This year, Jostens is partnering with Search Institute, an organization dedicated to researching and understanding what kids need in order to succeed. Over the past 25 years, Search Institute has studied the strengths and challenges in the lives of more than five million middle and high school youth across the country and around the world. Like Jostens Renaissance, Search Institute focuses on young people’s strengths, rather than emphasizing their problems or deficiencies. Visit to learn more.

The following is an excerpt from the December Renaissance Kit: Catch Them Doing Something Right. Below the message from Search Institute CEO, Dr. Kent Pekel, you will find an adaptation of their research. 

Recognizing and emphasizing strengths in students isn’t a naïve way to ignore problems, challenges and risks. Rather, it taps students’ motivations and capacities to learn, grow and improve.

When educators view young people based primarily on their limitations, we treat them differently. That reinforces our preconceptions (sometimes stereotypes) about who they are and what they can do. Even when they have the best of intentions, research shows that when teachers hold deficit-focused views of students, they:

  • lower their expectations for these students;
  • give fewer options for learning;
  • spend less time with these students;
  • and talk less with them.

Is it any wonder that students disengage or hold back, particularly when they really are struggling?

In contrast, noticing and tapping students’ strengths and aspirations can bring out the best in students. One way it does this is by helping students themselves recognize and use those strengths for their own learning, growth and resilience. It also creates a positive connection between the teacher and student that encourages positive interaction and motivates the student to work harder for the teacher.

In the end, recognizing and building on young people’s strengths is more motivating and empowering than focusing on their challenges and deficits. While negative emotions can shut us down, positive emotions open us up, helping us see more options, solve problems and expand our worlds.

Yes, many students do face real challenges and limitations. It’s just as true, however, that these same students have real strengths. Our challenge and opportunity as educators is to notice and accentuate those strengths as resources, even when they’re overshadowed by the challenges we first notice.

This month’s Renaissance Kit gives you tools and ideas to Catch Students Doing Something Right as a powerful focus for helping students overcome the challenges they face. As its focus, we’re offering Search Institute’s widely recognized framework of Developmental Assets® as a tool for reflection, conversation, and learning about the strengths and resources in young people’s lives.

Kent Pekel, Ed.D.
President and CEO, Search Institute

Click the image to download a PDF with class activities, statistics and research around student recognition.


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