What is strengths-based learning at George Street Normal School?

At George Street Normal School, "strengths-based" learning practices are used to enhance student engagement and promote student wellbeing:

  • Every child is encouraged to identify their strengths. This means children know their strengths, can name their strengths and are taught how to recognise new strengths.
  • Every child is encouraged to use their strengths. Individual strengths are catered for by offering choices, according to children's strengths, within class programmes, elective classes, a clubs programme, music tuition and sports teams.
  • Every child is encouraged to develop their strengths. We ask children to build on "what is already working well". Each child, for example, has at least one annually agreed "strengths-based goal".
  • There are 21 strategies and 11 age-appropriate tasks that our teachers use to harness children's strengths, collectively referred to as the George Street Normal School "Sundial Project" (“Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?” - Benjamin Franklin).
  • The identification, application and development of children’s strengths are essential for children’s academic progress and emotional wellbeing. We believe all children benefit from being offered regular and meaningful opportunities to use and develop their strengths. Since the introduction of strengths-based learning, we have noted: improved concentration, fewer behaviour problems, increased confidence and more enthusiastic participation in school activities.


At George Street Normal School, children's strengths are regarded as:

  • The "pre-exsisting capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user and enables optimal functioning, development and performance" (LInley, 2008, p.9). Put another way, children's strengths can be found in areas of interest they are naturally drawn to, repeatedly involved in, and are good at. We describe a combination of what children enjoy, are excited by and excel at, as their ‘3eMe’ strengths identity.
  • Observable in three domains: "action strengths", "character strengths" and "thinking strengths".
  • A vital link between learning dispositions such as: motivation, engagement, self-belief and confidence.


A "strengths-based approach" in education can be defined as an "intentional manner of teaching and learning that is receptive and responsive to children’s existing competencies with the purpose of enhancing new learning and wellbeing" (Galloway & Reynolds, 2015, p. 7). In addition, we often refer to "strengths-based learning" as a way of mobilising and leveraging children's strengths. Strengths-based learning is learning that builds on past success.

Why are strengths-based approaches important?

In our hurry to have all children good at all things, there is temptation for teachers and parents to focus on a model of child development characterised by "deficit thinking". By contrast, when programmes of strengths identification, application and development are provided, children, parents and teachers balance the need to address weakness with the benefits of building confidence and self-belief. We want children to leave our school knowing more about their strengths than anyone else and leave school happy with who they are. And this is what research studies tell us: student wellbeing must accompany student achievement in order for children to be successful at school. In short, children who have regular opportunities to develop their strengths are more likely to flourish.


What do children tell us about strengths-based learning?

“Teachers let me use my strengths to my advantage” 

“I am given choices in my learning”

“I have discovered strengths. I have learnt that I am good at a lot more things.”

“Everyone at school, students and teachers have made me feel really happy about myself. They make me shine and congratulate me when I’ve done well or even if I tried my hardest.”


What do teachers tell us about strengths-based learning?

"Children have a greater degree of ownership when working on their strengths”

"Children achieve quickly and highly when given the opportunity to experiment and develop while pursuing an area of strength" 

"Children are much more motivated when they are working towards a strength-based goal.”


What do parents tell us about strengths-based learning?

“Strengths-based approaches teaches kids to focus on positives and to understand themselves and value diversity, with lifelong benefits for individual and community wellbeing.”

“It has been a vital element in our children's learning and development.”

“This approach ensues all children know what their strengths are. It is an approach that is evidence-based and one that allows children to shine.”

“Important as it gives your child confidence in an area/s that they are interested in and if they are happy learning/growing with then this will flow into other subject areas.”

“It is what makes such a difference in the lives of our children, as they are growing, feeling confident and capable.”

“It has really worked to engage my child, build his confidence and allow him to take risks in his learning, so he is trying harder.”

“It has helped our children to recognise and demonstrate their strengths to others, but, more importantly to themselves. This has built a confidence and enthusiasm for learning and for our older children this has extended through to the intermediate and senior years. It has also helped us, as parents, to reflect on our strengths!”


What did the Education Review office (ERO) tell us?

"Teachers know all students and their learning strengths and needs well."

"Leaders monitor the progress and achievement of all students and support teachers to use students' strengths as the focal point for learning."

"This school's curriculum is designed to maximise all children's engagement in learning."

"Children's strengths and interests are explicitly recognised and built on in their learning."

"Children have opportunities to `teach' their peers and their teachers about areas of interest. They participate in a wide variety of rich learning experiences within and beyond the school." 

"The curriculum clearly enacts the school's vision for learners and fosters a strong sense of belonging and wellbeing."


Further reading about strengths-based approaches used at George Street Normal School can be found at:

Galloway, R., Reynolds, B., & Williamson, J. (2020). Strengths-based teaching and learning approaches for children: Perceptions and practices. Journal of Pedagogical Research, 4(1), 31-45.

Galloway, R., & Reynolds, B. (2015). Positive Psychology in the Elementary Classroom: The Influence of Strengths-Based Approaches on Children’s Self-Efficacy. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 3(09), 16–23.

Galloway, R., Reynolds, B., & Williamson J. (2016). Strengths-based teaching and learning approaches for children: A New Zealand case study. In S. Fan & J. Fielding-Wells (Eds.), What is next in educational research (pp. 213–222).  Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishing.