Strengths-based Support

Individual student

The term “strengths-based” is used across education and social services but often understanding of what this means is assumed.  For me these are the practice principles:

  “The problem is the problem; the person is not the problem”.

  People continually adapt to manage their circumstances the best way they can. While everyone wants to thrive, to do and be their best, not all have the skills or circumstances to ensure their adaptations are positive -- our chance is to support that.

  Genuine relationships are a necessary part of a supportive context for change.

  What we see and talk about becomes our reality and the basis of our actions. If we see potential then we work to realize that; if we see limitations then we stay within them.

  People's experiences and their understanding of these is the reality on which they will build.  Thus we must value their story.


The adventure of change needs a mythic hero – hence SINBAD!

Strengths assessment:  strengths include the individual's skills, talents and virtues; resources around them; and their enthusiasm and aspirations.  Often in education we look only at the student's achievements.  Sometimes though the strengths are discoverable within the concerns.  For example, many students whose behavior is problematic demonstrate significant leadership or creativity in that misbehavior.  We need to look also for misapplied strengths.

Individualized approach: while we learn from each student we support, the approach for each must be tailored to that individual's strengths, circumstances, and hopes.

Network of support: who are critical to enabling this student?  Parents, siblings, friends, teachers, other important individuals such as grandparent or sports coach?  Does any critical person need support and skilling themselves to best support the student?  Are there critical mentors?

Building strengths rather overcoming “weakness”: what learning or experiences will enhance the student's strengths and awareness of them?

Apply strengths: how can the student learn to deploy these strengths in new ways to support success? Resilient people are aware of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities but purposefully use and develop their strengths.

Diverse opportunities: the student needs to use and develop these strengths in as many different circumstances as possible to increase confidence, self-awareness and problem-solving skills.


When adopting strength-based approaches some risks are:

  if there is no shift in fundamental limits-focused assumptions of those working with the student, the support degenerates into token “feel good” feedback.  Strengths-based development is rigorous.

  generalized ideas of strengths, eg all children on the spectrum are good at number patterns.

  the responsibility is shifted to the student and others in the network, rather than being retained by the professional.  Sharing power does not mean relinquishing professional accountability.


A couple of articles I found useful are:

Victorian Youth Mentoring Alliance Mentor Training Package 2012

Principles of Strength-Based Practice, Wayne Hammond, Resiliency Initiatives  2010

What resources or tools do you use?  Please share them on my facebook page.

from the News & Views of

Anne Williams, Consulting Educator

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