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Building Resilience in Children and Young People. Personal Strengths. Teacher Professional Development. Personal Strengths. What is a Strengths Based Approach?.

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Building Resilience in Children and Young People

Personal Strengths

Teacher Professional


Personal Strengths
  • What is a Strengths Based Approach?
  • Taking a strengths-based approach entails emphasising and building on the strengths, capabilitiesand resources of staff and students
  • Research in the field of positive psychology emphasises the value of building:
    • Social and emotional competency - via explicit teaching of SEL
    • Positive emotions - by designing policies and programs that encourage a sense of belonging, school pride, and optimism
    • Positive relationships - between all teachers and students and amongst the student cohort
    • Engagement through strengths - assisting students and staff to know and use their strengths and
    • Purpose and Optimism - creating opportunities for students to develop a sense of meaning and purpose through pursuit of civic goals

Alvord & Grados 2005; Clonan et al. 2004; Masten, 2009; Noble & McGrath 2008; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi 2000; Waters 2011)

Personal Strengths
  • What is Positive Psychology?
  • A recent branch of psychology
  • Term coined by Martin Seligman and MihalyCsilszentmihalyi
  • Interest in wellness and optimal functioning
  • Research into:
    • happiness
    • optimism
    • strengths, virtues and values
    • pleasure
    • states of ‘flow’ or heightened engagement or immersion

(Seligman et al. 2009)

Personal Strengths
  • Virtues and Character Strengths
  • The field of positive psychology has focused on identifying and classifying the positive psychological traits of human beings, termed ‘character strengths and virtues’
  • Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi define positive psychology as "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life"
  • This field has identified 6 ‘virtues’ which encompass 24 ‘character strengths’
  • They argue that these virtues are morally and universally valued and encompass our capacities for helping ourselves and others produce positive effects when we express them
  • (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi 2000
Personal Strengths
  • The Six Virtues
  • Wisdom and Knowledge – include cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
  • Courage – emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
  • Humanity - interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
  • Justice - civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
  • Temperance – strengths that protect against excess
  • Transcendence - strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
Personal Strengths
  • 24 Character Strengths
  • The 24 Character Strengthsare modified for age-appropriate use in a number of lessons:








Appreciation of beauty








Love of learning








Social intelligence

*Based on Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification written by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman; Oxford University Press and the American Psychological Association, 2004

Personal Strengths
  • Survey of Character Strengths
  • A useful tool to help students (and teachers) identify their character strengths is Peterson and Seligman’s online VIA (Values in Action) Signature Strengths Questionnaire
  • The version of this questionnaire for children and young people from 10 to 17 years of age is used across the SEL materials
  • The Seligman strengths test can be taken online:

Click: Questionnaires

Click: VIA Survey of Character Strengths

Click: Register

*A child/youth version of this survey is used in the Building Resilience lessons

Personal Strengths
  • Building a Positive Vocabulary
  • Children and young people need a vocabulary to help them recognise and understand various strengths and positive qualities in themselves and others
  • The Personal Strengths topic area in the Building Resilience lesson plans provides activities to build this vocabulary and to apply it in ethical and practical reflection about how to manage personal and social challenges
  • Additional activities throughout the program also refer to the language of personal strengths
  • The vocabulary provided draws both on the Character Strengths defined by Peterson and Seligman, and on a broader vocabulary of positive adjectives used to describe behavior
Personal Strengths
  • Positive Adjectives

Accepting, Independent, Adaptable, Intelligent, Adventurous, Interested, Affectionate, Inventive, Ambitious, Joyful, Amusing, Kind, Analytical, Logical, Appreciative, Loving, Approachable, Loyal, Articulate, Motivated, Attentive, Neat, Aware, Objective, Brave, Open-Minded, Bright, Optimistic, Broadminded, Organised, Calm, Out-Going, Careful, Outspoken, Caring, Patient, Charming, People-oriented, Cheerful, Perceptive, Clever, Playful , Compassionate, Polite, Conscientious, Practical, Cool-Headed, Punctual Courageous, Realistic, Creative, Reasonable, Dedicated, Reliable, Deep, Resourceful, Definite, Respectful, Dependable, Determined, Sensible, Easy-Going, Sensitive, Efficient,Sincere, Encouraging, Sociable, Energetic, Stable, Fair, Strong, Faithful, Supportive

Personal Strengths
  • Why Focus on Personal Strengths?
  • Research in the field of positive psychology emphasises the importance of identifying and using individual strengths
  • Research shows that wellbeing, positive behaviour and achievement are more likely to occur when pupils are aware of their cognitive and character strengths and have opportunities to demonstrate and further develop them at school
  • Emphasising strengths in schoolwork is far more enjoyable and productive than working on weaknesses, especially for those students whosestrengths are not in the traditional academic domain
  • When individuals engage their strengths they tend to learn more readily, perform at a higher level, are more motivated and confident, and have a stronger sense of confidence and satisfaction

(Noble & McGrath 2008; Seligman 2002; Waters 2011; Linley & Harrington 2006)

Personal Strengths
  • Activities in the Personal Strengths Lessons aim to assist students to:


Identify and describe personal strengths

Explain how these strengths contribute to family and school life

Identify ways to care for others, including ways of making and keeping friends

Identify skills and strengths they wish to develop

Describe factors that contribute to positive relationships with people at school, home and in the community

Identify communication skills that enhance relationships

Describe characteristics of cooperative behaviour and identify evidence of these in group activities

Describe the range and influence of personal qualities and strengths

Monitor their progress in consolidating their strengths

Assess the value of working independently

Make realistic assessments of their abilities and achievements and prioritise areas for improvement

Assess the extent to which individual roles and responsibilities enhance group cohesion and the achievement of objectives

Assess their strengths and challenges and devise strategies to achieve future success

Analyse personal characteristics and skill sets that contribute to their personal and social capability

Critically analyse self-discipline strategies and personal goals and consider their application in a variety of contexts

Level 9/10

Personal Strengths
  • Example learning activities:
  • Using a role-play to show strengths in action (Level 1-2)
  • Students engage in class work to identify various strengths”
  • They build examples of how someone might show each of these strengths in class, in the playground, and at home
  • They work in small groups to make a small role play to show what their allocated strength looks like or sounds like in action
  • After each group shows their role play, the audience should guess the strength!
  • Students set goals whereby they name the strength that they want to work on building for themselves

This activity is adapted from the Level 1-2 Building Resilience learning materials (Topic 2: Personal strengths, Activity 4).

Personal Strengths
  • Example learning activities:
  • 2. Valuing Strengths ranking (Level 9-10)
  • This activity is adapted from the Level 9-10 Building Resilience learning materials (Topic 2: Personal strengths, Activity 1 Valuing character strengths).

Work in groups of four or five

Divide up the 24 strengths cards among the group members

Assign each group a context: school work, sporting life, family life, social life, career, leisure

Players take in in turns to place cards on the table, one strength at a time, explaining how this strength can be useful in this context, arguing for its inclusion at the ‘most-valued’ end of the spectrum

Report back and compare what the different groups found when they reflected on the strengths

Personal Strengths
  • Example learning activities:
  • 3.Using strengths to reach a goal (VCE/VCAL)
  • This activity is adapted from the VCE/VCAL Building Resilience learning materials (Topic 1: Challenge, opportunity and personal strengths, Activity 3) 

Working in pairs, draw your own fish bone!

Choose a goal e.g. ‘to complete four sets of reports by x date’ . Write this goal in the fish’s head

On the backbone of the fish, write the strengths you will need to use to reach this goal (you can refer to the list)

Brainstorm all the possible steps or actions that will help you to move towards that goal, then write these on the ribs of the fish, one action or step per rib

Add some waves above and below your fish: on these you should write any of the negative forces that you may have to work against to move towards your goal

Think about any additional strengths or strategies might you need to harness to keep up the effort in the face of distractions, or resistance. Add these to the tail.

Personal Strengths
  • What are my top character strengths?
  • How do I use my strengths in the classroom?
  • How do I use my strengths when working with my colleagues?
Personal Strengths
  • Useful Links
  • The Authentic Happiness website is the homepage of Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania and provides detailed information about character strengths and the field of positive psychology:
  • MindEd(UK Department of Health)
  • Guidance on children and young people’s mental health, wellbeing and development for adults working with children and youth to help them support the development of young healthy minds:
Personal Strengths
  • References
  • Alvord, M. K., & Grados, J. J. (2005). Enhancing resilience in children: A proactive approach. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36(3), 238-245.
  • Clonan, Sheila M., Chafouleas, Sandra M., McDougal, James L., & Riley-Tillman, T. Chris. (2004). Positive psychology goes to school: Are we there yet? Psychology in the Schools, 41(1), 101-110.
  • Linley, P.A. & Harrington, S. (2006) Playing to your
  • strengths. The Psychologist, 19, p. 86–89.
  • Masten, Ann S. (2009). Ordinary Magic: Lessons from Research on Resilience in Human Development. Education Canada, 49(3), 28-32.
  • Noble, T. and McGrath, H. The positive educational practices framework: A tool for facilitating the work of educational psychologists in promoting pupil wellbeing. Educational and child psychology, 2008. 25(2): p. 119-134.
  • Seligman, M., Authentic Happiness. 2002, New York: Free Press.
  • Seligman, M., & Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.
      • Seligman, M., Ernst, Randal M., Gillham, Jane, Reivich, Karen, & Linkins, Mark. (2009). Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293-311.
  • Waters, L., A Review of School-Based Positive Psychology Interventions. Australian educational and developmental psychologist, , 2011. 28(2): p. 75-90.