bungay Stanier, “Stay curious longer”?  When we fail to stay curious longer and jump into the forbidden advice trap, we are stealing an opportunity to identify the native genius in teachers.  Of each mindset to take on, this is perhaps the most encompassing.  If you can recognize one’s intelligence, find ways to provoke one’s intelligence, and then cultivate that intelligence, you are almost guaranteed to multiply the genius in teachers around you!
Here is a go-to resource I’ve created that provides tangible strategies to practice within your organization.

You can find many more tools and strategies to use in tandem with the one above by registering as a member on my site!  See how these strategies empower teachers around you and tag me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with #cultureofcollaboration to share how it goes!

My Challenge to You!

What I’m challenging you to do is to make just a one degree shift in yourself as you work with others!  What one degree shift will you make to add value to others?  To build a #cultureofcollaboration?  To IDENTIFY THE NATIVE GENIUS in teachers?  What one mindset could you start practicing TODAY?

Learn about Casey!

 Casey is a passionate educator in every sense of the word. She has been an educator for 15 years. Her experience ranges   from teaching 1st through 5th grades, to curriculum development, to instructional coaching. In addition to her work as an   Instructional Coach, she enjoys her educational consulting business on the side. She gets to provide professional   development  and workshops to educators, both leaders and teachers, seeking collaboration to help foster a strong learning   environment. She envisions collaborative learning communities in which the vast majority of educators are eager and inspired   to come to work, feel validated and empowered while at work, and end each day with a great sense of fulfillment!

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