Helping young people build on strengths

Richard Smith, Sixth Form Tutor at Bristol Grammar School, talks to us about his successful use of the At My Best strengths cards with a group of teenagers during a month-long expedition to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Trips such as these are important for building individual teenagers’ self-esteem and creating bonds within a team. Helping them to reflect on the experience is a great way to embed their learning.

Expedition Leader, Richard Smith and Assistant Head, Dr Andrew Dimberline - an International Mountain Leader (IML) - decided to use At My Best strengths cards with the students to keep them focused on their strengths during reflection sessions and to help them recognise the individual contributions they each brought to the team as a whole.

 "The first part of the expedition involved a long trek across the Atlas Mountains – two weeks of wild camping away from civilisation meant that the group of sixth formers and staff had to rely on each other and work together effectively as a team. We wanted to highlight the impact each student’s individual strengths had had on the group in a tangible and accessible way and the impact of the cards at this crucial point of the expedition was incredible.

"In previous reflections, students have said things like ‘I think I’m good at...’, but the cards enabled them to elaborate much more when reflecting on their strengths and they were able to define their contribution much more meaningfully because the cards provided them with the range of vocabulary."

Because At My Best strengths cards feature single words without definitions, they allow each individual to interpret the words in a way that is meaningful for them.

Students and staff on the expedition to the Atlas Mountains


To help the students apply their learning, they were each asked to choose one of the strengths their teammates had picked for them that they could be more mindful of and focus on as they went forward.

"It is always difficult to encourage students to think about how they can develop their strengths without going into talking about weaknesses. Using the vocabulary and pictures on the cards helped us to focus on the positives.

"We wanted the students to take the positive team energy that they had created on the trek to the next phase of the expedition. We were about to spend the second half of our trip participating in some community work in the town of Imlil, seeing first-hand how the money we had raised back at school in the UK for Education for All Morocco was helping to give girls from rural communities the opportunity to continue their high school education. The students went forward into this important phase of the trip feeling secure in their capabilities as individuals and as a team. It was great that this confidence came much more from the students, rather than us as leaders."

With thanks to Richard Smith and Bristol Grammar School for providing photos of the trip.

For more information on the Education for All Morocco charity, click here.

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