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Thrivers: A Discussion Guide for Teachers

Every so often a book comes along that is so timely and needed, you'd think the author consulted a crystal ball before writing it. In my view, "Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Other Shine" is such a book.

Written by best-selling author Dr. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist, this engagingly-readable book identifies the essential character strengths children need to "thrive" in a challenging post-COVID world. For teachers tasked with helping kids get back on track, both educationally and emotionally, this book is a lifesaver. It provides a roadmap for teaching the following eight essential skills:

  • Self-confidence: Using personal strengths to find purpose and meaning.

  • Empathy: Understanding and sharing another’s feelings while acting compassionately.

  • Self-control: Managing stress, delaying gratification, and strengthening focus.

  • Integrity: Adhering to a strong moral code, thinking ethically, and leading a moral life.

  • Curiosity: Having an open mind and willingness to try new ideas, take risks, and innovate.

  • Perseverance: Exhibiting fortitude, tenacity, and resolve to endure and bounce back.

  • Optimism: Learning self-advocacy and encouraging hope.


The "Thriver's Educator Guide" that accompanies the book (available below as a download) can help teachers support one another as they begin instilling these character traits.

One of my favorite chapters, and an important one for adult discussion, is Chapter 2: Empathy. Following a year in which most kids engaged with screens more than with people, there is much work to be done helping them strengthen this important capacity. Borba is an expert on the topic and it shows in this chapter. Following is an excerpt from the Educator Guide:

Chapter 2. EMPATHY

Thrivers think “we,” not “me.”

Students with strong empathy can understand and share another’s feelings, act compassionately and are more open, accepting and willing to understand views that differ from their own. Three abilities nurture empathy: 1. Emotional literacy; 2. Perspective taking; 3. Empathic concern.

Discussion Questions

  1. THRIVERS stresses that children are born with the potential for empathy, but unless it is purposely nurtured it will remain dormant. American teen empathy has decreased 40 percent in thirty years. What factors are reducing students’ abilities to feel with others?

  2. What outside factors are hindering the development of this second Character Strength?

  3. How can educators “step into students’ shoes” to better understand their needs and experiences?

  4. Which of the three empathy types (Affective, Behavior, Cognitive) does your school address most? Which is the hardest to teach? Which do your students need? How could you offer it?

  5. Emotional literacy is cited as a key to unlocking empathy and motivating kids to care. How can educators help today’s digital-driven students understand feelings?

  6. What are you doing to enhance empathy in your students? How are you helping students develop empathic mindsets so they realize that they can better the world?

  7. How is service learning used at your school? Are there other ways in your community so students can learn the value of caring and develop empathy?

  8. Which age-by-age strategy (p. 93-99) would you consider using or adapting to expand your child’s/students/ Empathy? What other strategies might you consider?

  9. What practices are your students experiencing that strengthen their empathy development? For instance: Restorative Justice, Service Learning, Cooperative Learning, SEL (Social-Emotional Learning), Conflict Resolution, Diversity Training, Mix-It-Up at Lunch Day, History Day, Peer Mentoring, Class Meetings). Is there an empathy-building practice that might benefit your students that you’d like to explore? If so, which and why.

As we prepare students around the world to return to classrooms and get back to so-called normal, it's nice to know there's a book that can help us help them thrive, online and off.

*THRIVERS Educator Guide
Download PDF • 1.83MB


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