While reading The Resilience Revolution: Discovering Strengths in Challenging Kids by Brendtro and Larson, I was introduced to the Circle of Courage model illustrating the basic needs for children:

  • Belonging
  • Mastery
  • Independence
  • Generosity

The creators of the model state that when the Circle of Courage* is in balance, children develop their strengths and experience positive life outcomes.

Brendtro and Larson suggest (page 45)

  • To satisfy the need for belonging, build trust
  • To satisfy the need for mastery, recognize talent.
  • To satisfy the need for independence, promote power
  • To satisfy the need for generosity, instill purpose.


“We believe this rejuvenating approach meets important needs for adults,too: we all need resilience in the difficult work of raising healthy kids.”


I agree. Let’s explore each of the four components of the Circle of Courage and consider how they apply to building a teacher’s resilience in coaching.


I have always encouraged teachers to use belonging and trust to create a classroom environment that would promote increased student risk taking and growth. Effective cooperative groups, small learning communities, teacher looping, and middle school teams all focus on increased belonging and trust. Relationships are crucial. The same applies to creating coaching and PLC environments where teachers take risk and grow. I am a strong proponent of PLCs as teams rather than franchises. Teams have more belonging and trust and therefore more teacher and student growth.


Brendtro and Larson state,”…mastery is practical intelligence. It is meeting important life goals by developing strengths and overcoming difficulties. Adults can encourage mastery by tapping the hidden talents in every youngster and giving every child the skills to creatively solve problems.” What a great focus for coaches…tapping hidden teacher talents. PLC’s should be centers of creative problem solving.


Powerful young people are described by Brendtro and Larson as feeling secure enough to ask for help and able to make decisions and set the course for their lives. They are the pilots not passengers on their journey.
Great thought for mentors and coaches who focus on teaching teachers how to think and problem solve rather than providing them with “what to do”. Some coaches ask me if they should work themselves out of a job. My thought is yes, unless you continually learn new things to broaden teacher and student success. The ultimate will be learning that with and from the teachers and students.


When at risk students reach a point of assisting their struggling peers the Circle of Courage is completed. All youth need to find purpose to their lives and schools should continually be building those opportunities into the learning mix.

In QualityTeaching in a Culture of Coaching, I emphasized the value of coaches connecting their work to teachers’ individual beliefs and values. When a coach hears the “difference” a teacher works to make in the lives of her students, and notices the teacher’s efforts, energy and perseverance are increased.

I believe that the Circle of Courage provides a model for reflection as coaches examine their day to day interactions with teachers.

Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, Steve Van Bockern: Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future (2002)