A review of character strengths interventions in 21st-century schools:
Their importance and how they can be fostered
The University of Haifa, Israel
Author’s Final Draft
Citation: Lavy, S. (2020). A review of character strengths interventions in twenty-first-century
schools: Their importance and how they can be fostered. Applied Research in Quality of
Life, 15(2), 573-596.
A main challenge of educational organizations is how to foster students' capacity to fulfill their
potential. The present paper, based on educational, psychological, and organizational research,
asserts that a discussion of character strengths and their development is highly relevant to this
challenge. It provides an integrative overview of the relevance of character strengths to 21st-
century schools and discusses different mechanisms that can help foster them. Character
strengths—widely valued positive traits, theorized to be the basis for optimal functioning and
well-being—may derive from inner tendencies, but are expected to have broad potential for
development, depending on individuals’ experiences and environments. Furthermore, character
strengths are closely related to 21st-century competencies – cognitive, interpersonal and
intrapersonal competencies, identified by the American National Research Council as required
for thriving in contemporary life and work, and thus considered to be desirable educational
outcomes. The paper first delineates the connections between 21st-century competencies and
character strengths, demonstrating the importance of promoting them in education. Then,
mechanisms for fostering development of character strengths in schools are discussed, based on a
review of the literature, including mechanisms that affect students (e.g., curriculum,
relationships), teachers (e.g., training, supervisors), and schools (e.g., evaluation processes,
resource allocation), while considering the interplay between these different levels. The
concluding part of the paper outlines an integrative model of an optimal school system, expected
to foster character strengths’ use and development and discuss its applications for research and
A review of character strengths interventions in 21st-century schools:
Their importance and how they can be fostered
Character strengths provide a positive, applicable framework and perspective that can
improve functioning and well-being of individuals, groups, and institutions (Peterson &
Seligman, 2004). Furthermore, the application and promotion of character strengths in
educational institutions—which shape the future citizens and leaders of our societies—holds
unique promise, as well as unique challenges. In this sense, education is not just another field in
which character strengths can be applied. Rather, it is a field in which the need for character
strengths’ use and development is crucial, if we are to provide young people worthwhile
education, which will allow them to thrive and contribute to their communities in the rapidly
changing 21st-century world. Current education systems aim to equip students with knowledge
relevant to current life and work, and it is not clear that they achieve these goals (Mourshed,
Patel, & Suder, 2014; National Research Council [NRC], 2012). With an unknown future of
different technologies, occupational requirements, and societal structures that have not been
invented yet, what is typically taught in most schools today may not be enough to equip today’s
children with what they will need to successfully operate and thrive in the world in which they
will live as adults (NRC, 2012).
The present paper focuses on character strengths as key for thriving in this future world.
It aims to integrate positive psychology, education, and organizational literature, to provide
common ground for the application and further research of character strengths and their
promotion in schools and bring them to the center stage not only of positive psychology but also
of education research and practice. I believe a more profound dialogue integrating positive
psychology literature and education literature is essential for achieving this goal, and developing
sustainable, integrative, and effective educational practices and educational institutions which
promote children’s and youth’s fulfillment of their potential, and enable them to thrive in the
unknown future in which they will live. This dialogue, across disciplinary boundaries, is
fundamental for policy-makers, principals, teachers, and all educators today if we are to meet the
challenge of educating the next generation.
The paper begins by delineating character strengths’ definition and categorization and
their relationship to 21st-century competencies. Then, it focuses on existing and suggested
mechanisms and practices for fostering character strengths in education among students,
teachers, and schools, while reviewing the literature on character strengths interventions in
schools. The paper concludes with suggestion of an integrative model of an optimal school,
expected to foster characters strengths' development.
Why character strengths in education?
Raising children with “good character” is one of the timeless pursuits of education across
many cultures (Brown, Corrigan, & Higgins- D’Alessandro, 2012; Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
As stated by Park and Peterson (2009), “good character is what parents look for in their children,
what teachers look for in their students, what siblings look for in their brothers and sisters, and
what friends look for in each other” (p. 65). The components of good character, these aspects of
personality that are morally valued, are considered to be core components of optimal youth
development (Colby, James, & Hart, 1998; Park & Peterson, 2009), beyond the skills, abilities,
and knowledge typically taught by most schools. While skills, abilities, and knowledge are not to
be underestimated, individuals lacking “good character” may not have the motivation, courage,
persistence, or will to “do the right thing”: act in morally, societally valued ways (Park &
Peterson, 2006a, 2009).
A host of character education programs have been incorporated in schools over the past
few decades, some of which have yielded encouraging effects in reducing risky behavior and/or
increasing prosocial competencies, school-based outcomes (e.g., desirable behavior, positive
attitudes, and academic achievement), and socioemotional functioning. These character
education programs generally aim to “promote the intellectual, social, emotional, and ethical
development of young people and share a commitment to help young people become
responsible, caring, and contributing citizens” (11 Principles of Effective Character Education,
2010; Pala, 2011, p. 26). However, there is no consensus about what “good character” is, and
what character education should comprise. Character education to date has been discussed and
developed mainly based on philosophical or general perspectives, which provide relatively
general, morally based definitions of character and typically focus either on abstract definitions
or on a relatively small subset of desirable attributes (Brown et al., 2012; and reviews in Linkins,
Niemiec, Gillham, & Mayerson, 2015; Peterson, 2006). Thus, although there seems to be a
consensus that character education promotes students’ development as moral agents, the
discussion about the specific components of “being a moral agent” is less developed in character
education research. In fact, these programs’ focus ranges from development of moral values and
reasoning to decreasing risky behavior (like drug and alcohol prevention), service learning,
and/or social emotional learning (Berkowitz & Bier, 2005, 2007).
In this context, the Values in Action (VIA) classification of character strengths (Peterson
& Seligman, 2004) can provide a helpful, cross-culturally valid, inclusive roadmap of the
components of “good character” and the potential goals of character education. Park and
Peterson (2006a, 2009) define “good character” as a multidimensional cluster of morally valued
positive traits considered important for good life, which are manifested in individuals’ thoughts,
emotions, and behaviors (Park & Peterson, 2006a, 2009). The VIA classification aimed to
provide a profound theoretical structure for these positive traits, defined as ‘strengths of
character’, that contribute to optimal human development. Specifically, Peterson and Seligman
(2004) identified six core virtues—moral characteristics that are consistently highly valued by
philosophers and religious thinkers around the globe. These are wisdom, courage, justice,
humanity, temperance, and transcendence. They further identified 24-character strengths—the
psychological processes or mechanisms that define these virtues and represent their trait-like
manifestations. For example, character strengths related to the wisdom virtue are creativity,
curiosity, judgment, love of learning, and perspective (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
Character strengths were shown to be manifested across a host of situations and contexts
and to contribute to individuals’ psychological and physiological well-being and functioning
(e.g., Lavy & Littman-Ovadia, 2017; Lavy, Littman-Ovadia, & Bareli, 2016; Niemiec, 2013;
Proyer, Gander, Wellenzohn, & Ruch, 2013), and they are considered critical for lifelong optimal
development and flourishing for children and adults (Colby et al., 1998; Harzer, 2016; Park &
Peterson, 2006a). It has been suggested that the development, practice and use of character
strengths enable individuals to be at their best, because character strengths are manifestations of
individuals’ potential (Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Seligman, 2012). Empirical evidence
supports this idea, showing that children’s and adults’ endorsement and use of character
strengths is associated with having fewer psychological problems (e.g., Gilham et al., 2011;
Niemiec, 2013), and experiencing higher hedonic and eudaimonic happiness, and increased
engagement (Harzer, 2016; Littman-Ovadia & Lavy, 2012; Littman-Ovadia, Lavy, & Boiman-
Meshita, 2017; Park & Peterson, 2006b; Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). In general, children
and youth endorsement and use of character strengths were associated with favorable
psychosocial behavior, well-being, and academic achievement (over and above IQ scores; see
Niemiec, 2013 review; Wagner & Ruch, 2015).
Berkowitz and Bier (2005) have suggested that the expected outcomes of character
education are a complex set of psychological characteristics. Considering the absence of a clear
consensus on the specific components of “character” in character education, the VIA
classification can provide a conceptual framework for such a set of components. Furthermore,
the VIA Inventory of Strengths, a valid tool for examining the 24 VIA strengths, can be used for
assessment of character and character development.
Character strengths in contemporary education
Despite the similarity in name, educational interventions of character strengths and
typical "character education" are usually rooted in different philosophical frameworks. Character
education is an umbrella term for programs with different origins and goals. Yet many of these
programs are based on Aristotelian perspectives as presented particularly (though not
exclusively) in Aristotle’s "Nicomachean Ethics" (Kristjansson, 2013; Linkins et al., 2015). Such
perspectives often rest on some explicit and implicit assumptions, such as that perfecting the
virtues (arête) of character is important for the greater good of the state (the particular happiness
of the individual is given less importance). They also assume a relatively clear, single, ideal of
character, and sometimes suggest that the process of perfecting oneself towards this ideal
includes dominant personal (and cognitive) processes.
In contrast, character strengths education has evolved out of contemporary positive
psychology and its main emphasize is on individuals' wellbeing and not the state. Rooted in
humanistic psychology (Taylor, 2001) positive psychology argues for all human beings’
potential for fulfillment and personal self-actualization, assumed to contribute to their well-being
(e.g., Maslow, 1968). Conceptualizations of character strengths within the positive psychology
framework suggest that each person has strengths, which are naturally more characteristic of
him/her, but all character strengths can be developed at will. Such development is best pursued
in line with each individual’s characteristics, goals, and environment (Linkins et al., 2015), thus
there is no discussion of an absolute ideal of a certain profile of character that all individuals
should pursue. Furthermore, emotional and inter-individual aspects (as well as cognitive ones)
are prominent in descriptions of processes that can lead to developing one's strengths (e.g., Lavy,
Littman-Ovadia, & Bareli, 2014; Lavy, Littman-Ovadia, & Boiman-Meshita, 2017; Niemiec,
The humanistic idea of fostering character strengths for the promotion of fulfillment and
happiness is aligned with international educational policy. Personal development and working
toward fulfillment of one’s potential has been chosen by the UN as the first core obligation of
education, with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child stating that “the education of the
child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and
physical abilities to their fullest potential” (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; CRC,
1989/1990; Article 29). Thus, the development of children's character strength may be part of
children's right to ‘acceptable’ education in international human rights law (see Perry-Hazan,
2015, p. 630).
Character strengths and 21st-century competencies
Interestingly, the 24 VIA strengths correspond with most 21st-century competencies
suggested in the American NRC (2012) report on competencies required for life and work.
According to the NRC report, these competencies are not merely skills, which are intertwined
with specific knowledge or subject areas, but reflect “dimensions of human competence that
have been valuable for many centuries” (p. 3). These dimensions have become necessary for
individuals’ success in contemporary society – including homes, schools, workplaces, and social
An initial list of 21st-century competencies was created by rigorous researchers
attempting to review empirical data on factors contributing to success in education and work,
improved health and relationships, and increased civic participation (NRC, 2012). They also
compared their findings with other reports on workplace skill demands (e.g., the Secretary’s
Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills [SCANS] report, 1991; the Occupational
Information Network [O*NET]). They achieved a list of competencies that can be grouped into
three clusters (based on Bloom, 1956, and others): cognitive competencies, intrapersonal
competencies, and interpersonal competencies (Table 1, two left columns). These competencies
have shown consistent positive correlations with a host of desirable educational, career, and
health outcomes (e.g., achievement, performance, social competence; NRC, 2012). Although not
all competencies are equally studied (e.g., cognitive competencies were typically studied more
than inter and intra personal competencies) and there are pending questions about the list’s cross-
cultural validity (the list was based heavily on research and job descriptions relevant to the U.S.),
NRC report (2012) suggests that it can be used for initially guiding education efforts.
It has been suggested (and to a certain extent – shown) in the NRC (2012) report and in
subsequent studies, that the suggested 21st century competencies can be developed in formal
education, and some of them are already being taught/learned in specific context (e.g., math,
language). The evidence of the malleability and development processes is clearer for some
competencies (e.g., creativity, argumentation) and limited for others (e.g., intellectual interest,
curiosity). Furthermore, since today’s students will need to be able to use these competencies, in
future situations, most of which are yet unknown, they should know how to transfer the
knowledge/skills learned in a certain context or subject to other contexts/subjects. This process
requires deeper learning (i.e., learning for transfer; NRC, 2012) of the skills, in a way that makes
them competencies that the ability to use them is maintained over time and across different
situations, similar to traits or personal attributes (like strengths of character). Thus, the core 21st-
century competencies can become part of the person’s psychological capital. In this sense,
character strengths may meet the general definition of competencies, as they are expressed in
individuals’ feelings, thoughts, and behavior, and they foster individuals’ flourishing (Peterson &
Seligman, 2004; Seligman, 2012).
After closely examining 21st century competencies and character strengths, I suggest that
they are closely related, as illustrated in Table 1 and delineated below. This result is despite the
process of identifying and categorizing 21st-century competencies being significantly different
from Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) process of identifying character strengths. In fact, most of
the strengths (or at least some of their components) are included in the list of 21st-century
competencies required for thriving in life at work, and most of the competencies fit within (or are
related to) the definitions of one or more of the 24-character strengths. For example, several of
the cognitive competencies are closely related to the strength love of learning, briefly defined as
systematically adding to one’s knowledge (Park et al., 2004, p. 606).
Table 1 aims to illustrate these connections between 21st-century competencies and
character strengths by paralleling specific sets of competencies with specific character strengths
(columns 2 and 3). For example, critical thinking fits with facets of judgment (i.e., “Thinking
things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to
change one’s mind in light of evidence”; Park et al., 2004; p. 606). Thus, the judgement strength
can support (and provide a basis for) development of critical thinking skills. Some competencies
are related to (and based on) more than one strength. For example, analysis and interpretation of
different arguments requires perspective (i.e., “having ways of looking at the world that make
sense to oneself and to other people”; Park et al., 2004, p. 606) but also requires elements of
judgment. It should be noted, that at least for certain competencies – their development requires
certain abilities (beyond character/trait) – intellectual, social, or other.
Furthermore, perhaps not surprisingly, the three clusters of 21st-century competencies,
comprising cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal kinds of competencies, resemble the three
main factors of character strengths identified by McGrath (2015) in his Three-Virtue Model. This
is interesting, as McGrath’s (2015) factors were not theoretically driven but rather revealed in a
series of analyses depicting the organizing structure of the 24-character strengths across people
in different countries. These three factors are: 1) inquisitiveness, comprising cognitive strengths
like wisdom, curiosity, and love of learning; 2) self-control, including intrapersonal strengths
like perseverance, integrity, and self-regulation; and 3) caring, including interpersonal strengths
like love, kindness, and teamwork.
Table 1 demonstrates how different character strengths (listed in the 3rd column)
correspond to the categories of the three-virtue model (5th column), and how they connect to 21st
century competencies (2nd column) and clusters (1st cluster). For example, the competencies
problem solving, reasoning/argumentation, analysis, and interpretation are all paralleled with
strengths related to the inquisitiveness virtue, and are also part of the cognitive competencies
cluster. It should be noted that some categorizations are not clear-cut. For example, some
competencies included in the cognitive cluster are related to judgment – categorized under the
self-control virtue in McGrath’s (2015) model. These findings suggest that the nature of some of
the competencies may be multifaceted.
Overall, the connections between character strengths and 21st century competencies, as
well as their theoretical definitions, suggest that character strengths may provide
psychological/malleable trait-like constructs that support the acquisition or development of 21st
century competencies. For example, the strength “curiosity” can support the development of
intellectual interest, “love of learning” may support the development of information and
communication literacies and continuous learning, and the strength of “love” can support the
development of empathy. Thus, character strengths can be featured as building blocks upon
which 21st century competencies can be built/developed (Figure 1).
In line with this idea, the 21st-century competencies that are not easily paralleled with
specific character strengths are often ones comprising concrete skills (i.e., oral and written
communication) or general characteristics (i.e., adaptability) or conditions (i.e., physical and
psychological health). The characteristics of most character strengths that cannot be easily
paralleled with specific 21st-century competencies are different. Most of these character strengths
are related to the virtues of temperance (i.e., forgiveness, humility, prudence) and transcendence
(i.e., gratitude, humor, spirituality). Two other strengths not paralleled in the list of competencies
are zest and fairness (related to the virtues courage and justice respectively). It can be argued that
these strengths are less relevant to life and work in the 21st century, although they may be
generally morally valued. However, at least some of these character strengths were shown to be
among the strengths most highly associated with life and work satisfaction and positive attitudes
(Littman-Ovadia et al., 2017; Niemiec, 2013). Thus, alternative explanations may be that the
examination of these strengths (and perhaps even these virtues) is less common in the research
on which the NRC (2012) report is based, that their practical value may be more complex to
depict, or that their value is less evident in individualistic societies such as the U.S., where the
list of 21st-century competencies was created. In any case, this is a source of concern, because
individuals that these are their signature strengths may experience more difficulty thriving, in
schools that do not appreciate these strengths.
Fostering character strengths in schools
The links of 21st-century competencies with the 24-character strengths highlight the
relevance of character strengths to education today, and the importance of fostering them in
youngsters may be key to 21st-century education. Researchers have argued and empirically
shown that character strengths can be developed through their exercise and use, and that their
development pave a path for personal thriving, by enhancing well-being, personal growth, a
sense of meaning, engagement, performance, and other desirable outcomes (e.g., Gander, Proyer,
Ruch, & Wyss, 2013; Ghielen, van Woerkom & Meyers, 2017; Peterson & Seligman, 2004;
Quinlan, Swain, Vella-Brodrick, 2012). Acknowledging the importance of character strengths
development, principals, educators, policy makers, and positive psychologists have developed
various initiatives aimed to foster character strengths in schools.
Several related interventions that are not defined as character strengths interventions per
se will not be reviewed here in detail (and are not included in meta-analyses and reviews of
character strengths interventions). However, it is important to mention them as their goals are
closely related to nurturing character strengths in schools. These include typical character-
education programs (for examples, see Berkovitz & Bier, 2007) as well as more general
programs focusing on socio-emotional learning (SEL) in schools, which typically aim to improve
five main sets of personal competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness,
relationship skills, and responsible decision making (for reviews, see Durlak, Weissberg,
Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; CASEL website: http://www.casel.org/). Most of these
programs are highly effective, and should be consulted when developing, implementing, or
The differences between these interventions and character strengths interventions, should
also be acknowledged. Specifically, Linkins et al. (2015) and Lottman, Zawaly, and Niemiec
(2017) argue that a main difference between character strengths interventions and most character
education/SEL programs is the focus of character strengths programs on celebrating individual
differences, rather than trying to mold everyone into having the same “prescribed,” required
character attributes, which may be the aim of various character education (Linkins et al., 2015)
and SEL (Lottman et al., 2017) programs. Thus, the process in typical character strengths
interventions is more personal and encouraging, rather than instilling a list of prescribed
behaviors or habits (Linkins et al., 2015).
These perspectives on student development can be paralleled with two teacher
development paradigms, which Meijer, Korthagen, and Vasalos (2009): The first, called
technical competence – related to competency-based teacher education and evidence-based
practice (e.g., Hammersley, 2007), and the second, personal growth – related to humanistic-
based teacher education (e.g., Allender, 2001). While the technical competence paradigm focuses
on building teachers' competencies found to be important for teaching, the personal growth
paradigm focuses on promoting teachers' reflections on their personal and professional identity
and motivation. In their work, Meijer et al. (2009; based on Korthagen, 2004) suggest a
combination of both perspectives, similar to that used in character strengths interventions. The
process they describe generally includes promoting awareness of teachers' core qualities, linking
them with teachers' identity and mission, identifying and increasing awareness of obstacles and
opportunities to act on these qualities, and promoting a sense of presence (Meijer et al., 2009).
This process has components strikingly similar to the key elements of character strengths
interventions in education described below.
Character strengths interventions review: Process and key findings
In order to provide an integrative overview of initiatives to foster character strengths in
schools and a profound/overall understanding of their effects, the literature on character strengths
interventions in schools was reviewed, while consulting PRISMA guidelines (Moher, Liberati,
Tetzlaff, & Altman, 2009) and CONSORT (2010) checklist aimed to assess levels of bias risks
in intervention studies. The literature search focused on character strengths interventions in
schools, while typically excluding other strengths interventions such as interventions focusing
only on one or few strengths (e.g., hope). To ascertain the unique value of character strengths
interventions, interventions that are not exclusively focused on character strengths were also
generally avoided (although some of these were influential in positive psychology – such as the
Penn Resiliency Program). Search words were character strengths and
education/teacher/teaching/school/ student and intervention/trial/exercise. Google Scholar and
Scopus databases were searched, as well as reference lists of relevant reviews of strengths
interventions and the relevant reference list of the VIA Institute on Character. The research
yielded 1524 results (excluding overlapping results). Initial screening yielded 15 relevant
publications listed in a table provided in the online complimentary material. These 15
publications were thoroughly screened by two independent reviewers for adherence with the
review requirements and initial randomized controlled trial (RCT) report requirements/ risk bias
(CONSORT checklist; inter-rater reliability was >.96). Only four publications were found to
include statistically valid results concerning an intervention focusing only on character strengths
in school context. Out of these, one manuscript (Madden, Green, & Grant, 2011) was a pilot
study with no control group, and three were controlled trials (Proctor et al., 2011; Quinlan,
Swain, Cameron, & Vella-Brodrick, 2015; Rashid et al., 2013).
The key findings of these studies that passed the screening indicated that character
strengths interventions increased engagement, hope (Madden et al., 2011), life satisfaction
(Proctor et al., 2011), positive affect, classroom engagement, class cohesion, relatedness and
autonomy need satisfaction, strengths use (Quinlan et al., 2015), well-being and social skills, and
academic performance, and improved problem behavior (Rashid et al., 2013). The review
process further highlighted the need for more empirically valid research on character strengths
interventions in schools. As noted by Quinlan et al. (2012), strengths interventions are widely
used in schools, but the effects of most of these interventions are not examined in rigorous,
empirical, quantitative research. The review process also highlighted the tendency to combine
character strengths interventions with other positive psychology components (e.g., mindfulness,
Alzina & Paniello, 2017; Lottman et al., 2017). This may be very reasonable for practitioners
aiming to achieve best results but makes it difficult to evaluate the unique value of character
strengths interventions. Due to these issues, the review below does not refer exclusively only to
the four publications that adhered to the required guidelines. It includes reference to additional
intervention descriptions, although their effects were not examined in a quantitative, RCT
Key elements in character strengths interventions
Most character strengths interventions in schools include key elements of learning: 1)
providing theoretical knowledge or conceptualization (i.e., providing a strengths language;
explaining what strengths are, defining and describing each strength); 2) encouraging
recognition of character strengths in oneself—and also sometimes in others (e.g., providing
examples, asking to spot strengths use in books/films/everyday life); 3) encouraging action,
typically exercising more strengths use in various situations (e.g., try to use your strengths in
new ways in school this week); and 4) encouraging reflection on one’s own or others’ strength
use (e.g., reflecting on a time in which the student used his/her strengths during the week – what
were the causes/results). These elements also correspond with key components of
experiential/deep learning processes suggested in various theories (Kolb, 2014; Partnership for
21st Century Skills, 2010), including a general/theoretical component, personalization,
experience/action, and reflection. Such learning processes were found to be effective in
promoting changes in thoughts and behavior, and trigger the development of new habits (e.g.,
Kolb, 2014). This kind of habitual behavior, acting in ways that reflect one strength or another in
an increasing number and variety of situations, is what was thought to constitute character
(Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Niemiec, 2013). Furthermore, this process of fostering a certain
strength or competency and learning to apply it in various situations is what underlies the idea of
deep learning (i.e., learning for transfer) of 21st-century competencies. It is also suggested as one
of the mechanisms underlying the desirable effects of character strengths interventions, such as
higher manifestation of certain strengths (Seligman et al., 2009), increased positive affect, class
cohesion (Quinlan et al., 2015), life satisfaction (Proctor et al., 2011), enjoyment, and
engagement (Seligman et al., 2009).
Some of the qualitative reports on character strengths interventions in schools describe
qualitative changes in educators’ and/or students’ common practices and habitual reactions in
various situations. For example, White and Waters (2015) describe changes in teachers' and
fellow students' reactions to a teammate’s mistake—exhibiting more forgiveness. They similarly
describe changed reactions to academic and social challenges, and even to one's own and to
others' success. From a social psychology perspective, these descriptions seem to suggest that the
focus on strengths and embracing opportunities for their use by oneself and others fosters a
social climate in which mistakes are forgiven more easily and exploration (i.e., finding new ways
to use strengths) is nurtured and encouraged (based on Seligman et al., 2009; Waters, 2011;
White & Waters, 2015).
These ideas correspond with qualitative reports (e.g., Ledertoug, 2016; Lottman et al.,
2017; White & Waters, 2015) suggesting that this change in habitual behavior is often related to
a more general “strengths mindset” that is created by the continued use of “strengths language”
and reference to strengths. These seem to foster strengths thinking (i.e., thinking in terms of
strengths that can be useful in various situations) (Bates-Krakoff, McGrath, Graves, & Ochs,
2017; Linkins et al., 2015; Rashid et al., 2013).
Focusing on students, teachers, and schools: A multilevel perspective
Processes fostering character strengths, including the development of a strengths-based
language and mindset, occur within individuals. However, they are also crucially affected by the
social environment in which they are constructed. In this respect, character strengths
interventions can focus on: 1) fostering character strengths in students; 2) fostering character
strengths in teachers (and students); and 3) fostering character strengths in schools (including
teachers and students).
Interventions focusing on students, typically include a set of sessions, some of which are
complemented with follow-up exercises, conducted by an external trainer or by the classroom
teacher with material and/or guidance from an external source. These sessions often start with
spotting one's own strengths (by answering a questionnaire, in a dialogue or discussion), and
then include, for example, definition/description of a specific character strength, an exercise –
writing a story about the strength, and a follow-up exercise (e.g., try to use the strength on your
way to school/ in your favorite hobby or subject) (Proctor et al., 2011; Quinlan et al., 2015).
Most programs include exercises encouraging participants to use their character strengths in new
ways, and application of character strengths to dealing with daily challenges, building
relationships, as well as to analyzing text, films, and behaviors of oneself and others in school
(e.g., strength spotting) (Oppenheimer, Fialkov, Ecker, & Portnoy, 2014; Quinlan et al., 2012;
Quinlan et al., 2015). As mentioned above, some of these programs, focusing on students, show
notable positive effects on students’ learning and academic performance (Ledertoug, 2016;
Rashid et al., 2013), affect, attitudes (Madden et al., 2011; Quinlan et al., 2015; Seligman et al.,
2009), life satisfaction (Proctor et al., 2011), strengths use, class cohesion (Quinlan et al., 2015)
and social skills (Rashid et al., 2013). Some of these effects seem to be stronger when the
intervention is conducted by the classroom teacher and/or endorsed by him or her, and affect
classroom language and climate (e.g., Ledertoug, 2016). This conforms to prior research on
positive interventions in schools (e.g., mindfulness), which provide quantitative evidence that
interventions conducted by the classroom teacher may be more effective than those conducted by
external trainers, no matter how professional (Waters, Barsky, Ridd, & Allen, 2015). Most
character strengths interventions in schools reported in the literature are of this kind – comprising
discussions, activities, and exercises for students (Ghielen et al., 2017; Quinlan et al., 2012;
The second kind of intervention focuses on teachers, based on the notion that teachers’
personalities, motivations, moral perspectives, and psychological mindsets inevitably affect the
teaching process and its capacity to touch the students and make a difference in their minds and
habitual behavior (Noddings, 2015; Palmer, 1998). Palmer (1998) argues that “we teach who we
are,” and thus fostering real character development in education will begin with teachers’
internal work. This corresponds with the notion that teachers' acknowledgement and application
of their inner qualities can promote their teaching, and their students' well-being and
achievement (e.g., Korthagen, 2004; Meijer et al., 2009). It also fits well with empirical data
showing that when people "work from their strengths" (Shankland & Rosset, 2017, p. 369) and
not from their weaknesses, they are more motivated, enjoy their work more, and perform better
(Clifton & Harter, 2003; Lavy & Littman-Ovadia, 2017; Littman-Ovadia et al., 2017). Programs
which focus on teachers typically begin with a process aimed to foster teachers’ personal
strengths: helping teachers spot and understand their strengths (e.g., by using the VIA-inventory,
or discussing one's strengths), encouraging teachers to use their strengths in new ways (e.g., via
discussions and exercises during the sessions and between sessions), and helping them adopt a
“strengths mindset” (e.g., Ho, Mak, Ching, & Lo, 2017; Lottman et al., 2017; Shoshani,
Steinmetz, & Kanat-Maymon, 2016; Thriving for Learning;
https://www.mayersonacademy.org/thriving-learning-communities/). Pedagogical assistance to
foster teachers’ delivery of the material to students may follow at the second stage of some of
these programs. I suspect that this kind of intervention may be more sustainable, due to teachers’
motivation and ability to be a model for the development process. However, more empirical data
on such interventions is required in order to empirically support such a statement.
