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What is Strengths-Based Education?

Research confirms that a student’s success is driven by non-academic factors such as their character, parental support and the level of hope + engagement they feel within school. Districts and schools have generally addressed this by trying to implement point programs (ex. advisory, life skills classes, interventions) in the face of increasing accountability for student performance in core subjects. Thrively is changing this dynamic by introducing a new, holistic approach for student learning. Strengths-Based Education (SBE) incorporates social/emotional learning, student career, and interest exploration and student-centered learning (or student-directed projects) into a cohesive pedagogy that helps students find relevance in school and life.

Strengths-Based Education is successful when students have:

  • Built a growth mindset;
  • Developed 21st Century Skills and habits;
  • Identified multiple, exciting post-secondary pathways; and
  • Strengthened their social support structures.

These goals can be accomplished when students’ K-12 journey includes a thoughtful implementation of SBE that is truly 360 degrees in nature. In other words, it must proactively include parents, community and out-of-school time. No component of SBE exists by itself. They are inter-related and non-linear.  Thrively enables Strength-Based Education through our platform, taking students, teachers, and parents through the entire process.  Our Strength Assessment helps students discover their character strengths and is the starting point for social-emotional learning.  Students then identify their interests and career aspirations through our Pathways, Videos, and Activities.  Finally, educators turn their students’ interests into true “student-centered learning” by facilitating projects.  Explore what Strengths-Based Learning can do for your students at Thrively.


Get Started With Strengths-Based Education

How to be unreasonably happy

Glenn’s is the first of many posts in this channel intended to show how discovering and pursuing strengths & passions early in life can drive the development of profound insights and life-defining characteristics.  In Glenn’s story, leadership and independence of thought, all wrapped around chess, dungeons & dragons, and creative back-yard shenanigans, are the things that popped out for me.  –Jon Kraft

For years, my extracurricular activity was David Perteet: speed-chess champion, dungeon master, nutmeg artist.

We became friends when Dave was 14. My twin brother and I were 11. His house, two doors down from ours, was more like a lair, filled with H. P. Lovecraft books, Star Wars figurines, home-made monster masks, videotaped slasher movies.

It was in Dave’s house that my twin brother and I led our paladins and monks through Dungeons & Dragons campaigns with names no one could forget: The Tomb of Horrors, Queen of the Demonweb Pits, Hall of the Fire Giant King, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.


As the dungeon master, Dave described every scene, playing the part of the monsters we faced. Hunched behind propped up maps and monster manuals, he worked a small piece of clay in the lulls, which he would abruptly plop down before us as a perfectly formed lich. Monsters that were sophisticated and derisive at first became pitiable in the end. Others were bafflingly, implacably sadistic. They were all evil so we could be good, and their deaths were deeply satisfying.

When, after many years of play, our characters died, Dave had begun to describe how our corpses were being eaten and picked over for treasure and then he stopped short because we could not lived to see, we felt the first moment of solemnity I can remember. I realized then that death isn’t just painful; it means you don’t get to find out what happens next, who will win the World Series or the next election. Nothing had been so permanent before.

From the safety of college, all this came to seem silly. When I visited Dave in LA he had become a special-effects artist, living in a house filled with like-minded friends. We played badminton and watched a James-Bond movie marathon, but at night we hiked through an abandoned Nazi compound and then went to his garage, which was filled with moldings recovered from the movie “Aliens.” Standing next to one, I barely felt a tickle of fear until he slipped back into his house, turned off the lights, and slammed the door shut.

Some of Dave’s authority was physical. His backyard from our childhood was sloped, with a ribbon of grass that narrowed and widened according to the encroachment of Douglas firs on one side and his deck on the other. In the wet piney gloom of Seattle fall evenings, he played me and my brother in 2-on-1 soccer, passing the ball to himself off the side of the deck. He never lost, but his true goal was to kick the ball through our legs, calling out “Nutmeg” as he did. He laughed when he did this, like one of the monsters we would later vanquish, but we laughed too.

This wasn’t the only way I learned how to lose from Dave, who also introduced me to chess, not as an antique game you played with your dad, but as a tournament sport where a loss is an utterly chanceless two-hour asphyxiation by a superior intellect. I learned the almost physical trade of speed-chess, knocking pieces and banging the timing clocks in a 50-move, five-minute free-for-all.

I became president of the high-school chess team after Dave left for college, inserting my name into the school bulletin as a contact for new players, which opened me to more scorn than I could have imagined in our years with Dave. The team soon collapsed.

We had talked every day, but once Dave was gone then barely spoke again. All the terrors my brother and I had rehearsed in his backyard became real. That year, our mother battled cancer nearly to the death and our doting father, deeply in love with her, almost forgot about us. We got interested in girls and realized they weren’t interested in us. Our older brother got into drugs and then violence, which the local paper decided was front-page news.

But Wes and I both remember our childhood – Dave’s dark, crooked backyard, the dining room filled with papers and greasy popcorn bowls as happy. There’s a huge difference between most of the friends you have who teach you how to fit in and the one friend, it is usually just one who teaches you that you don’t have to fit in.

From Dave, I learned how to be like an adult. I don’t mean that I learned to be an adult: our whole world was intensely pubescent, female-free, imaginary. But I learned from Dave what an adult sounded like, that he has opinions, that he can like what he likes, that he knows that what other people say is sometimes wrong, that he can stand up for himself. Once, while we were throwing a football in the street, a cement mixer ran over my family’s beagle without stopping and Dave who despised that dog ran after the driver, yelling, for half a mile.

This gave me a way to think about being a leader without being the prom king or team captain. It gave me a way to think about a new product or a new company, as just one more expedition to the barrier peaks. It protected long into adulthood the essence of childhood, which is a sense of adventure. And it gave me the confidence to be different, so I could fail again and again without feeling like a failure at all.

When I co-founded a company at 25, it was in another friend’s basement, but it felt exactly like Dave’s basement, a bit scary but also familiar. What is a startup, after all, if not the endless return, company after company, to that awkward larval phase of adolescence when you can’t go back to the way you were and wonder how you’ll go on surrounded by people you see all the time then never see again, feeling half a fraud and half the rawest version of your true self?

Years later, Dave found me on Facebook and then sent me an email. What was I like now? The note I wrote back was cautious, in part because being an adult had somehow tempered everything I said so that it could sound more knowing or wistful. I said I was “reasonably happy.”

“‘Reasonably happy’!?” Dave wrote back. “Life is awesome!  Maybe you need to meet another minotaur to give you some perspective.”



Glenn Kelman is the CEO of Redfin, a technology-powered real estate brokerage. Follow him on Twitter @glennkelman. When Glenn asked Dave for permission to publish this post, Dave wrote, “When my robot body finally fails at age 274, I want this read at my space-funeral.”


(Dungeon Photo credit: David Barnas on Flickr)

The Science Behind Thrively’s Groundbreaking Strength Assessment

Dr. Jayme Neiman-Kimel and Dr. Jonine Biesman are two of California’s seven Board-certified pediatric neuropsychologists. Together they developed Thrively’s Strength Assessment, an online survey that allows children to discover their strengths. The results are a custom profile built to offer insights into a child’s dynamic personality.

With the incredible and exciting advances in neuroimaging that have emerged over the past decade, we now know that the brain is an extremely dynamic and adaptable organ that can become more efficient based on the experiences to which it is exposed. Its growth and organization is not fixed, but rather ever-changing. Thus, what we do matters! This is the basis of the recommended activities offered through Thrively including out of the box, cutting edge opportunities that not only contribute to the emergence of highly well-rounded children and adolescents but to healthier brains. Specific activities are recommended following a student’s completion of a thoughtfully designed strength finder that is engaging and fun to complete and highly informative for parents.

