Positive youth development refers to a philosophy, framework, and practice which identifies and nurtures the strengths of young people. At NCSE, we believe that focusing on assets rather than deficits enhances students’ connection to school. We are often asked how to implement a strengths-based approach in the educational setting. First, we recommend that you articulate your school’s philosophy.
Articulating a Positive Youth Development Philosophy
Your philosophy, much like a vision or mission statement, can serve to anchor and guide school activities, staff development, parent involvement and youth participation. The framework should focus on youth and should include:
- Your basic values and beliefs about students
- Your primary purpose in working with students
- Your hopes for students in your school
Once you have articulated an appropriate philosophy, you can begin to examine your program’s components and practices.
Implementing a Positive Youth Development Approach
First and foremost, it is important to apply your philosophy to all students in the school. It is often challenging to maintain a strengths-based approach for students who are truant, non-achievers or habitually disruptive. However, inclusivity is critical to the successful implementation of a positive youth development philosophy.
Additionally, school staff needs to recognize and reward positive behavior instead of merely attending to negative actions. Youth should be celebrated for their contribution to the school community. A well researched program called Positive Behavior Support provides an alternative approach to traditionally punitive, consequence-oriented and ineffective disciplinary practices.
In climates that foster positive youth development, youth should have multiple opportunities and choices in their educational future. Expect all students to define and achieve their dreams and goals. School staff should not limit their expectations of a student based on her income, parental occupation, sibling achievement, ethnicity, or past delinquent behavior. All students are expected to graduate with a high school diploma, and schools need to provide the support necessary to realize that goal.
In nourishing school environments, youth have opportunities to develop positive relationships with adults and peers. A positive school climate is created when all adults consistently demonstrate a strengths-based approach. School staff needs orientation and on-going training to translate the philosophy into their day-to-day practice. School volunteers must also be taught this approach.
In strengths-based schools, youth have a meaningful role as a contributing partner in the governance of the school. Youth work with school staff to co-construct norms and expectations. Vehicles for student involvement include student advisory boards, student representation during policy making and student-run disciplinary committees.
Integrating a Framework
Once you have clearly articulated your school’s philosophy and linked it to best practices, you can look at integrating this framework into all aspects of your program. Total integration of the framework encompasses staffing, policies, communications, and community outreach. For example, how does your hiring process involve youth? Are policies and procedures (program ‘rules’, discipline policies, evaluation) based on your framework and philosophy? Do staff-student and staff-staff communications model your philosophy and framework? Are parents and community partners aware of and actively supporting our philosophy and framework?
Developing and integrating your philosophy and framework may be the single most important action you can take to support youth success. When leadership, staff, parents and students come together to clearly identify, communicate, and apply their deepest values and hopes, it has the power to make significant changes in youth’s attitudes, values, and lives.
NCSE can provide technical assistance as you promote positive youth development in your school. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance!