Focus on Student Strengths | ATP interview 05 | Sunshine Parenting blog/podcast | Audrey Monke

Listen to the full podcast episode here

I’m so excited to introduce my guest today because I found her post 4 Ways to Focus on our Kids’ Strengths,  if you know me you know I like to focus on student strengths whether they have dyslexia. And she talks about how we spend a lot of time focusing on weaknesses and getting tutoring when someone is struggling but I’m gonna let her talk.

Audrey Monke Sunshine Parenting Blog Student Strengths

Tell us a little about your background and yourself.

My name is Audrey Monke,  pronounced like the animal, Monkey, without the y.

my background is actually in summer camp


thousands of campers

adolescent campers

I ended up sort of pivoting a decade ago, focusing on parent education and training and type things. I found I loved being part of this community where kids came and felt so happy for weeks and felt so great, and making best friends, and I was feeling like I wanted them to have more of that when they weren’t at camp.

I started from the Sunshine Camping Blog after our camp Sunshine Camp that’s what my staffers and campers call me.

all of my things

podcast etc

working with kids

writing and sharing


for researching for working with the staff

A big part of what I do is train our camp counselors at our camp, the training that they receive at well run accredited camp programs

in a week or ten days that we have

  • skills to connect with kids
  • foster friendship
  • to communicate in a positive way
  • lead and teach

great skills

one of the things I have felt for a long time is that teachers could benefit from a lot of the training that camp counselors get. It sounds caught of weird, in teacher education programs they don’t really teach:

  • what do you do on the first day to help your kids build community?
  • connect with your kids and let them know that you like them?

often teachers think of as a side job

high school english teacher

she is having a phenomenal experience because she has brought all of her camp experience.

relationship with students

She is the coordinator for her grade at a big high school. 

Students come in

  • before school to chat with her 
  • hanging out at lunch
  • afterschool

And one student said it was the first time she had enjoyed reading

really passionate

spreading what I learned what I learned at camp


also to parenting

all these crazy side things

doing this little session



friendship expert Shasta Nelson

Our task

  • calling
  • big contribution
  •  to the world

vehicles that we use

how we do our work

theme or thread that runs through what we do

I know that my thread is helping raise a generation as kids that thrive as adults

  • parents and teachers
  • camp
  • counselors
  • things the kids are facing


I run the camp

  • counselors
  • directly with kids

friendship sessions

  • podcast
  • website
  • book!

Coming out in May

Different things we can do to help kids thrive!

different things to deliver

I almost started to cry when you said your daughter helped a student find a book that they were interested in, cause that’s part of Authentic Teaching. Helping teaches find ways to teach in ways that our students are interested in, I love the Common core, I want to bring autonomy back to the teachers, and as much as we need to focus on teacher strengths it sounds like your daughter is working with her strengths communicating and building relationships with students.

I love your whole theme as authentic teacher of bringing more of yourself and relating to them as people.

Last week I was at this conference done by the

Momentous Institute

a lot of teachers go to the training

social and emotional development of kids

They have great training for teachers on promoting social and emotional growth in the classroom

side note

kept sharing

when you think of yourself as I’m the expert

service provider you the student are the recipient. That’s not the way to go into a relationship when you’re trying to coach them.

so much better going in has a human and connecting as another human and learning from them too.

kids are so wise

I learn by asking kids things

ask kids what makes them tick? 

They light up!

You care? what I am interested in

you can build this report with them

share your struggles

You can say, I didn’t like reading till I read this one book

Especially young new teachers, and you don’t have a lot of experience and think they are just going to listen and absorb from me.

sense of connections

  • learn from each other
  • magical

You spurred that on in your kids

recognize when they don’t have that with other teachers. 

I love the way your blog is so well researched. You have these examples:

“I noticed you stopped and picked up the book your friend dropped. That was kind.”

“I noticed you kept working at that math problem for a long time, even though that was really hard for you. You showed determination.”

Complimenting their strengths. It goes for parents and students, as teachers we’re all worried about our students passing the test and we kind of focus on their weaknesses as well. IDK Did I get off topic here?

So overall what I try to do, people are all feeling overwhelmed! There is so much information, what am I supposed to do about this and that?

when I go writing and speak to parent groups

live parents at schools

love doing talks with live people

I like to make people feel that these things are:

  • doable and simple
  • we don’t all need to be doing things the same way

We do need to know what our strengths are and what we’re bringing to it. 