The third kind of character strengths intervention focuses on the school. School-focused
character strengths interventions have barely been reported in scientific journals (e.g., Gillham et
al., 2014; O’Connor & Cameron, 2017; Shoshani & Steinmetz, 2014; Waters, 2011; White &
Waters, 2015). Most of these school-level programs do not focus merely on character strengths,
but rather adopt a more general positive psychology framework, of which character strengths are
only a part. However, their components and processes are relevant even to the more specific
pursuit of fostering character strengths development in schools. These school-level interventions
have different characteristics, but typically they comprise a well-orchestrated program that
sometimes involves a few different interventions (e.g., for different staff members, for different
subjects or classes). This kind of combined program is thought to promote a more notable effect,
because students and teachers receive similar reminders of character strengths, and messages
encouraging their use received in different ways strengthen the “strengths mindset” discussed
above (e.g., White & Waters, 2015). It has also been empirically shown that organizational
support for strengths use is associated with improved performance (assessed by employees and
managers; van Woerkom et al., 2016) and decreased absenteeism (van Woerkom, Bakker, &
Furthermore, some of the school intervention programs build on a preliminary process of
developing a shared vision and goals among school leadership and school staff, following a
positive psychology framework. This vision establishes the basis for a culture that enables,
supports, and encourages character strengths development. Existing literature on change in
educational organizations stresses the importance of aligning change with the school’s daily
processes, routines, structure, and culture (e.g., Coburn, 2003; Fullan, 2002; Han & Weiss,
2005). Also, school leadership’s ownership of the change has been marked as a key indicator of
the depth of the change process and as a predictor of its sustainability (Coburn, 2003;
McLaughlin & Mitra, 2001). Such ownership means that school leadership nurtures the change
by creating a supportive organizational climate and structures and by having an agenda and
priorities that are in line with the change goals. These processes result in institutionalization of
systematic changes in attitudes, expectations, support mechanisms, and structures (Adelman &
Taylor, 2003; Coburn, 2003).
For example, as illustrated in Figure 1, a shared vision of fostering character strengths
among teachers and students, can help build routines, structures, and decision-making processes
that foster character strengths development (e.g., acknowledging strengths in evaluation
meetings, strengths spotting in all classes, etc.). Processes of exploring new ways to use strengths
can be facilitated by creating a caring culture based on mutual trust, respect, and autonomy,
which provides a secure base for students’ and teachers’ exploration and supports the school’s
vision. Involving wider circles of participants in the process of nurturing character strengths and
in its shared vision can further provide an environment that supports this process and vision (e.g.,
promoting parents’ support and use of “strengths language”) and generates more opportunities
for individuals to discuss and apply their strengths and fulfill their potential. Further, schools can
take the next step and advance policies and procedures that encourage character strengths
development. For example, they can promote evaluation processes that focus on learning and
exploration and even directly on character strengths manifestation and development; they can
develop HR training policies that encourage personal growth in school and after school; and they
can allocate resources to teachers’ and students’ attempts to try new ways to use their strengths.
Importantly, research suggests that practices and interventions at a certain organizational
level can affect practices at other levels (e.g., Hoy & Miskel, 2013). For example, teachers who
deliver interventions for their students may also be affected by the ideas and apply character
strengths frameworks in other aspects of their work (e.g., with colleagues). Typically, the effects
of higher-level practices are greater, because they can potentially affect more people and
practices at lower levels. Furthermore, higher-level practices potentially affect organizational
culture (e.g., embedding a “strengths-based language” or a “strengths-based framework” in
I suggest that combining actions at the three levels (i.e. school, teachers, and students)
can provide an integrative, effective and sustainable framework for fostering strengths in
schools, promoting a "strengths-mindset" which is repeatedly reinforced and encouraged. To
provide an integrative framework for developing, conducting, and examining ways to foster
character strengths development in schools, I list some of the practices relevant to each of the
three levels in Table 2. The relevant references section includes literature describing related
examples of character strengths interventions (where there are such interventions), more general
positive psychology interventions, and/or similar processes in related fields.
Because school level practices are the most underdeveloped ones, interventions suggested
in this part comprise not only character strengths interventions in schools reported in the
literature, but also interventions proven effective in promoting other goals in different
organizations. These interventions aim to cultivate organizational culture, structures, and
procedures, which foster character strengths development among teachers and students. Among
these practices are the development of a shared vision, and the establishment of HR practices,
evaluation, and decision-making processes that highlight the importance of strengths use and its
At the teachers’ level, practices aimed to foster personal enhancement of teachers’
character strengths use and development can be enhanced by adding other strengths-related
practices shown to promote strengths use among employees. Among these are adjustment of
teachers’ job/tasks in ways which can better enable and promote teachers’ use of their personal
strengths (e.g., job crafting), and increasing the social support teachers receive. Schools can also
structure teachers’ reception, development, and discussion of tools and processes aimed to foster
students’ character strengths development. These can include using character strengths
framework in different classes, while teaching various subjects (e.g., analyzing text and
processes through the lenses of a character strengths framework), in forming extra-curricular
activity (e.g., building on students’ strengths in preparing class show or activities with the
community), in student evaluation, etc.
The benefit of adopting this kind of an integrative framework for fostering character
strengths in schools, is that the activities conducted in the different organizational levels support
and strengthen each other. For example, it may be easier for a teacher to lead strengths-based
evaluation processes after he/she has experienced being evaluated in this manner him/herself and
has also been trained on providing such evaluations. Such evaluation process can also provide a
clear example for analyzing real-world processes with a “strengths-mindset”, and thus support
class activities. Furthermore, these aligned activities promote a culture of acceptance and trust,
which is required for development and exploration (e.g., Bowlby, 2005).
Last but not least, educational systems can provide a supportive structure to schools
fostering character strengths, by rethinking or adding to standardized evaluation processes (and
professional requirements, beyond standardized tests; e.g., “Positive CV” program
https://ratkaisu100.fi/ ), providing resources and professional support, and enabling autonomy
and variability at the school, teacher, and student levels. Such autonomy carries a message of
trust and respect and can enable each teacher (and student) to perform at their best, using their
personal qualities that best fit each task (Korthagen, 2004; Meijer et al., 2009) and that are most
suitable for each situation.
The present paper situates character strengths education within the broader educational
discussion of 21st-century schools and provides an initial roadmap for applying character
strengths interventions in schools, while integrating positive psychology research with
contemporary educational research. Within this context, it is important to note the contribution of
the VIA classification of character strengths to a systematic, measurable conceptualization of
character attributes and the similarities of this classification to 21st-century competencies, as
conceptualized by the NRC (2012). These connections point to the interesting link between
moral character and attributes of the functioning individual and shed new light on theoretical
questions related to the ultimate goal of education: should it focus on moral goals, on required
competencies, or on both? Discussions of this kind are important for better, more profound
understanding of the optimal development process of individuals in educational institutions.
The paper also highlights the links between character education, 21st-century
competencies, positive psychology, and education administration. However, these links are quite
preliminary currently, in the context of character strengths in education. Further integration with
philosophy of education, positive psychology, and learning and instruction scholars and
practitioners will enable the creation of better paradigms for fostering students’ and teachers’
character strengths as a basis for a thriving future society.
Nurturing character strengths seems to be very relevant to 21st-century schools. This
understanding appears to be clearer for educators and practitioners than for education researchers
and policy makers, as its practice appears to be more dominant than its research or guiding
policy. However, scaling-up character strengths interventions would require more rigorous
research into the mechanisms underlying the effects of fostering character strengths, including
examination of factors moderating (or amplifying) these effects. In a similar vein, more research
on specific intervention programs effects is required, examining their sustainability, as well as
their long-term effects on further development of cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal
competencies. Better understanding of the organizational, psychological, and educational
processes that enable teachers and students to develop their character strengths, would lead us
toward a more integrative educational theory – coherent with current education trends, and
corresponding with the quest for fulfilment of individuals’ and communities’ potential.
A word of caution
Although character strengths and their use are typically associated with desirable
outcomes, fostering their development in education should be conducted with awareness to
potential pitfalls (Ciarrochi et al., 2016; Shankland & Rosset, 2017). First, educators and policy
makers should balance providing students with a sense of agency and focusing on their ability to
develop their character strengths to achieve positive outcomes, with realistic acknowledgement
of effects of the external environment (e.g., socioeconomic status, family characteristics,
teacher/peers, immediate situation) on behavior and its outcomes. This is important especially in
highly individualistic countries, in which people commonly misconceive the causes of behavior
as residing exclusively within the individual (i.e., the fundamental attribution error).
