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Taking a strengths based approach with young people

Character strengths and personal development are becoming of increasing importance to schools and educators. Partly because of recent changes to the Ofsted Inspection framework, but also to help support the wellbeing of students. Character strengths such as resilience and self-awareness are particularly important during times of change and challenge - like we find ourselves in right now! So how can we develop a strengths based approach with young people?

Jillian Darwish EdD, award winning educator and researcher on the science of strengths recently gave an interview looking at new approaches we can use. She discussed what a strengths based approach is, how it looks in schools, how it affects teaching, and the link to relationships, amongst many other things. Here’s a breakdown you might find useful…

What is a strengths based approach?

According to Jillian there are two approaches we can use. These are strengths based and a deficit based approach.

A deficit based approach looks at what you lack, what you are missing and how you should change that to improve. A strengths based approach looks at what you have got, and how this can be used in different situations to succeed. Using a strengths based approach is strongly linked and rooted in positive psychology research, and is connected to increased wellbeing, higher engagement, less stress and improved academic achievement. You can use these resources to explore character strengths with young people.

How to activate character strengths

  • Start with yourself and your fellow teachers and family members. Support one another to understand what your character strengths are and how they can be used to work together. Frequently in education we forget to look inward and focus so much on the students. Having these conversations with one another is so important to developing a strengths based perspective.

  • Once you have developed a strengths based perspective, look at how you can then bring that in a classroom or homeworking life. Ensure you are using a strengths approach, focusing on what you’re good at, rather than a deficit approach

  • Use a variety of tools and resources to really embed this approach. Repeat, repeat, repeat. There's no use doing it once!

How does developing a strengths based approach affect how we teach?

Jillian says it all comes down to a change in communication. For example, if a student is being disruptive and lacking attention, telling them to ‘stop doing that’ is a deficit approach, implying that they have something wrong with them they need to change. It is here where you can remind the student of their strengths. Perhaps they showed kindness in another way recently. Remind them of that kindness and show them how this strength can be used at the time they are presenting challenging behaviour.

Helping students to identify their strengths, and reminding them of times they’ve demonstrated good character qualities builds students’ confidence and creates a ‘strengths toolbox’ they can draw on. These tips can help with empowering students.

The link between developing strengths based approach and improving relationships

“Knowing your own strengths, feeling good about who you are, opens up an entirely different space for how you relate to other people”

The strength based approach provides us with a means to understand others. Even though they might be different from us, they still have unique strengths. Understanding this enables you to appreciate and value what everyone brings to the table. We develop an ability to see the positives in others by using a positive lens. This can have a significant effect on how we work in teams and strengthen relationships between teachers and students.

Final thoughts from us

It seems clear that drawing students’ attention to their strengths can only be a positive. Boosting confidence, reducing behaviour challenges and improving self-awareness all contributes to preparing young people for their futures. We developed a range of resources to help you to do just that.


Head over to our resources page to find activities to help young people explore their strengths.

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