Why PE teachers should flip their thinking when adopting a strengths-based approach

Why PE teachers should flip their thinking when adopting a strengths-based approach

A strengths-based approach underpins a new way of teaching health and physical education in the national curriculum. By focusing on strengths, teachers can set their students up for success.

This is the second in a five-part video series on the five propositions of the Australian HPE curriculum. Monash researchers Karen Lambert and Justen O’Conner offer practical suggestions for teachers.

In this video

A change in perspective

Karen: The first step in taking a strengths-based approach is to think about young people in a different way. Nurture the things they know and do. Start from the point of view that young people have skills, assets and resources they can draw upon.

Justen: It’s something I embed into everyday practice. It’s about flipping your rhetoric. Talk about what we can do rather than what we can’t. Focusing on what we are striving to achieve and the resources that we have to get there.

It’s about a change in language — to draw on the strengths, assets and resources and move forward in meaningful ways.

Young people are not inherently bad

Karen: Get rid of the deficit model that we get attached to when thinking about the things young people do. Younger people aren’t inherently bad. They’re not inherently problematic, despite what popular culture might have us believe.

These days, young people are quite resilient. They live in a world that’s very fast-paced. Think about the positive and optimistic ways they operate in their worlds, especially given the complexities and stresses they are under.

Young people have the potential to become well-rounded, optimistic and positive, despite the ways they are positioned by the media or in popular health discourses.

Justen: It’s about balancing all the talk of risk. Spin things in an alternative way, and create a different picture. Give young people the opportunity to explore what’s good and what’s worthy. What do they bring to the table? It’s a nice approach to take in your teaching.

school students blurred
These days, young people are quite resilient. They live in a world that’s very fast-paced.

How do you tap into your student’s potential?

Karen: Young people will come to your class and may be a little bit closed. They might think about themselves in a negative way because that’s what they hear.  So how do you shift that thinking and help them tap into their potential, one they might not even recognise yet?

We need to think of our students as a glass half full, rather than half empty. If we do that then it’s a big step to implementing a strengths-based approach in our classrooms

Justen: Think about the rubrics you use for assessment. Are they focused on what’s not happening? Or are they focused on what can be achieved and the way forward? Tweaking the language, and the way you instruct the class makes a real difference to how young people feel about themselves and what they want to achieve.

Allow people to show that through hard work and effort, things can be achieved. This contributes to your students understanding how they can use their own strengths and assets to progress.

Provide a variety of case studies, and use stories

Karen: A strengths-based approach is inherently about motivation and engagement in the activities you are doing. When you bring different case studies — podcasts, articles, visual displays — to the party, you get your students engaged in different ways.

Ask scaffolded questions to start to unpack your case studies. Start with simple questions like:

  • ‘What’s going on here?’
  • 'What’s playing out in this situation?'
  • 'What's going on in the background?’

You have the opportunity to start to develop an inventory of skills, assets and resources the young person has exemplified, or can work towards.

Another layer to this approach is using stories to talk about student experiences. Can you get the young people in your class to tell their own strength-based story? When did they overcome adversity? Did they realise they had the skills and abilities to do that?

What do students bring to a team?

Justen: We can open up options if we move away from a narrow focus on tactical understanding or motor skill competence. What does it mean to participate in your class?

All of sudden, different people start to bring different strengths to the table, and contribute in meaningful ways. When you put a team together in a phys ed class, ask your students to identify what strengths they bring to the team? What assets do they contribute? How will they play a meaningful role by participating?

They may not be the most skilled. They may not have the best tactical awareness. But they have something to offer. It’s a starting point. You can build on those strengths and resources to support each other so that, collectively, the team progresses.

Get to know your students, and their interests

Karen: A way to get to know your students’ needs and interests is to get them out into the playground, into the school community. Do a needs assessment about the kinds of resources, assets and ideas that are available.

This promotes a strengths-based approach. You make an inventory of the strengths and assets of the school, as well as individuals, and can reinforce the idea of what it looks like to be a resilient person in your school.

Justen: What is crucial with a strengths-based approach is knowing your learners, understanding them. Find out what works for your students, and what they know they offer.

Are you familiar with how your learners believe in themselves? How can support that belief as a teacher?

Foster appreciation and gratitude

Justen: Spend some time evaluating and exploring your school. Look at the vast amount of resources and assets that exist in the school community and beyond. Take time to evaluate them so the young people you work with gain an appreciation and show some gratitude for those resources that are available to draw upon. It will help your students feel like they’re in a place where they can progress and move forward.

School grounds
Spend some time evaluating and exploring your school.


Developed by Monash University and published in collaboration with ACHPER, Health and Physical Education: The Five Propositions is a set of five cards that can be used by teachers, educators and university students as a tool to help support their emerging understandings of the five propositions of the new Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education.

These cards are available through the ACHPER website.