Another point to be considered is that although character strengths are considered to be
valued across cultures (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), they may not be ultimately positive, and
their behavioral manifestation may be positive or negative – depending on the extent, context,
and specific behavior (e.g., Kern, 2017). Recent research on effects of strengths use revealed that
“strengths overuse” is associated with depression, and may be associated with social difficulties
(i.e., social anxiety) when combined with underuse of other strengths (Freidlin, Littman-Ovadia,
& Niemiec, 2017). In addition, it was found that the use of specific character strengths may be
more/less adaptive in various cultural contexts (e.g., Littman-Ovadia & Lavy, 2012), and specific
character strengths that may have a notable contribution to life and work (such as zest or humor)
may be less appreciated in school context. These issues should be acknowledged and addressed
when planning and conducting educational processes aimed to promote teachers’ and students’
character strengths development and long-term well-being. Furthermore, since the VIA
classification was based heavily on the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism;
Peterson & Seligman, 2004), and students in all cultures have the right to adaptable education,
which respects their cultural background (Almog & Perry-Hazan, 2012; Perry-Hazan, 2015,
2016), its fit to education in cultures rooted in other religions should be examined.
A final point of caution is that the moral value of character strengths interventions is still
questioned by some theorists and researchers. Such critics argue that character strengths
development is not necessarily compatible with certain philosophical views of virtues and their
development, and does not necessarily promote moral development or moral behavior (e.g.,
Kristjánsson, 2013). For example, it is not clear that creativity, zest, curiosity and some other
strengths are necessarily moral, or contribute to moral behavior. A thorough discussion of these
issues is beyond the scope of the present paper, but is important enough to be seriously
considered, and may serve to advance our understanding of character strengths interventions
goals – as well as their limitations.
Adelman, H. S., & Taylor, L. (2003). On sustainability of project innovations as systemic
change. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 14(1), 1-25.
Allender, J. S. (2001). Teacher self: The practice of humanistic education. Rowman and
Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, MD.
Almog, S & ,.Perry-Hazan, L. (2012). Conceptualizing the right of children to adaptable
education .The International Journal of Children's Rights, 20(4), 486-500.
Alzina, R. B., & Paniello, S. H. (2017). Positive psychology, emotional education, and the
Happy Classrooms Program. Papeles del Psicólogo, 38(1), 58-65.
Bates-Krakoff, J., McGrath, R. E., Graves, K., & Ochs, L. (2017). Beyond a deficit model of
strengths training in schools: Teaching targeted strength use to gifted students. Gifted Education
International, 33(2), 102-117.
Berkowitz, M.W., & Bier, M.C. (2005). What works in character education: A research-driven
guide for educators. Character Education Partnership, Washington, DC.
Berkowitz, M. W., & Bier, M. C. (2007). What works in character education. Journal of
Research in Character Education, 5(1), 29.
Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Vol. 1: Cognitive domain. New York:
Bowlby, J. (2005). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory (Vol. 393). Taylor
Brown, P., Corrigan, M. W., & Higgins-D'Alessandro, A. (Eds.). (2012). Handbook of prosocial
education (Vol. 1). Rowman & Littlefield.
Ciarrochi, J, Atkins P.W.B., Hayes L.L., Sahdra B.K., & Parker P. (2016). Contextual positive
psychology: Policy recommendations for implementing positive psychology into schools.
Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1561. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01561
Coburn, C. E. (2003). Rethinking scale: Moving beyond numbers to deep and lasting change.
Educational Researcher, 32(6), 3-12.
Colby, A., James, J. B., & Hart, D. (Eds.). (1998). Competence and character through life.
University of Chicago Press. Coburn, 2003.
Consort (2010). Checklist of information to include when reporting a randomized trial.
Convention on the Right of the Child (1989). U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25.
Clifton, D. O., & Harter, J. K. (2003). Investing in strengths. In Cameron, K., & Dutton, J.
(Eds.). Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline. Berrett-Koehler
Publishers (pp. 111-121).
Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The
impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta‐analysis of school‐based
universal interventions. Child development, 82(1), 405-432.
Freidlin, P., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Positive psychopathology: Social
anxiety via character strengths underuse and overuse. Personality and Individual
Differences, 108, 50-54.
Fullan, M. (2002). The change. Educational leadership, 59(8), 16-20.
Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2013). Strength-based positive interventions:
Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. Journal
of Happiness Studies, 14(4), 1241-1259.
Ghielen, S. T. S., van Woerkom, M., & Christina Meyers, M. (2017). Promoting positive
outcomes through strengths interventions: A literature review. The Journal of Positive
Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2017.1365164.
Gillham, J., Adams-Deutsch, Z., Werner, J., Reivich, K., Coulter-Heindl, V., Linkins, M., ... &
Contero, A. (2011). Character strengths predict subjective well-being during adolescence. The
Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(1), 31-44.
Gillham, J.E., Abenavoli, R.M., Brunwasser, S.M., Linkins, M., Reivich, K. J., & Seligman
M.E.P. (2014). Resilience education. In S. A. David, I. Boniwell, & A. C. Ayers (Eds.). The
Oxford handbook of happiness. Oxford University Press.
Hammersley, M. (Ed.). (2007). Educational research and evidence-based practice. Sage.
Han, S. S., & Weiss, B. (2005). Sustainability of teacher implementation of school-based mental
health programs. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 33(6), 665-679.
Harzer, C. (2016). The eudaimonics of human strengths: The relations between character
strengths and well-being. In Vittersø, J. (Ed.) Handbook of Eudaimonic Well-Being (pp. 307-
322). Springer International Publishing.
Ho, S. M., Mak, C. W., Ching, R., & Lo, E. T. (2017). An approach to motivation and
empowerment: The Application of Positive Psychology. In Amzat, I. H., & Valdez, N. P. (Eds.)
Teacher Empowerment toward Professional Development and Practices (pp. 167-182). Springer,
Hoy, W., & Miskel, C. G. (2013). Educational Administration. Theory, research and Practice
9th edition. New York: McGraw Hill.
Kern, M. L. P. (2017). Perseverance, Achievement, and Positive Education. In White, M. A.,
Slemp, G. R., & Murray, A. S. (Eds.) Future Directions in Well-Being (pp. 75-79). Springer,
Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and
development. FT press.
Korthagen, F. A. (2004). In search of the essence of a good teacher: Towards a more holistic
approach in teacher education. Teaching and teacher education, 20(1), 77-97.
Kristjánsson, K. (2013). Virtues and vices in positive psychology. Cambridge University Press.
Lavy, S., & Littman-Ovadia, H. (2017). My better self: Using strengths at work and work
productivity, organizational citizenship behavior, and satisfaction. Journal of Career
Development, 44(2), 95-109.
Lavy, S., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Bareli, Y. (2014). Strengths deployment as a mood-repair
mechanism: Evidence from a diary study with a relationship exercise group. The Journal of
Positive Psychology, 9(6), 547-558.
Lavy, S., Littman Ovadia, H., & Bareli, Y. (2016). My better half: Strengths endorsement and
deployment in married couples. Journal of Family Issues, 37, 1730-1745. DOI:
Lavy, S., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Boiman-Meshita, M. (2017). The Wind beneath my wings:
Effects of social support on daily use of character strengths at work. Journal of Career
Assessment, 25(4), 703-714.
Ledertoug, M. M. (2016). Strengths-based learning – Children’s Character Strengths as a means
to their learning potential. PhD thesis, Submitted to DPU/Aarhus University, Denmark.