If a teacher knows what their strength is

  • connecting
  • overseeing writing
  • teaching realm

Use more of that!

The post you are talking about 4 ways to focus onto our strengths. I have been delving into strengths for years. I have a good friend Sarah who has gone strengths

via strength coaching

not just

positive psychology

strength focused then deficit focused. This goes for everywhere, but we’re not all good at everything. 

It requires a lot of our energy to remediate deficits

energized more 

spending more time on our strengths

For a lot of kids, get really bogged down and more sad and anxious and less confident, the older they get! 

We’re telling kids you need to be reading this much by this date! And this math by this point!

We’re myopic, the focus for kids and life is



that many different areas



That can be depressing.

Take a kid who is maybe traditional academics is not their strengths.



creative mind

music or painting

they don’t have time to do that because they are being asked to go to these specific classes, so there is no free time. Parents want them to do this sport etc.

no free time

looks at the life of a kid who doesn’t fit the culture

start feeling bad

combat that

At our camp we don’t have school, we don’t have competitive sports

It’s about building community.

fun outdoor recreational

fun together being friends

focus on the good stuff – lots of strengths. We train our counselors in the strength language.

look at a kid who is impulsive

A lot of adults look at that kids and think omgosh that kid is so impulsive. But what if you flip that around and say:

I” love your energy!”

you bring so much spirit

can you be in front get to sailing

take a kids character trait

doesn’t come out in a positive way

lead it in a direction

caused me trouble to not sit still in class and now it’s recognized as a strengths.

They have a great sense of humor look they’re making kids laugh!

switching our mindset

when we think about kids

seeing them as these unique amazing eople when they bring their combination of

  • characteristics
  • traits
  • strength

Don’t have to be the same way, that’s my strength’spitch

junior counselor

strength survey

come up with a statement

  • How it manifests with them?
  • How they used it in the past?
  • How they plan to use it in the future?

She had always thought of her strength for empathy  and sensitivity as a weakness

When I explained to her that people who are empathetic and sensitive are the best people to help other people and understand what is going on in their lives, and when I told her that is a great skill

she just had this whole new view!

sensitive book

The Quiet Book

she had a shift

Her mom said, just me saying to her, the thing you’e thinking of as a weakness can be one of your greatest strengths. 

That was something new for her and one of the memorable things from last summer!

pointing out to someone

what it is a

adults when some shares something about us

kids are the same way!

So many things I want to say, she is going to thrive as an adult, customer service, needs listeners, those are the skills they’re constantly teaching people for phones or in person how to deal with upset customers.

The other thing I feel like I hear from teachers, I never want to generalize that all teachers are in such a way, but I have certainly met my share of teachers that complain oh, the parents are doing enough, they are reading with the kids or they aren’t doing this and I think how many PDs have we been to explaining how to do this, why would a parent know how? You’re talking about helping parents and talking to parents. I think a key piece is being empathetic to parents. I sent home this permission slip, or field trip form, or etc.

It’s hard now, parents so much going on, most work full time and have to manage household and kids!

It’s hard right now.

If I could run a school, especially in the younger grades. 

reading books

make it a chore

read with their parents

if I asked one thing

That’s so powerful!

That’s a really connecting thing and a joyful thing

Asking parents to do vocabulary drills/math drills

It’s counterproductive in our culture, we already have a problem with a lack of connection and to be with our kids.

I do know that when kids are behind and not doing things there needs to be collaboration

My daughter the english teacher

ways parents can help the children succeed in school

even younger

helping your child take more responsibility

making the parent the middle man


kids is not going to take responsibility

talk with the teacher

kind of relationship between the student, parent and the teacher.

reframed for the child

better for the parent for the kid to be more responsibility. Better so they don’t feel more overwhelmed

child’s schooling

them feeling like they have to do communication with parents

I feel for the parts, I am a parent, so I have kids in school, I know how hard it is! I know a lot of teachers leave the profession because they don’t want to deal with parents. 

A lot of time, teachers have no idea, parents will come up to me and I would be like, I had no idea, sure we can work something out. Sure we can fix that. I think communicating is a certain key there.

I am curious about your camp, I had no idea counselors go to training.

summer camp

depending on

a lot of camps

someone plops up a camp for a week

in depth type of programs

traditional camps where the emphasizes and training is pretty intense. They ahve leaders or camp directors that have been there for a long time.


mission related to specific

character development

very intense training on culture of camp

  • how we talk to kids
  • how we correct kids when they make a mistake

Lots of hands-on, demonstrative teaching

Don’t want them to sit still

long period of time

hands on stuff

  • saddle a horse
  • doing it themselves

do a lot of

camp directors

many conferences

similar speakers who go to educational conferences

Recent books about

  • youth development
  • leadership
  • current topics

educated on these trends with kids

Unfortunately we have to be more informed about mental health challenges

For campers and our staff

not become experts but at least we are a resource for parents

kids who come through

informed about where to go for help additional info

see everything

  • schools
  • camps

kids who have been with us for a long time who come back and they are 

  • anxious
  • something going on

So we talk with the parents and ask them

  • what’s best for this child?
  • what are you doing at home?



view each other as resources

teachers in schools

behavioral challenges

 Maybe they’re not listening or getting in trouble somehow

call the parents

You’re the expert you know the child best

What can we do to help the child do in the setting

do they need more breaks or more sleep?

what do they know, you know them better? What do you think will help.

Starting there

even if parent is what I would consider scatterbrained

I think I always approach parents

even if the are a little off track

I know you love your child


I have a lot of suspicions of where it comes from

iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us

iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us

points to

a very significant

causation or the rise of the Smart Phone and the rise of teenage depression and suicide

increase screen use is contributing to the problem.

I don’t really like talking about  bullying I like to talk about promoting kindness and focus on what we do want kids to be doing.

Kindness Initiative

We have kindness initiative

wow board

kids and staff put up notes

sometimes over 100 a day they are comments about what 

really nice

a few get read out loud

read in the mail

never had anyone write a mean one


it’s what you have created

once you set up

the culture and structure

they will learn to do the habits and practices


it’s not all bullying

100% recognize there are children for kids who are often victims of bullying

  • Often lack social skills
  • social cues

kids can easily get them riled up so they react. A lot of it, I always tell people. If your child came home in 4th grade and 2 girlfriends and whispering and leaving her out, that’s sad, awful. Who are some of the other kids you see at school who are being kind to each other?

I encouraged her to not be in the victim mentality

adults does not fix the situation for the child. The child needs to learn to navigate different people. We are all going to experience people who are mean to us, even as adults. We all need to learn how to find our people

people who like being with us

it’s a lifelong journey

We need to frame it for kids the right way

Talk about that happened and that is a bummer, What do you think is going on with that kid that they would say something?

underlying issue or problem

coming from a kindness and compassion is so much more effective and kids

100% I am not saying do not or not address it but I think in most cases

parents who is

A kid who is mean to everybody not just not focused on you

people who are unpleasant

We can be kind and compassionate and attract like minded people.

I want to hear what you are talking about non-competitive games at your camp?

team building games around the campfire

recreational activities

  • sailing
  • archery
  • rock climbing
  • ropes course

outdoor activities

building your own skills

  • challenging yourself
  • trying new things
  • getting out of your comfort zone

One of my first jobs at camp was as a water ski instructor

learning to water ski  is really hard

It takes a lot of grit, for some kids it will take a couple of years of camp

lots of trying

  • kid has tried a lot
  • amazing
  • 7th try when the get up

There is nothing like it!

We specialize in helping kids to

  • overcome fears
  • overcome failures
  • keep trying
  • perseverance

underlying things are daily sharing around the campfire

The kids are all given an opportunity to share

We do a lot of things to help kids get to know each other. 

The counselors pair the kids up

pairs them off

  • kids end up meeting someone knew
  • find out three things you have in common
  • three things about the other person to share at lunch today

counselors are facilitators

it’s a beautiful thing

This is how a lot of camps are

There are camps set up for more competitive sports

Our camp philosophy is to provide a break for kids things causing a lot of stress.

Sierras Central California on Huntington Lake.

IDK why I thought it was in Minnesota?

I would love for people to visit my website and see what I have going on.

I have a podcast too

Sunshine Parenting Podcast

Mine is called Sunshine Parenting where I interview:

  • camp directors
  • parenting experts
  • authors of current parenting books

I really have fun having conversations like you do with other people who care about our kids and want to raise thriving kids.

book coming out in May Happy Campers 9 Summer Camp Secrets to Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults

easy simple activities you can do at home, I learned at camp and my study of psychology and share in there my experience about camp

Make sure you leave a 5star review on her podcast.


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