Harnessing the Power of Strengths in Home Education: Their Role in Enabling Individuals and Communities To Flourish

Guest Blog Post by Fabienne Vailes

Home education offers a unique opportunity for families to create a personalised and flexible learning environment for their children. It also provides a platform for individuals to explore and develop their unique strengths and abilities. When combined with the strengths of the community, the potential for growth and development becomes exponential. In this blog post, Fabienne Vailes dives into the importance of harnessing individual and community strengths in home education and how they play a crucial role in enabling individuals and communities to flourish.

A year ago, we started our adventure into home education and officially de-registered our son from secondary school.  I would be lying to you if I said that it’s been plain sailing; it’s been a real journey of ups and downs. But, one key thing we all agree on as ‘Team Vailes’ is that there are so many advantages and strengths to being part of a home education community, both for individuals and the community as a whole. Here are some of my reflections as to why!

What are strengths?

“Strengths” is a commonly used term in the English language which might mislead us to assume that we all share the same meaning and understanding. As a linguist, I would like to start with a definition and an explanation, before turning to the importance and relevance of strengths in education.  Positive psychology defines personal strengths as our built-in capacities for specific ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving (Linley, 2008). You could call them our ‘unique gifts or unique fragrance in this garden called life’.  Discovering our strengths equips us for life, individually and with others, as I will explore below.

The shift

Armed with this definition, it is easy to see how home education, or how becoming self-directed, fosters the development of this self-awareness and understanding of one’s strengths. This is because as home educators, we view education as much wider than ‘schooling’ or what happens in schools from Monday to Friday. I love Peter Gray’s definition of education as “the sum of everything a person learns that supports them towards living a satisfying and meaningful life.” (Gray, 2015)

This has been a big shift for us and such a great departure from the way education felt when our son was in Year 9, which was much more geared toward an exam-orientated approach to learning and teaching. Life has become our curriculum and we now see ourselves as lifelong, life wide, life deep learners.

As a teacher and mother, I have been on an ongoing ‘de-schooling’ journey. This is a work in progress as the conditioning runs so deep (and I have been schooled for so many years compared to our son, as I have worked in education for many years). I now see the world of education and my role as a parent and teacher very differently. That’s why I call myself a ‘reformed mum and teacher’.

It has been pure joy watching our son grow and develop over the past year. He’s become so much more confident and self-assured. Many people have commented on how much taller he now stands, with his shoulders back (and that’s not just because he has physically grown too). He doesn’t need to look at me before he answers a question, and he has his own opinions now. He’s also able to look adults in the eye when he responds. I believe this is because he is now working in his strengths much more. He is discovering who he is in life and the gifts he brings.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that life stops happening and that we don’t experience the normal challenges, the ups and downs of life. What we both have is the ability to draw from our personal resources and strengths, to bring them into what we are doing.

Why is it important?

When our children are encouraged to develop an understanding of their strengths, they not only develop more self-confidence and self-awareness, but they also start appreciating and valuing how each one of us has a unique role to play in this garden called life and how diverse and different we each are as ‘living ecosystem’ (Peterson & Seligman, 2004, Vailes, 2022).

This has been linked to an elevated sense of vitality and motivation (Clifton & Anderson, 2016), increased probability of achieving goals and a stronger sense of life direction (Hodges & Clifton, 2004). Higher self-confidence, engagement, and productivity (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) are also a result of this process.

As parents, we can start noticing when our children are energised when doing an activity or talking about a topic. We can share what we notice/feel with them. This is not to coerce them or to encourage them to do something, but just as way to make them more self-aware. When we start discussing with our children and young people what excites and inspires them, we can also get them to reflect on what made them feel this way. This increases their understanding of who they are and the gifts they bring.

Not just for the individual (me) but the community too (we)

I have shared previously how lucky and privileged we feel to have met local home educators (Jo and Matt) and to have joined the Streams network; how we were able to become part of both the home ed gatherings they host, and the wider home ed community in Bristol. Beyond our own individual needs and growth, we feel like we are now part of a community which creates a caring, nurturing environment with a lot of connection – all these are known essentials for well-being and wellness.

What’s fascinating is that when an individual understands themselves and gains ‘innerstanding’ (shared in conversation with Dr Bern Nichols), when they know who they are in this garden called life (appreciating their needs and how to meet them), when they see how they can contribute to the diversity of said community, the result is a ‘flourishing’ community. This is what we all hope for – an environment that gives our children and young people, as well as us adults, a clear sense of competence as well as the ability and the feeling that we can be well together.

This is how we turn the ‘M’ of ‘ME’ on its head to make it a ‘WE’.

Over the last 12 months, it’s been pure joy watching us as individuals come together to co-create this flourishing ‘WE’ with other individuals. I cannot wait to see what the next year has in store for us. Watch this space! Finally, I’d like to leave you with a friendly challenge: if you are aware of the strengths that you and others bring to your community, take a moment to reflect on them, express gratitude, and support one another. Remember, we are stronger when we work together.

Fabienne Vailes

Fabienne is an educator passionate about well-being in education (or lack thereof), author of The Flourishing Student and co-author of How to Grow a Grown up, a podcaster and parent of 2 boys aged 15 and 12.5.

You can follow Fabienne’s journey as she connects with educational thought leaders, disruptors and innovators in her weekly podcast: https://flourishingeducation.co.uk/podcasts/

You can find her book here:



Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. CAPP Press.

Gray, P (2015) Free to Learn. Basic Books.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. American Psychological Association.

Vailes, F (2022) The Flourishing Student – 2nd Edition: A practical guide to promote mental fitness, wellbeing and resilience in Higher Education. Practical Inspiration Publishing.

Clifton & Anderson, (2016) Strengths Quest. 2nd Edition. Gallup Press.

Dr Bern Nicholls  https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-bern-nicholls-55b22053/

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