Having been a parent and an educator for over 15 years, I have seen how concepts cycle around. What was a hard and fast rule yesterday may be seen as merely a fad today. It can be hard to keep up, and technology truly only makes it worse as we have access to oodles of websites with contradictory information.
What seems to make the most sense – what should be common sense – probably should be the approach that one pursues in both the parenting and education arenas. If it makes sense, it probably does so for a reason!
And for that reason, I have been drawn to Search Institute’s asset approach for years thanks to a colleague/supervisor who introduced me to them while I completed my guidance counseling internship. And for that reason, I have been drawn to their parenting initiative – ParentFurther – recently.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend three days of training hosted by the Search Institute, and two of the days focused on building assets in school communities.
Side note: any non-educator parent or community member could have attended the school community training and taken away as much as the educators did. This is one of the nuggets of the concept; it crosses all barriers and asks us all to participate in creating a more healthy and more positive future for all children.
What are these development assets?1
- 40 positive experiences and qualities in 8 categories focusing on external structures, relationships, and activities as well as internal values, skills, and beliefs.
- Common wisdom about the kinds of positive experiences and characteristics that young people need and deserve.
- Positive behaviors and attitudes which influence achievement and help protect young people from many different problem behaviors.
- Common elements across gender, ethnic heritage, economic situation, or geographic location.
According to Search Institute’s research (which has been verified and replicated by outside sources), the more assets that a child has in their toolkit the more likely to exhibit succeed in school (get mostly As on report card) and the less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. Why are we not all jazzed about this?????
Seriously! As parents, community members, and educators, we spend hours and hours trying to determine solutions to really big problems. But Search Institute already has the answer – promote the developmental assets! It sounds too simple, right? And it is. Many of us already do these things, but we might not realize that we could do them more or that we could expand our sphere of influence by doing them with kids in our neighborhoods or in the store.
The sad thing: on average, young people report having 20.1 assets.2 I put together the chart below from information in “The Asset Approach.” Across the bottom is the number of assets that youth reported having while vertical numbers show the percentage of youth who reported those numbers.
Wouldn’t it be great if that looked like the graph below instead????
While this might be a lofty dream, we all can play a part…and more students can have more assets when we all focus on our youth. They are our future!
To support us in all of this, Search Institute has trainings, they train trainers, they provide surveys (I want my kids to take these…), and they have a vast library of books to order. In addition to all of the things that cost money, they have oodles of free stuff online at both Search-Institute.org and ParentFurther.com – who also provides a monthly (free) webinar (third Wednesday of each month) about current issues.
I love free stuff!! And the resources are great. As I have snooped around on the websites, I have found the list of the assets, suggestions about how to encourage student and build the assets, and ways that the assets help students.
Great nugget: This is not another program; this is an approach. Any already established school, youth program, church, family, or neighbor could adopt this way of thinking without re-creating a program. What it does require is that people become more intentional. And it may require some people to do things that they had not thought to do.
Encouraging youth should be on all of our “to do” lists each day. If we do not know how, we can go to the website and get some ideas. One of my favorite stories from the training last week was about an elderly woman who decided that she would smile at youth as she passed them on the street or in the store. That was her one thing!
Can you smile? Then you can encourage…who will I smile at today?
1. These definitions are taken from a publication titled “The Asset Approach” and are used in accordance with their copyright. More information can be found at the website: search-institute.org.
2. From page 4 of “The Asset Approach.”