Personal Strengths - Department of Education and Early Childhood

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, capabilities and 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 Mihaly
Interest in wellness and optimal functioning
Research into:
strengths, virtues and values
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
• 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
1. Wisdom and Knowledge – include cognitive strengths that
entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
2. Courage – emotional strengths that involve the exercise of
will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external
or internal
3. Humanity - interpersonal strengths that involve tending
and befriending others
4. Justice - civic strengths that underlie healthy community
5. Temperance – strengths that protect against excess
6. Transcendence - strengths that forge connections to the
larger universe and provide meaning
Personal Strengths
24 Character Strengths
The 24 Character Strengths are modified for age-appropriate use in a
number of lessons:
Love of learning
Social intelligence
Appreciation of beauty
*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
• 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, OutGoing, Careful, Outspoken, Caring, Patient, Charming,
People-oriented, Cheerful, Perceptive, Clever, Playful ,
Compassionate, Polite, Conscientious, Practical, CoolHeaded, 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 whose strengths are not in the traditional academic
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
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
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
Level 9/10
application in a variety of contexts
Personal Strengths
Example learning activities:
1. 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)
1. Work in groups of four or five
2. Divide up the 24 strengths cards among the group
3. Assign each group a context: school work, sporting life,
family life, social life, career, leisure
4. 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
5. Report back and compare what the different groups
found when they reflected on the strengths
This activity is adapted from the Level 9-10 Building Resilience learning materials (Topic 2: Personal strengths, Activity 1
Valuing character strengths).
Personal Strengths
Example learning activities:
3.Using strengths to reach a goal (VCE/VCAL)
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
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.
This activity is adapted from the VCE/VCAL Building Resilience learning materials (Topic 1: Challenge, opportunity and
personal strengths, Activity 3)
Personal Strengths
• What are my top character strengths?
• How do I use my strengths in the
• 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
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), 293311.
Waters, L., A Review of School-Based Positive Psychology Interventions. Australian educational and
developmental psychologist, , 2011. 28(2): p. 75-90.

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