How Students Thrive: Positive Youth Development in Practice

The paper outlines five, research-based tenets that underlie schools that can support positive youth development and includes tools that can help educators identify positive youth development practices that are associated with each tenet. The five tenets are:

  • Young people need caring, trusting, and supportive relationships with adults and with other young people.
  • Young people respond to high expectations.
  • Young people need opportunities to contribute (often referred to as “choice and voice”).
  • Young people need learning experiences that intentionally engage their interests, offer opportunities to succeed, and provide feedback to enable them to reflect on their accomplishments.
  • These tenets are consistently present—young people know to expect them from the environment.

The paper points out that although many schools focus on academic outcomes, the developmental achievements students most care most about are the “stepping stones to a successful adult life: relationship formation; cultivating a sense of identity, self-worth, and belonging; and discovering meaningful interests and building mastery of them.”  Schools should be designed to support these goals, as they are the engine that drives student engagement and motivation to learn.

Content Comments 

The paper offers a very digestible summary of the key tenets and helpful tools for evaluating how well the tenets are reflected in a schools. The tools organize each tenet into a series of dimensions and then lay out a variety of key indicators for each dimension of what to look or listen for in school practice. For example, the first tenet – caring, trusting, and supportive relationships – involves the “look for” dimensions of adults are trustworthy, adults are accessible, and adults are supportive. The “listen for” dimensions include conversation topics for discussion with students.