The science behind the Thrively Strength Explorer and Map is grounded in principles of life span development, strength-based research, the most current understanding of neural connectivity, the mechanisms of optimal brain functioning, motivational variables, as well as over forty years of combined assessment experience with thousands of children and adolescents. It is safe to say that countless tests exist to assess specific “domains of functioning” such as a student’s language skills, academic knowledge, and memory. While these measures provide information about an individual’s capacities as well as their areas of need; most tests that children and adolescents take do not generalize well to their day to day activities nor do they provide direction for enrichment.

The Thrively Strength Explorer formulated by Dr. Biesman and Dr. Neiman-Kimel, board-certified pediatric neuropsychologists, was designed by drawing upon their vast database and knowledge of existing test questions, problem-solving tasks, and brain-behavior relationships coupled with their understanding of personality dynamics, child development, children’s social-emotional needs, and real-life demands. As just one example, we get at the question of a child’s social acumen through a robust set of questions, each with many viable answers. All of this is presented in a way that does not signal anyone answer as more correct than any other. The result is an honest assessment of more than 23 different strengths. Thus, the questions were created to capture information across a broad range of areas essential to one’s functioning but are offered in a much more accessible, engaging, fun and interesting format than students are used to seeing.

Children and adolescents immensely enjoy learning about themselves. What distinguishes the Thrively Strength Explorer is its ability to tap into essential areas of a child’s life in a format that makes sense to them without being overwhelming. Self-awareness is a powerful gift to give our children. Surprisingly, many students when asked, “What is good about you?” struggle with this question.  To have a tool that is entirely strength-based is refreshing and innovative in the current world of assessment and fills a missing need in the library of tests available for children and adolescents.

Once completed, an individualized profile is generated from which directed activities are identified.  The activities offered may embellish upon already existing strengths as well as to nurture those areas that will help students become more versatile. We seek to optimize each student’s capacity to fully thrive – intellectually, creatively, socially, emotionally, physically, motivationally, morally, and neurologically. Appreciate these principles:

  1. There are an estimated 100 billion neurons in the human brain. The connectivity of these neurons is what makes us our unique selves. While these connections are to some degree genetically determined, experiences can also influence their optimal arrangement. The brain is in continuous formation throughout life.
  2. There is no question that motor development and cognitive development are intricately connected and do increase grey matter in the brain, so keep your children moving!
  3. Brain networks do not work in isolation. Neither should we. Affiliative activities are essential in development.
  4. Experience can change neural connectivity. Neural connectivity or large scale brain networks influence everything human from cognition to personality to motivation to emotion to our sensory and motor systems. You can be instrumental in shaping your child’s experiences.
  5. Take an interest in your child’s passions and nurture those passions above all else.  The outcome will be worth the journey!


Dr. Jonine Biesman



Without Passion, Kids Struggle


When we examine the essence of what Thrively is about, it boils down to passion. We help kids discover and pursue their passion in life. Understanding core strengths and connecting children with the right activities based on those strengths are a means to the end. As part of our constant self-examination, we look for research on happiness and success, in search of that secret ingredient to a thriving child.

Shawn Achor spent eight years living in the Harvard dorms studying that link between happiness and success. His research turned a fundamental assumption on its head. Society has longed believed that if you work harder, you will be more successful, and then you will be happy.  Shawn’s research found that to be reversed. He found that we are far more productive, 31% more in fact, when we are happy. So happiness leads to more efficient work, and thus to success. Not the other way around!

We also came across a study that may be more intuitive: that perceived ability is the only reliable indicator of continued participation in activities. In other words, if you believe you’re good at something, you’re more likely to stick with it. This is where a firm understanding of the core strengths of a child can help us provide critical guidance.

Obviously, there are no silver bullets to the challenges of growing up, but research clearly shows that when you find someone who has discovered their passion and has been given the freedom and encouragement to fully pursue it, they will feel a strong measure of self-respect, confidence, and determination to succeed.  And that’s why passion has such an important role to play for Thrively and for all of the families we serve.

Discover Your Child's Strengths