A strengths-based approach to education and parenting

Claire Melloy, Director of Student Development

Claire Melloy, Director of Student Development

By Claire Melloy, Director of Student Development

When I ask students what they enjoy doing most (either at school or outside of school) they invariably answer with something they are good at. Doing what we do best usually leads to increased levels of engagement and productivity.

A major focus for the Radford pastoral care framework is a strengths-based approach to education that involves identifying and capitalising on individual student strengths to maximize engagement in learning. The fundamental principles of strengths-based education apply in the classroom and playground. We as educators practise the principles of strengths-based education when advising and teaching, while students learn to use their strengths in social situations.

It is important to note that strengths-based education is not about neglecting to identify areas for further development and/or areas of concern; it is about recognising that students grow and develop from their strengths and abilities.

Kindergarten, as designed by Friedrich Fröbel Strengths-based educational models represent a return to basic educational principles that emphasise the positive aspects of effort and achievement, as well as universal human strengths. As early as 1830, German practitioner of pedagogy Friedrich Fröbel designed the first kindergarten to elicit the natural active power or strengths of children (image left).

John Dewey, a hero of mine, said 'the purpose of education is to allow each individual to come into full possession of his or her personal power' (1938).

Though grounded in historical practice, strengths-based education has five current educational principles:

1. measurement of strengths and determining of positive outcomes
2. helping students utilise strengths to solve problems
3. networking with friends, family and professionals who affirm strengths
4. deliberate application of strengths in the classroom
5. intentional development of strengths

Strengths-based education is student-centred with the primary goal of transforming students into confident, efficacious, genuine lifelong learners with a sense of purpose.

Image by Matthew JohnstoneRecent research from the University of Melbourne (Professor Lea Waters) has also found that when a strengths-based approach is taken to parenting it improves young people's resilience and stress levels. It found that children are more likely to use their strengths to effectively cope with minor stress in their lives if they have parents who adopt a strengths-based approach to parenting. Positive stress is a normal part of the development process. When managed, it has the potential to help children learn, grow and adapt. Essential skills, such as coping with and adapting to new situations, grow out of positive stress. Where parents deliberately cultivate positive states, processes and qualities in their children, it adds a 'positive filter' to the way the child reacts to stress and limits the likelihood of children using avoidance or aggressive coping responses.

Try this free VIA survey to help discover your children's (and your own) unique character strengths: http://www.viacharacter.org/www/the-survey

Upcoming events

Matthew Johnstone, Creative Director for the Black Dog Institute, will be speaking to students, staff and parents on 28 and 29 October about a range of ideas and techniques to help us manage life's tougher challenges.

Image by Matthew Johnstone

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