Self Development – Skills and Character Strengths

Self Development – Skills and Character Strengths

Our Approach to Self-Development is based on the following foundational Principle:

Education must equip individuals to take charge of their own learning and their personal development towards living a life of dignity as ethical, creative and capable human beings.

The realization that students completing school are not equipped to take on higher education is a significant concern globally. In India, the increasing popularity of IB programs and the CBSE i curriculum designed as an alternative to IB for CBSE’s international schools, is one marker of this dissatisfaction with traditional school education.

Our focus on Self-Development is intended to create opportunities for students to consolidate the abilities and character strengths that would enable them to participate in higher education, in work, and in civic life, with courage and with hope: the ability to set and plan for long-term goals, to reflect independently and collaboratively, to read critically, write cogently, and think creatively about complex problems with no ready answers, to approach learning in a spirit of inquiry, as an opportunity for individual growth, seeking out relevant information, and support and feedback as needed. In our understanding, Self-development also includes the ability to negotiate a more complex environment with confidence, to engage constructively with diverse people and perspectives, to develop positive relationships with peers, professors and other adults, and to contribute to college community life.

Recognizing that these strengths and skills, cannot be “taught” in the same way as subject knowledge, but rather must be developed through the teaching of subject content, our approach to Self-Development for College and Life Readiness is grounded in citizenship and social justice content, so that both the content and the pedagogical processes work together to develop the attitudes and skills needed to participate fully in school, college and beyond, initiating a process of learning to engage with an unequal world constructively, and with enlightened empathy.

Acknowledging that there are several aspects of Self-development, including spiritual and mental well-being, physical development and sexuality, the material we have curated here focusses on one aspect: the intellectual and social-emotional strengths and skills students must develop in order to find fulfillment and participate productively in the 21st Century world. The goal is to help teachers and other learners explore the current thinking in the area of Self Development, and to engage with high-quality education resources available on the Internet, to identify best practices and to reflect together on ways to build and to assess their own and their students’ capacities.

Theoretical Underpinnings
There is an increasing recognition globally that self-development encompasses physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development and entails both academic and social-emotional competencies and strengths that equip individuals to take charge of their body and spirit, their learning and their life, to improve their life chances and to engage productively in local and global communities. Current education research around the world is therefore focusing increasingly on reconceptualizing education outcomes to include character development and social-emotional learning to prepare students to be successful in education and beyond. These attributes which must be cultivated have been variously designated cognitive and non-cognitive strengths, soft-skills or life-skills, academic tenacity, Performance and Moral Character strengths, and specific literacies or categorized more comprehensively as 21st Century Skills, under the broad heads of Learning and Innovation Skills, Life and Career Skills, and Information, Technology and Media Skills.

There is consensus that beyond the traditional domain of education–subject or disciplinary knowledge and the key cognitive competencies, literacy and numeracy, sometimes described as the three Rs, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic–there are other strengths (and other Rs, such as Responsibility and Respect), which are “non-cognitive” and further, that there are other important cognitive skills such as critical and creative thinking, problem-solving and decision-making, the ability to set, plan for and stay focussed on long-term goals, by increasing such critical capacities as perseverance and grit. The idea of self-development has been expanded to encompass character strengths such as open-mindedness and curiosity, empathy and compassion, integrity, optimism, zest or enthusiasm, flexibility and gratitude as key capacities for leading fulfilling lives. Communication and Collaboration are now understood to be critically important and overarching competencies, that transcend categories such as cognitive/non-cognitive, and some requisite literacies extend across disciplines, including leadership, digital- and media literacy, design-thinking, sustainable development and most recently even coding.

The expanded definition of self development over the past two decades has been informed by various thinkers and concepts, including Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and now an eighth “Habit”, Leadership, by Ron Ritchhart’s definition of intellectual dispositions and various discussions of critically important Habits of Mind, and by Martin Seligmann and Chris Peterson’s VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues, and what it takes to Flourish in life, by Carol Dweck and Greg Walton’s work on Growth Mindset, and by discussions of Passion, Drive, Purpose and social engagement as key attributes for leading fulfilling lives. Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach to human development leads the thinking on the basic human right of every individual to be equipped to lead a productive life. To this we must now add David Brooks’ distinction between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues” in his 2015 book The Road to Character, which echoes the premise of an exercise Martin Seligmann conducts with his students: writing what they would want written about them in their own obituaries.


  1. Dweck, Carol, Walton, G.M., & Cohen, G.L.., Academic Tenacity:
    Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long-Term Learning. Paper prepared for the Gates Foundation.
  2. Performance Values: Why They Matter and What Schools Can Do to Foster Their Development, Character Education Partnership, April 2008.
  3. Farrington, C.A, Academic Mindsets as a Critical Component of Deeper Learning, April 2013 University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.
  4. Farrington, C.A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T.S., Johnson, D.W., & Beechum, N.O. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of non-cognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.
  5. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association., OUP 2004.
  6. Ritchhart, R (2004). Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Get It. Jossey-Bass.
  7. Rizzo, F., A Study of Life Skills: Why and How They Should Be Cultivated by Children from an Early Age, The Breteau Foundation, SynLab, April 2014.
  8. Schwarz, B. Self-Determination. The Tyranny of Freedom. January 2000 ° American Psychologist.
  9. Katherine R. Von Culin, Eli Tsukayama & Angela L. Duckworth (2014): Unpacking grit: Motivational correlates of perseverance and passion for long-term goals, The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.898320