Linkins, M., Niemiec, R. M., Gillham, J., & Mayerson, D. (2015). Through the lens of strength:
A framework for educating the heart. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(1), 64-68.
Littman-Ovadia, H., & Lavy, S. (2012). Differential ratings and associations with well-being of
character strengths in two communities. Health Sociology Review, 21(3), 299-312.
Littman-Ovadia, H., Lavy, S., & Boiman-Meshita, M. (2017). When Theory and Research
Collide: Examining Correlates of Signature Strengths Use at Work. Journal of Happiness
Studies, 18(2), 527-548.
Lottman, T. J., Zawaly, S., & Niemiec, R. (2017). Well-being and well-doing: bringing
mindfulness and character strengths to the early childhood classroom and home. In Positive
Psychology Interventions in Practice (pp. 83-105). Springer International Publishing.
Madden, W., Green, S., & Grant, A. M. (2011). A pilot study evaluating strengths-based
coaching for primary school students: Enhancing engagement and hope. International Coaching
Psychology Review, 6(1), 71-83.
Maslow, A. (1968). Some educational implications of the humanistic psychologies. Harvard
Educational Review, 38(4), 685-696.
McGrath, R. E. (2015). Character strengths in 75 nations: An update. The Journal of Positive
Psychology, 10(1), 41-52.
McLaughlin, M. W., & Mitra, D. (2001). Theory-based change and change-based theory: Going
deeper, going broader. Journal of Educational Change, 2(4), 301-323.
Meijer, P. C., Korthagen, F. A., & Vasalos, A. (2009). Supporting presence in teacher education:
The connection between the personal and professional aspects of teaching. Teaching and
Teacher Education, 25(2), 297-308.
Moher D., Liberati A., Tetzlaff J., & Altman D.G. (2009). Preferred Reporting Items for
Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: The PRISMA Statement. PLoS Medicine, 6(7),
Mourshed, M., Patel, J., & Suder, K. (2014). Education to employment: Getting Europe’s youth
into work. McKinsey & Company.
National Research Council (NRC). (2012). Education for Life and Work: Developing
Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. Committee on Defining Deeper Learning
and 21st Century Skills, J.W. Pellegrino and M.L. Hilton, Editors. Board on Testing and
Assessment and Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and
Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Niemiec, R. M. (2013). VIA character strengths: Research and practice (The first 10 years). In
Knoop, H. H., & Delle Fave, A. (Eds.) Well-being and cultures (pp. 11-29). Springer
Noddings, N. (2015). The Challenge to Care in Schools, 2nd Edition. Teachers College Press.
O’Connor, M., & Cameron, G. (2017). The Geelong Grammar positive psychology experience.
In Frydenberg, E., Martin, A. J., & Collie, R. J. (Eds.) Social and Emotional Learning in
Australia and the Asia-Pacific (pp. 353-370). Springer, Singapore.
Oppenheimer, M. F., Fialkov, C., Ecker, B., & Portnoy, S. (2014). Teaching to strengths:
Character education for urban middle school students. Journal of Research in Character
Education, 10(2), 91-105.
Pala, A. (2011). The need for character education. International Journal of Social Sciences and
Humanity Studies, 3(2), 23-32.
Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco: Josey Bass.
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006a). Moral competence and character strengths among adolescents:
The development and validation of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for
Youth. Journal of adolescence, 29(6), 891-909.
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006b). Character strengths and happiness among young children:
Content analysis of parental descriptions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(3), 323-341.
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2009). Strengths of character in schools. In Furlong, M. J., Gilman, R.,
& Huebner, E. S. (Eds.). Handbook of positive psychology in schools, Routledge, pp. 65-76.
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal
of social and Clinical Psychology, 23(5), 603-619.
Perry-Hazan, L. (2015). Curricular choices of ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities: Translating
international human rights law into education policy. Oxford Review of Education, 41(5), 628-
646. DOI: 10.1080/03054985.2015.1074564
Perry-Hazan, L. (2016). Religious affiliation, ethnicity, and power in admission policies to
Jewish religious schools. Critical Studies in Education. DOI:
Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. Oxford University Press.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and
classification (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press.
Proctor, C., Tsukayama, E., Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Eades, J. F., & Linley, P. A. (2011).
Strengths gym: The impact of a character strengths-based intervention on the life satisfaction and
well-being of adolescents. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(5), 377-388.
Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S., & Ruch, W. (2013). What good are character strengths
beyond subjective well-being? The contribution of the good character on self-reported health-
oriented behavior, physical fitness, and the subjective health status. The Journal of Positive
Psychology, 8(3), 222-232.
Quinlan, D. M., Swain, N., Cameron, C., & Vella-Brodrick, D. A. (2015). How ‘other people
matter’ in a classroom-based strengths intervention: Exploring interpersonal strategies and
classroom outcomes. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(1), 77-89.
Quinlan, D., Swain, N., & Vella-Brodrick, D. A. (2012). Character strengths interventions:
Building on what we know for improved outcomes. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(6), 1145-
Rashid, T., Anjum, A., Lennox, C., Quinlan, D., Niemiec, R. M., Mayerson, D., & Kazemi, F.
(2013). Assessment of character strengths in children and adolescents. In Proctor, C., & Linley,
P. A. (Eds.) Research, applications, and interventions for children and adolescents (pp. 81-115).
Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being.
Simon and Schuster.
Seligman, M. E., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive
education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford review of education, 35(3),
Shankland, R., & Rosset, E. (2017). Review of brief school-based positive psychological
interventions: A taster for teachers and educators. Educational Psychology Review, 29(2), 363-
Shoshani, A., & Steinmetz, S. (2014). Positive psychology at school: A school-based
intervention to promote adolescents’ mental health and well-being. Journal of Happiness
Studies, 15(6), 1289-1311.
Shoshani, A., Steinmetz, S., & Kanat-Maymon, Y. (2016). Effects of the Maytiv positive
psychology school program on early adolescents' well-being, engagement, and
achievement. Journal of School Psychology, 57, 73-92.
Taylor, E. (2001). Positive psychology and humanistic psychology: A reply to Seligman. Journal
of Humanistic Psychology, 41(1), 13-29.
van Woerkom, M., Bakker, A. B., & Nishii, L. H. (2016). Accumulative job demands and
support for strength use: Fine-tuning the job demands-resources model using conservation of
resources theory. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 141-150.
van Woerkom, M., & de Bruijn, M. (2016). Why performance appraisal does not lead to
performance improvement: Excellent performance as a function of uniqueness instead of
uniformity. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 9(2), 275-281.
van Woerkom, M., Mostert, K., Els, C., Bakker, A. B., de Beer, L., & Rothmann Jr, S. (2016).
Strengths use and deficit correction in organizations: Development and validation of a
questionnaire. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 25(6), 960-975.
Wagner, L., & Ruch, W. (2015). Good character at school: positive classroom behavior mediates
the link between character strengths and school achievement. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 610.
Waters, L. (2011). A review of school-based positive psychology interventions. The Educational
and Developmental Psychologist, 28(2), 75-90.
Waters, L., Barsky, A., Ridd, A., & Allen, K. (2015). Contemplative education: A systematic,
evidence-based review of the effect of meditation interventions in schools. Educational
Psychology Review, 27(1), 103-134.
White, M. A., & Waters, L. E. (2015). A case study of ‘The Good School:’Examples of the use
of Peterson’s strengths-based approach with students. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(1),
Character strengths and 21st-century competencies
Love of learning
Oral & written
Artistic and cultural
beauty & excellence
Personal and social
cultural awareness and
Appreciation of diversity
Love of learning
Intellectual interest &
Self-regulation - type 1:
Positive core self-
Self-regulation - type 2:
Physical & psychological
Social influence with
aCompetencies in italics did not seem to be related to any specific character strength.
bPeterson & Seligman, 2004.
cMcGrath, 2015. In this classification, the factor in which the strengths loaded highest in studies 2 and 3
was chosen. If the factors with highest loading were different in the two studies, both factors are
mentioned in the table.
dA sample item of the hope measure: “I know that I will succeed with the goals I set for myself.”
Table 2: Examples of practices for fostering character strengths development in different levels
(see complementary material table for additional details)
What the intervention comprises
- Adding a course on character strengths –a few
sessions/ yearly/ multiple years, typically
including assessment/reflection, theoretical
explanations, and exercises (e.g., identifying
strengths, receiving feedback from others on
one’s strengths/secret strengths spotting, trying
to use signature strengths or other specific
strengths in new ways).
Gilham et al., 2014;
Mdden et al., 2011;
Quinlan et al., 2015;
Rashid et al., 2013;
Proctor et al., 2011;
Seligman et al., 2009;
Shankland & Rosset,
2017; Suldo, Savage &
- Adopting or adding a character strengths
perspective to teachings in various subject areas
(e.g., English, history, foreign language –
spotting character strengths in
Oppenheimer et al.,
2014; Seligman et al.,
2009- GGS example;
White & Waters, 2015
- Initiating an activity fostering student strengths
(e.g., student personal project/leadership), or
integrating character strengths enhancement to
such activities (e.g., analyzing sports events
through character strengths lenses; using
character strengths language in mentoring).
White & Waters, 2015
- Focusing on character strengths in teacher
development program, mentoring, leadership
program. Components of such processes can
include identifying teachers’ character strengths,
thinking about new ways to use them (in classs
and daily life), reflection on character strengths
Ho et al., 2017;
Lottman, Zawaly, &
Niemiec, 2017; Meijer,
Korthagen, & Vasalos,
2009; Shoshani &
- Encouraging and helping teachers use their
strengths at work (in teaching, problem solving,
interactions with colleagues and parents).
- Restructuring teachers' jobs to enable roles that
fit strengths of specific teachers (e.g., social
coordinator, theatre specialist etc.- in line with
teachers’ strengths and interests).
van Woerkom, Bakker,
& Nishii, 2016; van
Woerkom & Bruijn,
- Supervisor support, colleague support (e.g.,
weekly/biweekly personal/group meetings with
direct supervisor, team, or counselor. May
include reflecting on strengths use, secret
strengths spotting etc.).
& Boiman Meshita,
2017; van Woerkom et
- Developing a shared vision and goals that
focus on character strengths/ moral and personal
- Embedding character strengths language into
speeches at events.
O’Connor & Cameron,
2017; White & Waters,
Suldo et al., 2014
- HR policies and specific decisions should be
carved out to serve school goals of fostering
Peterson, 2006; Waters,
personal development and contributing to the
community (e.g., teacher personal development
program, teacher training, offer staff and
students opportunities for strengths development
in daily routine and special events).
- Evaluation processes (of teachers, staff, and
students) use character strengths language and a
growth mindset (e.g., learning from successes,
using improvement and learning measures,
process and effort evaluation - not merely results
evaluation). Assessment of competencies related
to character strengths (e.g., 21st century
Anderman & Maehr,
Council, 2012; Peterson,
- School resources should be discussed while
considering staff team members’ personal and
team strengths, the opportunities they enable,
and ways in which they can be used to advance
Hoy & Miskel, 2013;
Sample building blocks for sustainable character strengths and 21st century competencies development in
Complementary Material Table
Manuscripts included in the review selection process
Papers adhering to the review requirements
Madden, Green, & Grant, 2011
Eight coaching sessions including
strengths assessment, identifying
personally meaningful goals and
finding new ways to use their
signature strengths, writing a
“letter from the future” about
themselves at their best.
Proctor, Tsukayama, Wood, Maltby,
Fox Eades, & Linley, 2011
The Strengths Gym:
A curriculum including Strengths
Builders and Strengths
Challenges activities. For each
lesson, there is a definition of the
character strength being focused
on and two Strengths Builders
exercises for students to choose
from and a Strengths Challenge
as follow-up activity.
Quinlan, Swain, Cameron, & Vella-
“Awesome Us” Strengths
Six sessions aimed at recognizing
strengths (in oneself and others),
and using character strengths for
one’s own benefit and for
Rashid et al., 2013
Eight sessions comprising
assessment of character strengths
(by self and close others) and
guidance, plan and exercise of
their use in different situations
(focus on challenges and solving
Other intervention papers targeting students, teachers, or whole school (a non-representative sample)
Intervention participants: School students
Alzina & Paniello, 2017
The Happy Classroom: A flexible
set of resources aimed to enhance
mindfulness and character
strengths use and development.
Three main phases:
Aware, Explore and Apply
Training sessions + application in
Oppenheimer, Fialkov, Ecker, &
Class activities on character
strengths, hope, perseverance, 3
good things (five 1-hour
sessions). Encouraging teachers
to refer to character strengths in
discussion of subject matter (e.g.,
mention leaders’ character
strengths in history class).
White & Waters, 2015
*see also whole school interventions
Examples for fostering character
strengths development through
English literature curriculum, and
by using a strengths-based
approach in sports, student
leadership, and counseling.
Programs typically include
recognizing personal strengths,
reflecting on events in which
strengths were demonstrated, and
using the character strengths
framework to analyze events in
literature, films, games, and
different life situations.
Intervention participants: School teachers (and students)
Bates-Krakoff, McGrath, Graves, &
(and Mayerson Academy Report -
Thriving Learning Communities:
Training sessions, personalized
support, and supplementary
material (including computerized
games). Aimed to foster teachers’
personal strengths’ recognition
and use, and their guidance and
nurturance of students’ strengths’
recognition and use, and to adopt
a “strengths language” in class.
Ho, Mak, Ching, & Edmund, 2017
Empowering via the SHINE
intervention model: Strengths
based habit building, hopeful
relationships, and noticing
positives and negatives
(interactive workshop and self-
Lottman, Zawaly, & Niemiec, 2017
Mindfulness Based Strengths
Practice (MBSP; Niemiec, 2014).
Includes sessions in which
teachers learn and practice
mindfulness and character
strengths sighting and
nurturance- for themselves and
students, and support parents in
fostering similar processes. Key
element- mindful awareness to
at ages 3-9.
Whole school interventions
Shoshani & Steinmetz, 2014 (there are
additional papers on Maytiv
15-sessions teachers’ training
workshop (accompanied by
material for teachers- to
administer in their classrooms).
Key elements: positive emotions,
gratitude, goals fulfillment,
optimism, character strengths,
and positive relationships.
O’Connor & Cameron, 2017 (there are
additional papers on Geelong
Grammar School- e.g., Seligman et al.,
Targeting emotional well-being,
purpose, relationships, health,
and character strengths.
Implementation is via explicit
and implicit curriculum,
additional pedagogical actions
(e.g., before/after class, when
confronting difficulties), in staff
development activities, in school
policy and practice.
White & Waters, 2015
Examples for fostering character
strengths development at the
whole school, while providing
examples from English class
curriculum, sports activities, and
counseling, and introducing a
positive education curriculum for
K-10 grades. Describing
processes intended to create a
“strengths language” for
analyzing events and solving
problems in different areas of
Related review papers
Ghielen, van Woerkom, & Meyers,
A review of strengths
interventions and their outcomes
A review of character strengths
research and practice in 2004-
Shankland & Rosset, 2017
A review of brief school-based
interventions of four kinds,
among them character strengths
Quinlan, Swain, & Vella-Brodrick,
A review of character strengths
interventions and their effects
A review of school-based
positive psychology interventions