Strengths in Education
Teacher Initiatives

The Strength-Based Classroom Experience

It's more than just good pedagogy...

While strength-based teaching seems simply like good pedagogy, a strength-based classroom is very intentional in its use of strengths. Classroom teachers work to always explicitly consider strengths in all that they do. For an excellent "first look" at how the strength-based classroom is different, read the article to the right "Strength-Based Classroon Strategies for Teachers" in Canadian Teacher.
by Edward Rawana, Kim Latimer, Jessica Whitley and Michelle Probizanski


Ideas to Get Started: Learn their strengths!

From the classroom:

At the beginning of each semester, students in my grade 9 geography class fill out a "Getting Acquainted" inventory worksheet (to the right). Before I handout the worksheet I start by talking about how the secret to their success in this class goes beyond the book work and learning they will do. Students must first realize that the secret to their success lies within each of them understanding what they are good at. We have a discussion about what strengths are and we brainstorm ideas about how strengths might help them out with an area that they are not as strong in. For example: If their strengths are being social and organized; we list ways that these two strengths might help them with their school work. Students do not always see the connection between their strengths and using their strengths to achieve their goals. It is important to take some time and list concrete ways of using their strengths to achieve their goals.

The first part of the worksheet requires them to ask another person the questions as a way to start to make a bond and develop an appreciation for the person who will be sitting beside them for the semester. Students then take the time to introduce their desk partner to other students in the class.

The last part of the work sheet focuses back on the student and asks them to write out a couple of their strengths and areas that they might need help in. A list of strengths is posted for the students to see; this helps them understand that I am looking for more than "I am good at math". The final step asks the students to share their strengths with their desk partner and together list ways that will help them achieve their goals.

It is important to refer to this worksheet often in the first couple of weeks and then a few times each month as a way to reinforce and make the connection between their strengths and using their strengths to achieve their goals. I also make a copy of these sheets and keep them as a reference. When an issue arises, I refer to the students strengths and we start the conversation with their strengths and look for ways to use their strengths to help them overcome the obstacle they are facing.

Getting Acquainted Worksheet:


WCDSB School Initiatives and Activities:


Tales from the field: "Lisa" Case Study

Often as a teacher you are forewarned about students before they even enter your classroom. This is especially true if the student does not have the cleanest track record at school. Coming from a strength-based approach, we are lucky because along with these warnings, we are also handed tools to engage, these tools being students strengths.

I have had the opportunity to work with many students using the strength-based model and have seen many success stories. One student (we will call her Lisa) came to me lacking a list of strengths in her file. Lisa had been in and out of school over the last three years with little attendance and low credit accumulation. She was a grade 12 student with 7 credits and a bad attitude towards school.

It was not easy at first because Lisa had huge gaps in her learning and hated school. I was pulling my hair day after day trying to find some way to reach this student. She was rude to teachers and students alike and often inappropriate no matter what the circumstance.

At this time I was teaching art and had an elderly gentleman who was an artist from the community teaching a lesson to my students once a week. I soon noticed that this inappropriate behavior ceased to exist when my volunteer was speaking to the students. Lisa would even correct other the student’s behavior if they were acting inappropriately.  It was obvious that Lisa’s strength was her empathy for elderly people and she shined in this situation.

Soon after this incident I noticed Lisa interacting with another student’s baby. She was soft, kind and gentle, far from her normal behavior in the classroom. I then realized that she was not just empathetic towards the elderly, but children to. Her ability to connect with vulnerable people showed an entirely different side of her and helped us as a staff find the right fit for her education pathway.

Currently Lisa is completing a co-op at a pet store, caring for animals and helping out around the store.  Her ability to connect with vulnerable people transferred over to her interactions with vulnerable animals. When Lisa walked through my classroom door she was not able to function in our school community. She is now working successfully using one of her greatest strengths. Lisa is getting credits, life experience and now positively shaping her future.

Goal Setting and Best Possible Selves Intervention Using Strengths 


Disclosive Writing: What are the benefits? 

Improvement in well being and achievement have been well documented in research involving strengths and education. In particular, the activity of writing using positive emotions helped students feel a greater sense of well-being and positive emotions. Discolsive writing is beneficial in the following ways:

·       Release emotions that may be pent-up
·       Opportunity to get a better understanding of emotional reactions
·       Gain control over emotional outcomes
·       Promoting self-awareness to allow students to gain insight on priorities
·       Engage in self-regulation by focusing only on positive emotions and inhibiting negative emotions
·       Explore different ways to cope with present/previous problems 
Research shows that inhibiting emotions can cause chronic autonomic arousal and has adverse effects on the immune function

Disclosive Writing: Using Strengths

A variation of disclosive writing  requires students to write about how they will incorporate their strengths in the future or how they will develop their strengths/weaknesses.  By setting goals, students are asked to write about the future. Setting goals using positive emotion has shown to be associated with well-being in the following ways:

·       Writing helps bring awareness and clarity into goal  
·       Students can organize thoughts and prioritize goals
·       Setting goals may help resolve conflicts
·       Students can brainstorm various strategies to achieve their goals and grow as a person
·       Setting goals can help students improve motivation, self-regulation and other behaviors that are conducive to self-improvement and achieving the goal
Clear goals have therapeutic effects on positive psychological functioning


Students who actively visualize completing a task and envisioning the future may be able to more effectively accomplish their goals. In particular, encouraging students to visualize various ways they can use strengths in the future will help promote a strengths based philosophy within the classroom.

Research from previous interventions showed that participants who were required to imagine their best possible selves (BPS) had more positive, optimistic, and less emotional moods with effects lasting several months.

Best Possible Selves (BPS) are views of oneself that are not true at the present but might be true in the future

How does it work?

·       Hypothetical possible selves have been shown to be an important player in identity development during adolescence
·       Students are presented with an opportunity to generate ideas of who they want to become
·      Envisioning future selves help generate ideas of how they will achieve this best possible self
·       BPS can showcase opportunities for change and potential for growth
·       Thoughts of hope and positivity are promoted during writing
·       Positive self-evaluations can increase self-esteem
·       Continuous development and fostering of these traits will lead to greater life satisfaction and self-esteem

 ·    Owens and Patterson's (2013) research on BPS showed an increas-0
An intervention that can be implemented within the school asks students to engage in disclosive writing that incorporates envisioning and setting goals for possible ways to use strengths in the school, home, and community.

A sample of questions are presented below:

1)    How will you use your top three strengths in a new way?
a.      Helps students become aware of their strengths by showcasing different ideas to incorporate strength use into their daily lives

2)    What can you do to continue developing your top strength or work on improving a weak strength?
a.      Requires students to set a goal to improve their strengths
b.      Help students generate various strategies to achieve these goals

3)    What will these strengths look like in a successful future? How will this strength help you reach your goal of who you want to become?
a.      Requires student to visualize the future and who they want to become
b.      Focuses on thought of positivity and hope to promote well-being
c.      Helps students prioritize and bring clarity into their goals

Why does goal setting work?

Leading researchers in positive psychology and strengths, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman noted that the identification of strengths is not enough for the individual to benefit from strengths. The benefit of strengths are advantageous when an individual is capable of using and developing their strengths. Knowing a strength and being asked to use them does not require an individual to set a goal.  Goal theory states that setting a clear plan may make an individual more likely to follow through with their plan as well as track progress.

Note: This intervention can also be administered to younger students. Younger students are encouraged to use drawings to communicate their BPS and goals which function as a communication tool in a similar way to writing.


King, L.A. (2000). The health benefits of writing about life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 798-807. doi: 10.1177/0146167201277003

Owens, R.L., Patterson, M.M. (2013). Positive psychological interventions for children: a comparison of gratitude and best possible selves approaches. The Journal of Genetic Psychology: Research and Theory on Human Development, 174(4), 403-   4        
28. doi: 10.1080/00221325.2012.697496

Quinlan, D., Swain, N., Vella-Brodrick, D.A. (2012). Character strengths interventions: building on what we know for improved outcomes. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(6), 1145-163. doi: 10.1007/s10902-011-9311-5

Resources and Books to Help Builds Strengths

Falcon Feat Attribute Suggestions: 

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Books for students from kindergarten to Grade 8: ​
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